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9 Steps To Better Budgeting (DA)

When it comes to creating or improving upon a budget for yourself, your family and your household, the last thing you want to do is keep it all in your head.

That’s not a negative comment on your cognitive skills or intelligence; it’s just that when you write it all down and can see it with a bird’s eye view, you can get a deeper understanding of where your money is going, or where it could be going.

Many people would be surprised to see how they might be bleeding money by a thousand cuts: ATM and other banking fees, subscriptions they had forgotten about, restaurants, gasoline, that daily cup of joe (or three) at the coffee shop, cranking up the air conditioner or the heat, one streaming service too many, or more mani-pedis than are really needed. If you look closer, you could find even more cracks in your budget.

Here are nine steps to take that can help you to budget money better and get your budget in top shape, which could lead to more stability and excess money to use for your future.

Counting Only Your After-Tax Income

If you include your gross salary, you’re not doing your budget any favors. You can only work with the money that’s left over after your taxes are deducted; that’s called your net income. The money that was taxed goes directly to Uncle Sam. If you think you may be getting a tax refund or a bonus at work, wait until you actually get them before including them in your budget.

Recording What You Spend — to the Penny

The more accurate you can make your budget, the more you can understand how it’s helping or hurting you. Mortgage loans, rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, credit cards, loans, gas, and Internet are just a few of the facts of life.

Don’t round off to the nearest dollar; if pennies are involved in the charges, be sure to include them. The goal is to have more money coming in then what is going out every month. Once you have this figured out in dollars, you can start planning from there.

Setting Goals

Instant gratification (buying that coffee or that restaurant meal) is nowhere near as satisfying as setting a long-term goal and saving for it. A special trip, a down payment on a car or a house, or even just building a nest egg can be done with better budgeting.

Try opening one account specifically for that one goal, and put what you can into it week to week or paycheck to paycheck — or whenever you can. You’ll likely become even more motivated when you see that account grow as you grow closer to your goal.

Getting Granular and Detail-Oriented

Your cash can jump out of your hands in ways that you often don’t even realize. ATM fees, tips, a quick Uber ride, buying a buddy a coffee, or a bag of peanuts at the convenience store can start to add up. Be sure to save receipts and include these spends on your budget chart. To help keep track of your spending, get started with SoFi Relay. SoFi Relay tracks all of your money, all in one place.

In essence, write down everything you spend, and try to record them as they happen, or at least on the same day. This way, the receipts won’t pile up as much and make you feel reluctant to continue on. Becoming conscious of these little costs during the course of your day can help you start thinking about getting more budget-conscious and thrifty, and on your way to budget better.

Saving for the Inevitable

Christmas comes at the same time every year. So do birthdays. And Valentine’s Day. Figure out what you may be spending for those events that always seem to creep up on you without warning, and make an attempt to save a little each week toward those goals.

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Trimming the Fat

Once you start getting a better idea of how your existing budget is, you can start getting creative with where you can cut the unnecessary costs.

It could be as simple as eliminating a premium cable or Internet subscription or keeping the a/c at a slightly higher temp. It sounds painful, but once you start cutting, it may actually feel good, and you may get tempted to keep going.

Paying Yourself First

You always want to have enough money in your budget to cover your most important expenses (rent/mortgage, health insurance, utilities), but consider getting into the habit of putting a percentage of your earnings into your savings. If you do this first, you may not come up short when it comes time to dip into an emergency fund.

Being Consistent

Get into the habit of paying attention to your better budgeting every single day. Do everything in your power not to trail off. It’s so easy to skip one month of your budget due to being especially busy or simply just life happening in general.

Skipping one month can lead to skipping a number of months, and then your better budgeting can become just a hazy memory in your rear-view mirror. Reaching your financial goals can be much easier when you have a plan and stick to it.

Getting Budgeting Help

Better budgeting is certainly not rocket science — spend less than you make — but many of us could use some help when it comes to money. Sometimes, the ultimate help is being able to step back and take a comprehensive view of where you stand.

One way to keep your better budgeting on track is with a SoFi Checking and Savings® account.

It’s fee-free and costs nothing to maintain. Plus, with your SoFi Checking and Savings account you’ll be able to see, on a weekly basis, what your spending looks like.

Whether it be saving or investing, SoFi can help you get on track and reach for your financial independence. More than half a million members have already used SoFi to get their financial house in order and their futures more secure.


SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 4.20% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 1.20% 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 4/25/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance.
This information isn’t financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on specific financial needs, goals and risk appetite.
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank.
SoFi Checking and Savings® is offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member member FINRA / SIPC .
The information provided is not meant to provide investment, tax or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. Advisory and automated services offered through SoFi Wealth LLC. An SEC registered investment advisor. SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
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What Is the Average Nurse Salary?

Nursing can mean long hours spent on the hospital floor looking after patients. It can be exhausting, and some days, it may feel like there’s not a moment to spare as you dash from patient to patient. That said, caring for those in need as a nurse can be a stable and rewarding career.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in nursing you might be wondering what the average nurse salary, average starting salary for nurses, average registered nurse salary, or average nurse practitioner salary is.

There are a variety of factors that will influence how much money a nurse makes. Things like how many years of experience a nurse has, location, and the type of degree or certifications, can all impact how much money a nurse earns.

Average Salaries for Different Types of Nurses

When considering nursing as a career, it’s helpful to know the different types of nurses. Each has its own education and certification requirements.

A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) is one of the lowest paid jobs within the nursing field. Job responsibilities are typically similar for LVN and LPNs. California and Texas use the term LVN , while the rest of the country uses LPN.

These positions also have the lowest educational requirements. While LVN /LPN roles don’t always require a college education, there are usually state-approved training certification programs, most taking one year; that aspiring LVN/LPNs must complete along with passing the NCLEX-PN examination for state licensing. The average salary for LVN/LPNs as of July 2019 was $46,584 a year or $21.73 an hour .

Aspiring registered nurses (RN) typically need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree from an accredited program. There are also some accelerated programs available and some second degree programs for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field.

After successfully completing their chosen coursework, students must pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to become a certified RN. RNs typically need to obtain a state license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Each state has its own licensing board so it’s worth checking individual requirements in the state you plan to practice. The average RN salary as of July 2019 was $62,805 per year or $29.14 per hour .

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) have gone a step further and pursued additional education after becoming an RN. At a minimum, to become a CNS you must have a master of science in nursing (MSN).

A CNS typically trains extensively in an area of specialty. Some common specialties include emergency, oncology, and women’s health. The average salary for a CNS as of July 2019 was $88,143 annually or $39.66 per hour .

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) holds an advanced degree, but their responsibilities vary slightly when compared with a CNS. For example, in most states, a nurse practitioner is able to prescribe medication, while a CNS is not. The average nurse practitioner salary as of May 2018 was $110,030 annually or $52.90 per hour .

Average Salaries and Location

Location can also influence an average nurse’s salary. For example, in California, the average salary for an RN was $106,950 while the average in South Dakota was $58,340.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the five top-paying areas in for RNs as of May 2018 are:

•  California: The average RN salary is $106,950. The average hourly wage is $51.42.

•  Hawaii: The average RN salary is $98,080. The average hourly wage is $47.16.

•  District of Columbia: The average RN salary is $92,350. The average hourly wage is $44.40.

•  Massachusetts: The average RN salary is $92,140. The average hourly wage is $44.30.

•  Oregon: The average RN salary is $91,080. The average hourly wage is $43.79.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Nursing Degree?

The cost of getting a nursing degree varies based on the type of nursing program you choose. Each of the nursing positions listed above requires different degrees and certification.

The process to become an LVN/LPN generally costs between $10,000 and $15,000.

Taking an associate’s program to become an RN can take between two and three years. This route can cost around $31,000.

An alternative is to become an RN through a four-year bachelor’s program. This process works similarly to most other bachelor’s degree programs and typically costs the same as a four-year college or university.

In addition to having already been an RN, both CNS and NP careers require advanced degrees. Typically, a masters of science in nursing (MSN) is required for both positions.

The cost of getting an MSN will vary depending on the school you choose but can fall around $36,000 . Some choose to further their education, becoming a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These degrees can be expensive but also have the potential to increase a nurse’s salary.

There are usually costs beyond nursing school tuition. You’ll likely have to buy textbooks and supplies like a lab coat, scrubs, and a stethoscope. Many programs also charge additional lab fees each semester. Many schools will require nursing students to take out liability insurance and get some mandatory immunizations.

After graduating from your chosen program(s), you’ll also likely want to factor in the cost of licensing and exam fees.

Paying for Your Nursing Degree

Becoming a nurse can be a pricey process, depending on the path you choose. But there are options available to help students pay for their nursing degree. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has a scholarship database for nursing schools. Since scholarships don’t need to be repaid, and can be valuable in making ends meet as a nursing student.

In addition, federal aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans could provide some relief. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year.

Student Loan Forgiveness Options for Nurses

There are a number of student loan forgiveness programs available to nurses. Each has its own program requirements so it’s helpful review them closely to determine whether you qualify.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) forgives certain federal Direct loans after 10 years of qualifying, on-time payments. This program is open to borrowers who work for a qualifying organization, like a government organization, a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, certain other not-for-profits, or as a volunteer for AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. Complete the Employment Certification Form annually.

The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program will repay a portion of a nurse’s eligible student loans when they work full time at a Critical Shortage Facility or as a faculty member at a qualifying nursing school.

Those accepted by the program are eligible to have 60% of their outstanding loan balances forgiven over a two-year commitment. Some nurses may qualify to extend to a third year and have an additional 25% of their original loan balance forgiven.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program provides loan forgiveness to qualifying nurses who commit to working for two years in clinical practice at a National Health Service Corps site.

Repaying Student Loans after Nursing School

If you borrowed federal or private student loans to help you pay for nursing school, creating a repayment strategy can be valuable. The average starting salary for nurses is around $66,640 .

Coming off of life as a student, it can be tempting to spend all of your newfound income. But strategies like developing a budget and repayment plan for your student loans can help set you up for financial success.

If you don’t qualify for any of the available loan forgiveness options, federal student loans come with a few different student loan repayment plans so you can find the option that works best for your budget.

If you relied on private student loans to help you pay for your tuition at nursing school you may have to review the repayment terms. Each lender will determine their own terms and conditions for the loans they lend.

As you develop a game plan to help you repay your student loans, one option to consider is student loan refinancing.

When you refinance a loan, you take out a new loan with new terms. This loan is then used to repay your existing loans. If you borrowed multiple loans, this means you have the option to consolidate them into one single monthly payment—potentially with a lower interest rate.

Refinancing won’t be for everyone. If you have federal loans and are pursuing a forgiveness program or are taking advantage of income-based repayment, it may not be your best option. When you refinance federal loans, they are no longer eligible for federal protections or benefits.

But with your new degree and new salary, you could potentially qualify for a lower interest rate than the one on your existing loans. A lower interest rate could mean you pay less in interest over the life of the loan, potentially saving you money in the long term. To see how refinancing could impact your student loan, you can take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinancing calculator.

If you’re interested in refinancing, consider SoFi. There are no fees or prepayment penalties when you refinance with SoFi and the application process can be completed easily online. You can find out in just a few minutes if you pre-qualify.

Ready to take control of your student loan repayment? See how refinancing with SoFi can help you eliminate your debt.


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.
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.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

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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What is Financial Wellness & How To Achieve It (DA)

Financial wellness is something that everyone wants, in theory, but is very difficult to define. Sometimes, it feels more like a fleeting buzzword than a real state of being that a person can actually achieve.

Here’s the good news: You can accomplish financial wellness. It might not be easy, though, because financial wellness cannot be bought at a store, purchased online, or procured from a close family member.

Financial wellness is something that must be worked for. But financial wellness is worth every ounce of effort.

To work towards something, first, we must first understand it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)did a comprehensive study on financial wellness in 2017 where they found that because individuals value different things, strictly monetary measures such as income or net worth were not a perfect measure of financial wellness.

Instead, financial wellness relies on our ability to take care of our current and future selves with the resources we have. Naturally, this is going to look a little bit different for everybody.

Below, we will take some time to understand the definition of financial wellness. With this foundation, we can begin to design and enact a plan for anyone who wants to work towards financial well-being.

What Is Financial Wellness?

The CFPB defines the four elements of financial well-being, which include:

•  You have “Control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances.”

•  You have the “Capacity to absorb a financial shock.”

•  You are “On track to meet your financial goals.”

•  You have the “Financial freedom to make choices to enjoy life.”

Again, you’ll notice the absence of traditional markers of financial success, like earning a high income. While having a high income certainly helps, there are plenty of people who are high earners but are not financially well. Conversely, those who are low or middle earners are not precluded from achieving financial wellness.

Taking Steps Toward Financial Wellness

Next, we will cover some tips that can help you work toward financial wellness.

Paying Attention to Your Mindset

Financial wellness is connected to emotional wellness. These concepts are all related, and it is hard to have one without the other. Those who have experienced trauma or difficult experiences with money (such as growing up in poverty) may need to address what may be a tenuous relationship with money. Heck, all of us should take time to examine the way that money affects our mental states.

This process is going to look different for everyone. Some people may feel the need to do an examination of their beliefs about money they have from growing up. Others may want to explore issues with a professional.

For some folks, creating daily affirmations (such as “I am deserving of abundance”) or building a gratitude mindset (“I am grateful to live in a place where saving money is possible”) may work well. Keeping your money mindset in shape can take continual work, so try pairing exercises like these with the more logistical money tips we go through below.

Tracking Your Spending

It’s not glamorous, and it is that last thing that so many people want to do on their precious weekends, but tracking spending is essential to financial wellness. There is real truth to the saying “What gets measured gets improved.” There’s no way to fix problems like overspending without understanding exactly what goes in and what goes out.

Additionally, having a good budget is an important first step in building a solid overall financial infrastructure, which can include more advanced steps like saving and investing for long-term goals, like retirement.

It can feel overwhelming to start, but it doesn’t have to be. Begin with this month’s spending. Pull up your statements and organize purchases into categories, such as utilities, groceries, dining out, and shopping. Once it is added up, does a spending category jump out at you? This simple exercise often reveals at least a surprise or two.

If you don’t want to do manual tracking, you can use an app like SoFi Relay or see if your bank account provides a tracking feature. SoFi Checking and Savings® accounts provide weekly spending charts so you can visualize where your money is going.

Your next step would be to organize this information into a monthly cash flow report, where you compare your source(s) or income versus the money that was spent in that same month. Did you spend more than you earned? Or did you earn more than you spent, with some left over for savings? Next month, go through the exercise again (it gets easier every time). What patterns are emerging? Understanding these habits will be crucial to your success.

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Building Saving into Your Budget

An integral part of financial wellness is having money in the bank. People who have saved money also tend to have the peace of mind knowing that they could afford an emergency or job layoff. Additionally, financially well people are also typically saving for their future. This means setting some money aside for long-term goals like retirement.

To begin a saving routine, you can start by opening a savings account and transfer a portion of the money in your checking account into your new account. It can be a good idea set up a savings account that is separate from your checking.

Some people may find that cutting back on their spending and moving extra funds into savings is the way that works best for them. (For tips on reducing spending, see below.) Other people may find that a more proactive approach is best.

To fully embrace your new savings plan, you can set up an automatic, recurring transfer from your checking account to your saving account. It’s okay to start small—even small amounts matter, and everyone has to start somewhere.

Looking for Big Wins to save Money

If you want to start saving more money, often the fastest way to do so is by spending less money.

Clipping coupons or not ordering the appetizer once a month aren’t going to be the items that make or break your budget. Instead, look for ways that you can win big on savings. Easy ways to do this include cutting back in one of the categories we tend to spend the most amount of money on—housing, transportation, food, and other bills.

There are almost always ways to spend less in these categories—it’s often a matter of what we’ve grown comfortable with or accustomed to. With housing, you could downsize or have roommates. On transportation, you could own a more affordable car or consider car alternatives.

For food, actually use those groceries that you buy, or consider cutting back or eliminating eating out. There are plenty of ways to lower phone, electric, and gas bills. As a bonus, you can cancel any and all subscriptions (like cable) that you aren’t using.

Controlling Your Debt

It can be hard to feel financially well if you are also feeling overwhelmed by debt. Debt can come in many forms—credit cards and other personal loans, auto loans, student loans, and mortgages. People incur debt for many reasons, some of which are in their control and some that aren’t. Either way, large debt loads or big monthly debt bills can trigger stress in a person.

What can you do to control debt that feels out of control? The first step is to remind yourself that debt can be overcome and that it does not define you or your future. Second, make a plan to get out of debt by listing out all sources of debt, and tackling them either by the avalanche or the snowball method .

If you are dealing with credit card debt, specifically, you can call the credit card companies and ask them to lower your annual percentage rate (APR). Explain to them your situation and that you are trying to improve and organize your finances. A lower APR means lower interest charges, which may help you make some headway in paying off your credit card debt.

Depending on your APR, you may want to consider paying off your credit cards with a personal loan at a lower rate. This probably won’t make your debt go away (or stem the problem that caused the debt), but it could help you pay off your debt faster.

Accepting That Financial Education Is Ongoing

According the CFPB, a characteristic that all financially well people share is that they are committed to learning about how to manage their money. They understand that both work and education is continuous process.

We’ve provided a lot to think about here, so you can start with one or two items, and build from there. Don’t expect yourself to get there right away—remember to embrace the idea that financial wellness is a journey and an ongoing process. Good luck as you find a path towards financial wellness that works the best for you.


SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 4.20% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 1.20% 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 4/25/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance.
This information isn’t financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on specific financial needs, goals and risk appetite.
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank.
SoFi Checking and Savings® is offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
The information provided is not meant to provide investment, tax or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. Advisory and automated services offered through SoFi Wealth LLC. An SEC registered investment advisor. SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
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Costs of Owning a Home

Buying a home could very well be the biggest purchase of your life—but do you know the actual costs that come with owning a home? From the costs associated with the purchase to the purchases you’ll have to make down the line, owning a home costs more than simply your monthly mortgage payment.

Costs of Purchasing Your Home

There are more costs associated with buying your home than simply the down payment. The down payment is probably the largest initial cost you’ll take on, but don’t be blindsided by the additional fees you’ll need to pay. You can find out how much home you can afford with our home affordability calculator.

Down Payment

Historically, the magic number for a down payment has been 20% of the home’s value. However, the median down payment on a conventional loan in 2018 was 13%.

So 20% may no longer be standard, but anything less, and you might be paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on top of your monthly mortgage. Around half of all first-time buyers pay mortgage insurance.

PMI can make it possible for many buyers to afford the down payment, while protecting the bank’s investment if you default on the loan. The downside of PMI is the additional payments you’ll need to make each month until you are eligible to remove this insurance from your mortgage payment.

On the other hand, it could be tempting to make as large a down payment as possible—but that’ll leave you little wiggle room financially for the additional costs associated with your home down the line. If you make a large down payment, it can help to have funds reserved for emergencies and unexpected home repairs.

Closing Costs

Your down payment won’t be the only thing due on closing day. In addition to the down payment, you’ll be expected to cover closing costs. Closing costs typically cover things like:

•  Title insurance

•  Title search fees

•  Appraisal costs

•  Escrow or attorney fees

•  Surveying

•  Lender fees

Closing costs can vary based on factors such as the purchase price of your property, but you can expect to pay an estimated amount somewhere between 2% to 5% of your home’s purchase price in closing costs.

Check out local real estate
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Home Ownership Costs

You’ve got the deed and the keys, so now what? Beyond the standard mortgage payments, there are some extra costs you may want to save for.

Mortgage Payment

Your monthly mortgage payment is a few different payments rolled into one single bill. Your mortgage payment might include some or all of the following:

Principal: This is the repayment of the initial loan you took out to purchase the home. Paying the principal is paying off the remaining balance of what you owe on your home.

Interest: Depending on the terms of your mortgage, the interest could be fixed or variable.

Property Tax: If your mortgage has an escrow account, a portion of your mortgage payment will go towards your annual property tax bill. Property tax is paid to your local government and typically goes towards funding public schools, public works, libraries, parks, city government, and maintenance. The amount of property tax you’ll pay is calculated as a percentage of the value of your property. The percentage varies by location.

Insurance: If you’re paying into escrow, you’ll pay a portion of your homeowner’s insurance policy each month instead of a lump sum once a year. You’ll work with your insurance provider to determine the coverage of the policy, but standard home insurance typically provides protection against certain unexpected events, like damage caused by a fire or a break-in. Policy specifics will vary.

PMI: If your initial down payment was under 20%, you may be responsible for PMI. This payment can be anywhere from 0.25% to 2% of your annual loan amount.

Utilities

Unlike a rental where you may only pay gas and electric, when you own a home, you’re on the hook for all utilities, including water, gas, heat, electricity, sewer, and trash/recycling. Utilities will vary based on your location, as well as the size of your home, but the national monthly averages are as follows:

•  Electricity: $183

•  Water: $40

•  Internet/Cable: $100

•  Gas: $82

•  Garbage, Sewer, & Recycling: $12-$20

•  Internet: $47

These figures vary based on area and activity, but taking steps to save energy on heating and cooling could lower your monthly bills. Depending on where you live, utility providers might offer an option to set a fixed rate for the year, so you’ll pay the same amount each month instead of paying a bill that varies with the change in the seasons.

Improvements & Repairs

Your dream home might just be a few renovation projects away, but remember to factor the cost of those updates into the true cost of owning your home. Not only that, but strategic improvements can greatly increase the resale value of your home.

The cost of home improvement projects vary widely based on what you’re working on. According to HomeAdvisor’s 2018 State of Home Spending Report, the average homeowner spent $7,560 last year on home improvement projects.

Each homeowner has different motivations for their work, but in the past year, owners have spent more time on improving their home than simple maintenance.

You might be budgeting for future home improvement projects, but don’t forget to include a cushion for emergency repairs. According to the same HomeAdvisor report, one in three owners reported having to pay for an emergency project—the average cost coming in at $1,206 .

Maintenance

Home maintenance entails the general upkeep of things like your property’s systems, structures, and appliances.

Upkeep costs can be more predictable than some repairs. According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners spent an average of $1,105 on home maintenance in 2018. This could be anything from having the furnace and HVAC serviced to pest control treatments on your home’s exterior.

A variety of these projects can be DIY-ed, but you’ll want to budget in the cost of tools and supplies.

You can’t predict the exact lifespan of your appliances and home systems, but a general idea can make it easier to anticipate future costs. When you buy your home, take note of how old the appliances and other systems are, so you can have a better idea of when you’ll need to replace them.

For example, windows generally need to be replaced every 20 to 30 years, while carpets benefit from being replaced every five to 10 years. Consider the outside structure of the house too, like the roof, siding, and gutters. It may be helpful to get a quote from a contractor for any larger repairs or renovations you plan to complete too.

Don’t Let Your Mortgage Cost You

The cost and time it takes to upkeep a home can be staggering, so don’t let your mortgage provider cost you even more time or money with complicated systems or hidden fees.

SoFi offers mortgage loans with competitive rates and a simple platform that can relieve some of the stress associated with home ownership.

Find out more about applying for a mortgage with SoFi.


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REALTOR® vs. Real Estate Agent

If you’ve made the decision to buy a home—or sell the one you have—you also may be thinking about hiring someone to help things go as smoothly as possible.

A real estate professional can assist in assessing how much to list or bid on a home for, help with negotiations, hold your hand while you make important decisions, and help you understand the complicated paperwork.

The right agent can help you buy your dream home or sell the home you have now. The wrong agent might not focus on your needs or price your house incorrectly, leaving you angry or disappointed.

But how can you know who to hire when the pros often have different job experience or expertise and go by different job titles? Are all real estate agents also REALTORS? Is that the same thing as a sales associate? What’s the difference between a buyer’s agent and a listing agent? And what does a real estate broker do?

What’s in a Name?

Though REALTOR and real estate agent are often used interchangeably, there are some important differences. Here’s a breakdown of the various titles real estate professionals use and what they mean:

Real estate agent: This is the most common term used for professionals who help clients buy and sell real estate. (Some firms may call their real estate agents “sales associates” or “salespeople.”) But a person can’t just slap their name on a business card and start selling homes.

A real estate agent must have a professional license to help residential or commercial clients buy, sell, or rent a home or some other type of real estate. And to get that license, aspiring agents must take the required hours of pre-licensing training and any written exams mandated by their state. There are also continuing education requirements for license renewal. States also have different age, education, and residency requirements, and some jurisdictions also require a background check.

REALTOR: There’s a reason you may see REALTOR capitalized in print: The term is trademarked by the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) , the largest trade organization in the U.S., and it should be used only to refer to that organization’s dues-paying members.

Members of the NAR are licensed professionals who expect to be held to a higher standard of practice, and they have their own strict code of ethics which is made up of 17 articles, meant to protect clients, the public, and other real estate agents. According to the NAR, 65% of its members are licensed sales agents, 21% hold a broker license, and 15% hold a broker associate license.

If you’re looking at hiring a REALTOR vs. an agent, one of the big perks of NAR membership is access to additional research, market data, and transaction management services.

Broker: Brokers are professionals who take their real estate education and licensing to the next level—and they often manage other agents. (Think of it like a school principal who still may teach, but also has management responsibilities.)

Because of this elevated role, a broker’s pre-licensing coursework usually dives deeper into complicated topics such as contracts, taxes, insurance, and other legal issues.

Real estate brokers can work as independent agents or have other agents working for them—and they typically receive a percentage of their agents’ commissions as payment for overseeing their transactions. Agents who pass the broker exam but choose to work under another broker may be referred to as associate brokers.

Listing agent: Some agents prefer to work only with sellers. Others work only with buyers. But many agents do both. Real estate agents or REALTORS who represent home sellers are called “listing agents.”

And in that capacity, their duties may include pricing the home, suggesting improvements, marketing and holding open houses, coordinating showings with other agents, recommending renovations or offering staging tips, and negotiating with potential buyers.

Buyer’s agent: Agents who represent homebuyers are called “buyer’s agents,” and it’s their job to help their clients find potential homes to tour and show those homes, offer references for other professionals that may be needed (inspectors, mortgage brokers, etc.), negotiate deals, and help their clients through the closing. Listing agents and buyer’s agents typically split a 4% to 7% commission on a home’s sale price—and that money is typically paid by the seller from the sale proceeds of the home.

Looking Beyond the Job Title

Besides understanding the credentials, duties, and level of education each real estate professional involved in your home sale or purchase may have, here are some other factors to consider:

•  Do you want to work with a team or an individual? With a team, you’ll have multiple agents looking out for you—and there might always be somebody to sub in if your agent is unavailable for a showing or to answer a question. With an individual agent, you’ll have just one person to go to for all your needs, but you’ll get to know that agent, and they’ll get to know you. That personalized approach might be helpful during what could be a stressful process.

•  How much experience does your potential agent/REALTOR have? Not that there’s anything wrong with a sharp, gung-ho newbie, but given that your home purchase may be the biggest financial transaction of your life, it’s important to get it right. A seasoned agent can draw from past experiences when negotiating and problem-solving. You also may want to ask if the agent considers real estate to be a full- or part-time job. If this is a major purchase for you, you may want to know that you have the person’s full focus.

•  How familiar is the agent/REALTOR with your current neighborhood (if you’re selling) and desired neighborhood (if you’re buying)? Knowledge of the area can be a plus when you’re looking at “comps” or “comparables” to determine the fair value of a home. Your agent should also be able to help if you need information about schools or crime or if you want to know how long it’s really going to take you to commute from your home to your office downtown. Of course, anyone can look up this information, but an agent’s insider knowledge (school zones that might slow you down? speed traps?) may give you an edge in decision-making.

•  Where did you hear about the professional you’re considering? The agent with the biggest advertising budget may or may not be the right person for you. If you have family and friends in the area, they might be able to help with recommendations. (Don’t just ask who they used—ask if they’d use that person again.) It also might help your comfort level to speak with your top prospects in person, to get questions answered and to be sure communication is easy.

What’s Next?

Finding a qualified, experienced real estate professional to work with is considered by some to be a major step in the home buying or selling process. The right person could help you with everything from figuring out how much house you may be able to qualify for, to getting you into the home you want with as little financial and emotional pain as possible.

Once you’ve found that person, you may want to look for a lender, as well—and a SoFi mortgage loan could be a good place to start. Applying for a loan with SoFi is easy—choose the loan option that best fits your needs with no hidden fees, and a quick online prequalification process.

Ready to start your homebuying quest? Check out how SoFi can help you find a mortgage that fits your needs.


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.
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.

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

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