Prepayment Penalties: Why They Exist and How to Avoid Them

A frequently offered nugget of financial wisdom is to use unexpected financial windfalls to pay down your debt. But what happens when paying down your loans comes with a prepayment penalty?

The best way to avoid prepayment fees, of course, is to choose a personal loan or mortgage without prepayment penalties. If you’re stuck with a prepayment penalty on your loan, however, all is not lost. There are ways to avoid paying loan prepayment penalties.

What is a Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is when a lender charges you a fee for paying off your loan before the end of the loan term. It can be frustrating that a lender would charge you for paying off a loan too early because it’s natural to think a lender would appreciate being repaid as quickly as possible.

In theory, a lender would appreciate getting repaid quickly. But in reality, it’s not that simple. Lenders make most of their profit from interest, so if you pay off your loan early, the lender is possibly losing out on the interest payments that they were anticipating. Charging a prepayment penalty is one way a lender may recoup their financial loss if you pay off your loan early.

Lenders might calculate the prepayment fee based on the loan’s principal or how much interest remains when you pay off the loan. The penalty could also be a fixed amount as stated in the loan agreement.

Can You Pay off a Loan Early?

Say you took out a $5,000 personal loan three years ago. You’ve been paying it off for three years, and you have two more years before the loan term ends. Recently you received a financial windfall and you want to use that money to pay off your personal loan early.

Can you pay off a personal loan early without paying a prepayment penalty? It depends on your lender. Some lenders offer personal loans without prepayment penalties, but some don’t. A >mortgage prepayment penalty is more common than a personal loan prepayment penalty.

Differences in Prepayment Penalties

Because the terms of personal loans vary, the best way to figure out how much a prepayment penalty would be is to check a loan’s terms before you accept them. Lenders have to be upfront about how much the prepayment penalty will be, and they’re required by law to disclose that information before you take on the loan.

Personal Loan Prepayment Penalty

If you take out a $6,000 personal loan to turn your guest room into a pet portrait studio and agree to pay your lender back $125 per month for five years, the term of that loan is five years. Although your loan term says it can’t take you more than five years to pay it off, some lenders also require that you don’t pay it off in less than five years.

The lender makes money off the monthly interest you pay on your loan, and if you pay off your loan early, the lender doesn’t make as much money. Loan prepayment penalties allow the lender to recoup the money they lose when you pay your loan off early.

Mortgage Prepayment Penalty

When it comes to mortgages, things get a little trickier. For loans that originated after 2014, there are restrictions on when a lender can impose prepayment penalties. If you took out a mortgage before 2014, however, you may be subject to a mortgage prepayment penalty. If you’re not sure if your mortgage has a prepayment penalty, check your origination paperwork or call your lender.

Checking for a Prepayment Clause

Lenders disclose whether or not they charge a prepayment penalty in the loan documents. It might be in the fine print, but the prepayment clause is there, which is a good reason to read the fine print. If you’re considering paying off any type of loan early, check your loan’s terms and conditions to determine whether or not you’ll have to pay a prepayment penalty.

How are Prepayment Penalties Calculated?

The cost of a prepayment penalty can vary widely depending on the amount of the loan and how your lender calculates the penalty. Lenders have different ways to determine how much of a prepayment penalty to charge.

If your loan has a prepayment penalty, figuring out exactly what the fee will be can help you determine whether paying the penalty will outweigh the benefits of paying your loan off early. Here are three different ways the prepayment penalty fee might be calculated:

1. Interest costs. If your loan charges a prepayment penalty based on interest, the lender is basing the fee on the interest you would have paid over the full term of the loan. Using the previous example, if you have a $6,000 loan with a five-year term and want to pay the remaining balance of the loan after only four years, the lender may charge you 12 months’ worth of interest as a penalty.

2. Percentage of balance. Some lenders use a percentage of the amount left on the loan to determine the penalty fee. This is a common way to calculate a mortgage prepayment penalty fee. For example, if you bought a house for $500,000 and have already paid down half the mortgage, but want to pay off the remaining balance in a lump sum before the full term of your loan is up. In this case, your lender might require that you pay a percentage of the remaining $250,000 as a penalty.

3. Flat fee. Some lenders simply have a flat fee as a prepayment penalty. This means that no matter how early you pay your loan back, the amount you’ll have to pay will always be the prepayment penalty amount disclosed in the loan agreement.

Avoiding a Prepayment Penalty

Trying to avoid prepayment penalties can seem like an exercise in futility, but it is possible. The easiest way to avoid them is to take out a loan or mortgage without prepayment penalties. If that’s not possible, you may still have options.

If you already have a personal loan that has a prepayment penalty, and you want to pay your loan off early, talk to your lender. You may be offered an opportunity to pay off your loan closer to the final due date and sidestep the penalty. Or you might find that even if you pay off the loan early and incur a penalty, it might be less than the interest you would have paid over the remaining term of the loan.

You can also take a look at your loan origination paperwork to see if it allows for a partial payoff without penalty. If it does, you might be able to prepay a portion of your loan each year, which allows you to get out of debt sooner without requiring you to pay a penalty fee.

For example, some mortgages allow payments of up to 25% of the purchase price once a year, without charging a prepayment penalty. This means that while you might not be able to pay off your full mortgage, you could pay up to 25% of the purchase price each year without triggering a penalty.

Some lenders shift their prepayment penalty terms over the life of your loan. This means that as you get closer to the end of your original loan term, you might face lower prepayment penalty fees or no fees at all. If that’s the case, it might make sense to wait a year or two until the prepayment penalties are less or no longer apply.

When it comes to your money, you don’t want to make any assumptions. You still need to do your due diligence by asking potential lenders if they have a prepayment penalty. The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires lenders to provide documentation of any loan fees they charge, including a prepayment penalty. Also, under the TILA, consumers have the right to cancel a loan agreement within three days of closing on the loan without the lender taking any adverse action against them.

The Takeaway

When taking on debt, paying as little as possible on top of the principal amount borrowed is a good general rule of thumb. Consumers generally seek the lowest interest rates they can qualify for, a loan term that they feel comfortable with, and a loan that doesn’t add fees to their debt load. A prepayment penalty is one fee that can be avoided by asking questions of the lender and looking at the loan documents with a discerning eye.

SoFi Personal Loans are unsecured loans that charge neither prepayment penalties or any other fees. SoFi also offers other benefits to qualified borrowers. For example, SoFi offers an Unemployment Protection Program that works with eligible borrowers to pause their loan payments if they have an unexpected job loss through no fault of their own. The program also provides the borrower assistance finding a new job.

Check your rate on a SoFi Personal Loan.


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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (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 SoFi.com/legal.

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How Does Tuition Reimbursement Work?

If you’re working and want to continue school but aren’t sure how to fund it, your employer may offer assistance.

It’s called tuition reimbursement, and it’s how many companies help employees pay for continuing their education. Tuition reimbursement programs are growing in popularity as companies work to attract and retain employees.

Companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, Target, and more offer programs to help employees pay for a portion of their educational costs. These programs vary by company. Some companies may only cover course costs if the path of education is related to your job. Others may require employees to remain with the company for a certain period of time after completing their degree.

What Is Tuition Reimbursement?

Tuition reimbursement, or tuition assistance, is an arrangement where an employer pays for part or all of an employee’s continuing education whether undergraduate degrees or graduate school.

Your employment contract may lay out the terms of the tuition reimbursement: how much of your tuition your company will cover, what courses qualify, any minimum GPA requirements, and the minimum time period of employment.

Recommended: How to Pay for Graduate School

Tuition reimbursement is often offered as an employee benefit on top of a salary package, along with other benefits like health care, a 401(k), or transportation expenses.

This is different from student loan repayment assistance, when your company provides some amount of funding assistance for your existing student loans.

Not every company offers tuition reimbursement, but many large ones do provide reimbursement or financial support for continuing education. Some companies may stipulate that courses must relate to your current work.

Why Companies Offer Tuition Reimbursement

It’s a perk that helps the company attract and retain employees, while also benefiting the company, since the courses you take may provide skills or knowledge you can put into practice back at work.

Some companies are upping their educational benefits as a way to stay competitive. SoFi at Work helps companies offer a range of benefits to their employees like student loan refinancing and student loan contributions.

Not sure if your employer offers tuition reimbursement? Check in with your HR representative to see what options are available.

Tuition Reimbursement Requirements

The specifics of each company’s education reimbursement policy are likely laid out in an employment contract, but it’s common for a company to only offer a tuition reimbursement in accordance with certain eligibility requirements.

You’ll probably have to sign up and pay for the courses yourself first, so you’ll want to budget appropriately. In most cases you’ll need to pay for your courses out of pocket and then provide proof of completion and your grades in order to be reimbursed.

Program requirements

Your employer may limit its reimbursement program to certain institutions. For example, they may provide a list of accredited institutions you can choose from. Or they require that you attend a four-year program.

Coursework Requirements

Your company may reimburse you only for classes pertaining to your current job description.

Other times, companies will approve courses focused on moving you into a management role or on gaining skills you can put towards other future roles or assignments. For example, if you work in project management for a large corporation and are interested in learning how to use data visualization, you might be able to take community college courses in data production and visual graphics.

After understanding what courses qualify for tuition reimbursement, you could then consider looking over the other requirements. For example, there may be minimum GPA or attendance requirements.

Timeframe Requirements

Sometimes a company will also require you to continue working with them for a set amount of time, since they’ve invested in your education and don’t want you to take those new skills to a competitor.

Tuition Reimbursement And the FAFSA®

An employer’s tuition reimbursement program does not preclude you from filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In most scenarios, an employer is unlikely to cover 100% of tuition costs, and you may still qualify for aid in the form of federal loans and grants.

That said, you will be asked to not how much you are reimbursed for, which may have an effect on how much financial aid you’re offered.

Is Tuition Reimbursement Taxable?

While you should always consult with a licensed tax professional regarding the current tax law, and in no way should any of this publicly-available information be considered tax advice, the IRS’ website currently states that employers can deduct the cost of tuition reimbursement (up to $5,250 annually). It’s a business expense for them. The IRS website also states that the first $5,250 of tuition reimbursement isn’t considered taxable income. However, anything above that counts as part of your taxable wages and salary. Again, talking to a tax professional is always recommended.

The IRS does have some requirements on tax-free educational assistance benefits — which are not necessarily the same requirements your employer has.

Typically, for the IRS to consider tuition assistance as tax-free, it should be used to pay for tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies, or equipment.

And typically, it can’t be used for meals, lodging, transportation, or any equipment you keep after the course. It’s also not applicable to sports, games, or hobbies — unless they’re a degree requirement or you can prove they’re related to your employer’s business.

Again, consult with an accountant or tax attorney to get the complete picture.

What Are Other Options to Lower Education Costs?

The average cost of attending a four-year public college as an in-state student during the 2020-21 school year was $10,560 and that price tag only goes up for private schools and out-of-state students.

Federal Student Aid

For those who do not qualify for employer offered tuition reimbursement, there are other options that could be worth considering. As mentioned above, students can fill out FAFSA® annually. This allows them to apply for all types of federal student aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Private Student Loans

Beyond that, some may consider private student loans. While private student loans offer students the opportunity to finance their education, they do not always have the same borrower protections, like income-driven repayment plans, that are afforded to federal student loans. For this reason, they are most often considered only after all other options.

Recommended: Private vs Federal Student Loans

SoFi offers no-fee private student loans with flexible repayment options. (Again, private student loans don’t offer the same repayment benefits that federal student loans offer, so do your research.)

Refinancing Existing Student Loans

If you already have student loans, when it comes time to repay you could consider refinancing to a lower interest rate. This could help you reduce the amount of money paid in interest over the total life of the loan; refinancing at a lower monthly payment could help with budgeting in the short term. Note that lowering monthly payments is frequently the result of extending the loan term, which will result in increased cost over the life of the loan.

It’s important to note that there are various federal student loan repayment options and borrower protections (such as deferment or forbearance options). Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from these programs. Some private lenders offer programs similar to deferment that temporarily allow borrowers to pause payments when they experience temporary financial difficulties, including with SoFi’s Unemployment Protection.

The Takeaway

Employers who offer tuition reimbursement programs will cover a portion of tuition costs if the employee meets program eligibility requirements. These requirements vary by company, but may include things like maintaining a minimum GPA, coursework requirements, and stipulations around the length of employment.

If you’re looking to refinance student loans, prequalifying online with SoFi takes just two minutes. SoFi offers student loan refinancing with no application or origination fees and no prepayment penalties. Plus, existing SoFi members may qualify for rate discounts.

Learn more about refinancing your student loans with SoFi today.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (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 SoFi.com/legal.

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IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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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In the Money (ITM) vs Out of the Money (OTM) Options

In the Money (ITM) vs Out of the Money (OTM) Options

Trading options contracts involves many unique concepts and terminology that investors need to understand. Among the most important is understanding whether an option is “in the money” or “out of the money.”

Knowing the difference between being “in the money” (ITM) and “out of the money” (OTM) allows the holder of a contract to know whether they’ll enjoy a profit from their option. The terms refer to the relationship between the options strike price and the market value of the underlying asset.

“In the money” refers to options that have profit potential if exercised today, while “out of the money” refers to those that do not. In the rare case that the market price of an underlying security reaches the strike price of an option exactly at the time of expiry, this would be called an “at the money option.”

Recommended: How to Trade Options for Beginners

What Does “In the Money” Mean?

In the money (ITM) describes a contract that would be profitable if its owner were to choose to exercise the option today. If this is the case, the option is said to have intrinsic value.

A call option would be in the money if the strike price is lower than the current market price of the underlying security. An investor holding such a contract could exercise the option to buy the security at a discount and sell it for a profit right away.

Put options, which are a way to short a stock, would be in the money if the strike price is higher than the current market price of the underlying security. A contract of this nature allows the holder to sell the security at a higher price than it currently trades for and pocket the difference.

In either case, an in the money contract has intrinsic value, so the options trader can exercise the option and make money doing so.

Example of In the Money

For example, say an investor owns a call option with a strike price of $15 on a stock currently trading at $16 per share. This option would be in the money because its owner could exercise the option to realize a profit. The contract gives the holder the right to buy 100 shares of the stock at $15, even though the market price is currently $16.

The contract holder could take shares acquired through the contract for a total of $1,500 and sell them for $1,600, realizing a profit of $100 minus the premium paid for the contract and any associated trading fees or commissions.

While call options give the holder the right to buy a security, put options give holders the right to sell. For example, say an investor owns a put option with a strike price of $10 on a stock that is trading at $9 per share. This would be an in the money option. The holder could sell 100 shares of stock at a price of $10 for a total of $1,000, even though it only costs $900 to buy those same shares. The contract holder would realize that difference of $100 as profit, minus the premium and any fees.

What Does “Out of the Money” Mean?

Out of the money (OTM) is the opposite of being in the money. OTM contracts do not have intrinsic value. If an option is out of the money at the time of expiration, the contract will expire worthless.

Options are out of the money when the relation of their strike prices to the current market price of their securities are opposite that of in the money options.

For calls, an option with a strike price higher than the current price of the underlying security would be out of the money. Exercising such an option would result in an investor buying a security for a price higher than its current market value.

For puts, an option with a strike price lower than the current price of its security would be out of the money. Exercising such an option would cause an investor to sell a security at a price lower than its current market value.

In either case, contracts are out of the money because they don’t have intrinsic value – anyone exercising those contracts would lose money.

Example of Out of the Money

For example, say an investor buys a call option with a strike price of $15 on a stock currently trading at $13. This option would be out of the money. An investor might buy an option like this in the hopes that the stock will rise above the strike price before expiration, in which case a profit could be realized.

Another example would be an investor buying a put option with a strike price of $7 on a stock currently trading at $10. This would also be an out of the money option. An investor might buy this kind of option with the belief that the stock will fall below the strike price before expiration.

What’s the Difference Between In the Money and Out of the Money?

The premium of an options contract involves two different factors: intrinsic value and extrinsic value. Options that have intrinsic value at the time they are written to have a strike price that is profitable relative to the current market price. In other words, such options are already in the money when written.

But not all options are written ITM. Those without intrinsic value rely instead on their extrinsic value. This value comes from speculative bets that investors make over a period of time. For this reason, assets with higher volatility often have their options contracts written out of the money, as investors expect there to be bigger price swings. Conversely, assets considered to be less volatile often have their options written in the money.

Options written out of the money are ideal for speculators because such contracts come with less expensive premiums and are often created for more volatile assets.

Recommended: Popular Options Trading Terminology to Know

Should I Buy ITM or OTM Options?

The answer to this question depends on an investor’s goals and risk tolerance. Options that are further out of the money can be more rewarding, but come with greater risk, uncertainty, and volatility. Whether an option is in or out of the money (and how far they’re out of the money), and the amount of time before the expiry of the option impacts the premium for that option, with riskier options typically costing more.

Whether to buy ITM or OTM options also depends on how confident an investor feels about the future of the underlying security. If a trader feels fairly certain that a particular stock will trade at a much higher price three months from now, then they might not hesitate to buy a call option with a very high strike price, making it out of the money.

Conversely, if an investor thinks a stock will fall in price, they can buy a put option with a very low strike price, which would also make the option out of the money.

Beginners and those with lower risk tolerance may prefer buying options that are only somewhat out of the money or those that are in the money. These options usually have lower premiums, meaning they cost less to buy. There are also generally greater odds that the contract will wind up in the money before expiration, as it will take a less dramatic move to make that happen.

Investors can also choose to combine multiple options legs into a spread strategy that attempts to take advantage of both possibilities.

Recommended: 10 Important Options Trading Strategies

The Takeaway

Options contracts don’t have to be exercised to realize a profit. Sometimes investors buy contracts with the intent of selling them on the open market soon after they become in the money for quick gains. In either case, it’s important to consider if an option is in the money or out of the money when buying or writing options contracts, as well as when deciding when to execute them.

While SoFi does not offer options trading at this time, it does provide a great way to for investors to get started. By opening an account on the SoFi Invest brokerage platform, you can build a portfolio of stocks, exchange-traded funds, and cryptocurrencies.

Photo credit: iStock/damircudic


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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
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What is a Futures Contract? Definition & How Futures Work

What Is a Futures Contract? Definition & How Futures Work

Futures contracts are a type of financial derivative that investors use to speculate on the price of a security at a forthcoming date. These typically trade on separate futures exchanges, which allow for higher volumes of trading.

Recommended: A Guide to Derivatives Trading

What Is a Futures Contract?

Futures contracts, or futures, are legal agreements to either buy or sell a given security, commodity, or asset at a specific time in the future, for a previously agreed-upon price. For investors, they offer access to commodities and other markets they might not be able to access otherwise. They can also act as a way to protect against volatility.

One important feature of a future contract is that both buyers and sellers can execute the contract regardless of the current market price of the underlying asset when the contract expires.

Investors use futures contracts when they believe that the underlying security will go up or down by a certain amount of time over a fixed period of time. The futures contract buyer enters a legal agreement to buy the underlying asset at the contract’s expiration date. On the other side of the trade, the futures contract seller agrees to deliver the underlying security at the agreed-upon price, when the contract expires.

The majority of futures contracts on a futures exchange are standardized by date and price, to allow for higher trading volumes and simpler transactions.

Investors can buy futures contracts to make money – or to hedge against losses – resulting from the price increases or decreases in stocks and commodities like oil, as well as other financial instruments.

How Do Futures Contracts Work?

In a futures contract, the purchaser gets to buy a given asset at a predetermined price. That can help protect against big price swings up or down, making them popular not only with investors, but with companies that rely on commodities that experience sudden price changes.

Example of a Futures Contract

An airline, for example, might buy an oil futures contract to lock in the price of the oil that it will need to buy in order to get its jets off the ground in the coming months. Purchasing the futures contract allows the airline to guard against the financial harm of a sudden rise in the price of fuel. The risk to the airline, however, is that oil prices will go down – in which case, it will miss out on those lower prices.

On the other side of this hypothetical transaction is a fuel distributor, which has millions of gallons of oil in its inventory. It would sell the oil futures contract as a way of maintaining a steady market for its oil in the coming months. That’s because the airline buying the futures contract must buy the fuel at the agreed-upon price on the dates specified in the contract. That removes some risk for the oil distributor, but it also creates a risk if oil prices climb before the futures contract expires. Should that happen, the oil distributor will still have to sell the oil at the lower price specified in the futures contract.

To stay with this example, in the futures contract, the airline and the oil distributor will set and agree upon the terms, specifically the price of the oil and the expiration date upon which the contract expires. In this contract, the distributor agrees to sell 1,000 barrels of oil at $50 per barrel, in exactly 90 days. If the price of oil in 90 days is $75 per barrel, then the airline will have gotten a good deal. If a barrel of oil falls to $35, then the oil supplier will have protected itself against the price declines.

What’s the Difference Between Futures and Options?

Futures and options are both derivative contracts. However, futures contracts oblige the buyer or seller to complete the deal at the contract’s expiration, while options contracts give traders the right but not always the obligation to execute the contract when it expires.

Recommended: 10 Important Options Trading Strategies

Both futures and options share some of the same trading terminology. For example, both investors in both types of derivatives will need to consider it’s bid-ask price. The bid price is the highest price a buyer will pay for the contract, while the ask price is what the seller will accept.

Investors can also purchase options on future contracts. In a call option on a future, the buyer has the right to buy a futures contract at a specific price at a specific future date. In a put option, the buyer has the right to sell the futures contract at a specific price at a specific date.

Recommended: Call vs Put Options: What’s the Difference?

Futures Contracts Pros & Cons

Futures trading can be a profitable strategy, but it also has some drawbacks that investors should consider.

Benefits of Futures Contracts

• Futures contracts act as a hedge against the risks related to price volatility.

• Most futures markets are highly liquid, allowing traders to buy and sell when they want.

• Futures may give investors access to commodities, and other markets not normally accessible to everyday investors.

• Futures contract pricing is determined by adding the cost of carrying the underlying asset to its spot price.

Downsides of Futures Contracts

• Futures contracts can be a high risk investment. In some cases, a futures contract can lose all of its value and trade at $0 when it expires.

• Futures contracts can reduce or eliminate potential gains from price swings in the underlying securities or assets.

• Futures contracts themselves are often highly volatile, with their prices fluctuating wildly.

• You may have to pay high commission charges on high-volume trades.

How Investors Use Futures Contracts

But not everyone who buys an oil futures contract plans to take delivery of the oil it represents. Retail investors also use futures as a way to protect their investments against volatility. Those futures investors who buy and sell the contracts to make money off the price changes that the contracts themselves undergo.

To go back to the example of an oil futures contract, an investor owns a contract, and the price of oil rises, allowing the contract owner to buy oil for less than the market price. The investor will be able to sell that contract for more than they purchased it for. The investor will then sell the contract on the futures market.

Other investors use futures contracts related to other commodities, including corn, soybeans and wheat. But there are also futures markets where investors can buy futures contracts that offer them the ability to bet on the future of currencies, individual stocks or stock indices like the S&P 500 or 10-year Treasury bills. Investors may choose to buy futures, rather than the securities themselves, to reduce their volatility exposure.

How to Trade Futures Contracts

There are several steps to trading futures contracts.

1. Open a brokerage account

To trade futures contracts, the first thing you’ll need is a brokerage account. You may also need your broker to give approval for margin and options privileges in your account.

2. Set a trading strategy

Before jumping into the futures market, develop a strategy. That strategy could involve technical analysis based on market data, or fundamental analysis based on the investment’s underlying economic and financial trends.

Some investors even try out their strategy using hypothetical trades before they start trading with real money. This allows you to understand the risks of potential trades without actually losing money.

3. Research trades that make sense for your investment strategy

Most brokerages that offer futures trading have an online platform you can use to research specific securities and see futures contracts available to buy or sell.

4. Double-check the terms

Make sure that the contracts will do what you think. That means confirming the selling and purchase price of the contract, the expiration, and the fees.

5. Develop your skills

Whether doing it on paper, or with real money, you’ll want to refine your strategy over time. You may find that you make more profitable trades in a specific sector, for example, or need to work on staying calm as security prices rise and fall. Practice will allow you to improve, and get more out of the futures strategy you’ve developed.

The Takeaway

Futures contracts are a type of investment that can offer access to commodities markets, as well as a way to protect against volatility. They can be a helpful tool to some investors, but they’re also risky and can be an expensive way to invest.

While SoFi does not offer futures contracts, it does provide a great way for investors to get started building a portfolio. The SoFi Invest brokerage platform offers an active investing solution that allows you to choose stocks and exchange-traded funds without paying commissions. SoFi Invest also offers an automated investing solution that invests your money for you based on your goals and risk, with no Sofi management fee.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes


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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
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3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
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When to Count Your Home Equity as Part of Your Net Worth

When to Count Your Home Equity as Part of Your Net Worth

Your home may be your largest asset, but should you include it in your net worth calculations? In some situations, it’s a good idea, and in others, not so much.
Some say you should list all assets as part of your net worth, including your home. Others contend that you have to live somewhere, and any money you have tied up in your home is essentially earmarked for that purpose.

Generally, though, when using tools to tap your home equity, you may want to include your house as part of your net worth. But when calculating retirement savings, it’s a no-go.

How to Calculate Net Worth

At its most basic, net worth is everything you own minus everything you owe.

To calculate your net worth, tally the value of all or your assets, including bank accounts, investments, and perhaps the value of your home or vacation home. Then subtract all or your debts, including any mortgage, student loans, car loans, and credit card balances.

If the resulting figure is negative, it means that your debts outweigh your assets. If positive, the opposite is true.

There is no one net worth figure that everyone should be aiming for. Your net worth, though, can be a personal benchmark against which you can measure your financial progress.

For example, if your net worth continues to move into negative territory, you know that it is time to tackle debts. Hopefully, you’ll see your net worth grow, which can give you some idea that your savings plan is working or your assets are increasing in value.

Your home may, strangely, function as both an asset and a liability. Your home equity—the part of the home you actually own—can be an asset. But your lender may still own part of your home. In that case, mortgage debt is a liability.

As you track your money and take your financial pulse, you may find that your home is simultaneously your biggest asset and biggest liability.

When to Include Your Home in Net Worth

Generally speaking, you may want to include your home as part of your total assets and net worth when you want to leverage the value of the equity you have stored there.

You can tap the equity in your home with a number of financial products. Here’s a look:

Home Equity Loan

A home equity loan allows you to borrow money that is secured by your home. You may be able to borrow up to 85% of the equity you have built up. For example, if you have $100,000 in home equity, you may have access to an $85,000 loan.

The actual amount you are offered will also be based on factors such as income, credit score, and the home’s market value.

You repay the lump-sum loan with fixed monthly payments over a fixed term.

As with home improvement loans, which are personal loans not secured by the property, you can use a home equity loan to pay for home renovations.

Or you can use a home equity loan for goals unrelated to your house, like paying for a child’s college education or consolidating higher-interest debt.

Just remember that if you fail to repay the loan, the lender can foreclose on your home to recoup its money.

Home Equity Line of Credit

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is not a loan but rather a revolving line of credit. You may be able to open a credit line for up to 85% of your home equity.

You can borrow as much as you need from your HELOC at any time. Accounts will often have checks or credit cards you can use to take out money. You make payments based on the amount you actually borrow, and you cannot exceed your credit limit.

HELOCs use your home as collateral. If you make late payments or fail to pay at all, your lender may seize your home.

Traditional Refinance

A traditional mortgage refinance replaces your old mortgage with a new loan. People typically choose this path to lower their interest rate or monthly payments.

They may also want to pay off their mortgage faster by changing their 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage, for example, reducing the amount of interest they pay over the life of the loan.

How do net worth and home equity come into play? One important metric lenders use when deciding whether you qualify for a mortgage refinance is your loan-to-value ratio (LTV), how much you owe on your current mortgage divided by the value of your home.

The more equity you have built in your home, the lower your LTV, which can help you secure a refinanced loan and influences the rate of the loan.

Cash-Out Refinance

A cash-out refinance replaces your mortgage with a new loan for more than the amount of money you still owe on your house.

The difference between what you owe and the new loan amount is given to you in cash, which you can use to pursue a number of financial needs like paying off debt or making home renovations.

Your cash-out amount will typically be limited to 80% to 90% of your home equity, and interest rates are typically a little bit higher thanks to the higher loan amount.

Recommended: Cash-Out Refinance vs HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit)

Reverse Mortgage

A home equity conversion mortgage, the most common kind of reverse mortgage, allows homeowners 62 and older to take out a loan secured by their home.

Borrowers do not make monthly payments. Interest and fees are added to the loan each month, and the loan is repaid when the homeowner no longer lives there, usually when the homeowner sells the house or dies, at which point the loan must be paid off by the person’s estate.

When Not to Include Your Home in Net Worth

There are a few instances when it doesn’t make sense to include your home in your net worth, or you aren’t allowed to.

Retirement Savings

If you’re using your net worth to get a sense of your retirement savings, it may not make sense to include your home, especially if you plan to live there when you retire.

Your retirement savings represent potential income you will draw on to cover your living expenses. Your home does not produce a stream of income on its own, unless you tap your equity using one of the methods above.

Applying for Student Aid

A family’s net worth can have an impact on eligibility for federal student aid. The more assets a family has, the more that need-based aid may be reduced.

However, the equity in a family’s primary residence is a nonreportable asset on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Most colleges use only the FAFSA to decide aid.

Several hundred colleges, usually selective private ones, use a form called the CSS Profile, which does ask applicants to report home equity, though a number of schools, such as Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, have moved to exclude home equity from their considerations for aid.

When Becoming an Accredited Investor

An accredited investor may participate in certain securities offerings that the average investor may not, such as private equity or hedge funds. Accredited investors are seen to be financially sophisticated enough, or wealthy enough, to shoulder the risk involved with such investments.

To become an accredited investor, you must have earned more than $200,000 (or $300,000 together with a spouse or spousal equivalent) in each of the prior two years, or you have a net worth over $1 million. However, you cannot include the value of your primary residence in your net worth.

The Takeaway

Whether or not you include your home in your net worth will depend largely on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you plan to tap your equity, then it is an important figure to include. But it’s not always included when it comes to things like student aid or retirement income.

While your mind is on home equity, maybe you’ve thought about a cash-out refinance, or maybe it’s time to sell and buy anew.

If you’re curious about a home loan or mortgage refinance, see what SoFi offers.

It takes two minutes to check your rate.

Photo credit: iStock/Chainarong Prasertthai


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