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Six Keys to More Successful Investing

Six Keys to More Successful Investing

A successful investor maximizes gain and minimizes loss. Here are six basic principles that may help you invest more successfully.

Long-term compounding can help your nest egg grow

It’s the “rolling snowball” effect. Put simply, compounding pays you earnings on your reinvested earnings. The longer you leave your money at work for you, the more exciting the numbers get. For example, imagine an investment of $10,000 at an annual rate of return of 8 percent. In 20 years, assuming no withdrawals, your $10,000 investment would grow to $46,610. In 25 years, it would grow to $68,485, a 47 percent gain over the 20-year figure. After 30 years, your account would total $100,627. (Of course, this is a hypothetical example that does not reflect the performance of any specific investment.)

This simple example also assumes that no taxes are paid along the way, so all money stays invested. That would be the case in a tax-deferred individual retirement account or qualified retirement plan. The compounded earnings of deferred tax dollars are the main reason experts recommend fully funding all tax-advantaged retirement accounts and plans available to you.

While you should review your portfolio on a regular basis, the point is that money left alone in an investment offers the potential of a significant return over time. With time on your side, you don’t have to go for investment “home runs” in order to be successful.

Endure short-term pain for long-term gain

Riding out market volatility sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what if you’ve invested $10,000 in the stock market and the price of the stock drops like a stone one day? On paper, you’ve lost a bundle, offsetting the value of compounding you’re trying to achieve. It’s tough to stand pat.

There’s no denying it–the financial marketplace can be volatile.

First, the longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to reduce your risk and improve your opportunities for gain. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up. Take your time horizon into account when establishing your investment game plan. For assets you’ll use soon, you may not have the time to wait out the market and should consider investments designed to protect your principal. Conversely, think long-term for goals that are many years away.

Second, during any given period of market or economic turmoil, some asset categories and some individual investments historically have been less volatile than others. Bond price swings, for example, have generally been less dramatic than stock prices. Though diversification alone cannot guarantee a profit or ensure against the possibility of loss, you can minimize your risk somewhat by diversifying your holdings among various classes of assets, as well as different types of assets within each class.

Asset allocation

is the process by which you spread your dollars over several categories of investments, usually referred to as asset classes. These classes include stocks, bonds, cash (and cash alternatives), real estate, precious metals, collectibles, and in some cases, insurance products. You’ll also see the term “asset classes” used to refer to subcategories, such as aggressive growth stocks, long-term growth stocks, international stocks, government bonds (U.S., state, and local), high-quality corporate bonds, low-quality corporate bonds, and tax-free municipal bonds. A basic asset allocation would likely include at least stocks, bonds (or mutual funds of stocks and bonds), and cash or cash alternatives.

There are two main reasons why asset allocation is important. First, the mix of asset classes you own is a large factor–some say the biggest factor by far–in determining your overall investment portfolio performance. In other words, the basic decision about how to divide your money between stocks, bonds, and cash is probably more important than your subsequent decisions over exactly which companies to invest in, for example.

Spread your wealth through asset allocation

Second, by dividing your investment dollars among asset classes that do not respond to the same market forces in the same way at the same time, you can help minimize the effects of market volatility while maximizing your chances of return in the long term. Ideally, if your investments in one class are performing poorly, assets in another class may be doing better. Any gains in the latter can help offset the losses in the former and help minimize their overall impact on your portfolio.

Consider liquidity in your investment choices

Liquidity refers to how quickly you can convert an investment into cash without loss of principal (your initial investment). Generally speaking, the sooner you’ll need your money, the wiser it is to keep it in investments with comparatively less volatile price movements. You want to avoid a situation, for example, where you need to write a tuition check next Tuesday, but the money is tied up in an investment whose price is currently down.

Therefore, your liquidity needs should affect your investment choices. If you’ll need the money within the next one to three years, you may want to consider certificates of deposit or a savings account, which are insured by the FDIC, or short-term bonds or a money market account, which are neither insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other governmental agency. Your rate of return will likely be lower than that possible with more volatile investments such as stocks, but you’ll breathe easier knowing that the principal you invested is relatively safe and quickly available, without concern over market conditions on a given day.

Note: If you’re considering a mutual fund, consider its investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses, all of which are outlined in the prospectus, available from the fund. Consider the information carefully before investing.

Dollar cost averaging: investing consistently and often

Dollar cost averaging is a method of accumulating shares of stock or a mutual fund by purchasing a fixed dollar amount of these securities at regularly scheduled intervals over an extended time. When the price is high, your fixed-dollar investment buys less; when prices are low, the same dollar investment will buy more shares. A regular, fixed-dollar investment should result in a lower average price per share than you would get buying a fixed number of shares at each investment interval.

Remember that, just as with any investment strategy, dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or protect you against a loss if the market is declining. To maximize the potential effects of dollar cost averaging, you should also assess your ability to keep investing even when the market is down.

An alternative to dollar cost averaging would be trying to “time the market,” in an effort to predict how the price of the shares will fluctuate in the months ahead so you can make your full investment at the absolute lowest point. However, market timing is generally unprofitable guesswork. The discipline of regular investing is a much more manageable strategy, and it has the added benefit of automating the process.

Buy and hold, don’t buy and forget

Unless you plan to rely on luck, your portfolio’s long-term success will depend on periodically reviewing it. Maybe your uncle’s hot stock tip has frozen over. Maybe economic conditions have changed the prospects for a particular investment, or an entire asset class.

Even if nothing bad at all happens, your various investments will likely appreciate at different rates, which will alter your asset allocation without. For example, if you initially decided on an 80 percent to 20 percent mix of stocks to bonds, you might find that after several years the total value of your portfolio has become divided 88 percent to 12 percent (conversely, if stocks haven’t done well, you might have a 70-30 ratio of stocks to bonds). You need to review your portfolio periodically to see if you need to return to your original allocation. To rebalance your portfolio, you would buy more of the asset class that’s lower than desired, possibly using some of the proceeds of the asset class that is now larger than you intended.

Another reason for periodic portfolio review: your circumstances change over time, and your asset allocation will need to reflect those changes. For example, as you get closer to retirement, you might decide to increase your allocation to less volatile investments, or those that can provide a steady stream of income.

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Handling Market Volatility

Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up, must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when it’s your money at stake.

Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common sense tips can help.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

Diversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key ways you can handle market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of different investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives (e.g., money market funds, CDs, and other short-term instruments), has the potential to help manage your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can’t guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of market loss.

One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class. An easy way to decide on an appropriate mix of investments is to use a worksheet or an interactive tool that suggests a model or sample allocation based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance level, and investment time horizon.

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it’s easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have years to invest, don’t overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The small returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem downright attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns.

But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer safety of principal and liquidity, may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short-term or if a long-term goal such as retirement has now become an immediate goal. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that although past performance is no guarantee of future results, stocks have historically outperformed stable value investments over time. If you move most or all of your investment dollars into conservative investments, you’ve not only locked in any losses you might have, but you’ve also sacrificed the potential for higher returns.

Look for the silver lining

A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity you have to buy shares of stock at lower prices.

One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar cost averaging. With dollar cost averaging, you don’t try to “time the market” by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don’t worry about price at all. Instead, you invest the same amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of stock, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares.

Although dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or protect against a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you invest through all types of markets. Please remember that since dollar cost averaging involves continuous investment in securities regardless of fluctuating price levels of such securities, you should consider your financial ability to make ongoing purchases.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

As the market recovers from a down cycle, elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it’s easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check up on your portfolio at least once a year, more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance, or redesign it so that it better suits your current needs. If you need help, one of our financial professional’s can help you decide which investment options are right for you. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation!

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Other Investment Options

Other Investment Options

A well-diversified investment portfolio contains a mix of stocks, bonds, short-term cash investments, and savings accounts that is tailored to your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you want to diversify your investment portfolio further, you can look to other investment possibilities. Here are a few of these, with brief explanations of what they are, how they can be used, and what the risks and potential rewards may be.

Precious metals

Some investors purchase silver or gold as a hedge against inflation or currency fluctuations.

In general, as inflation rises, the value of the dollar normally goes down. Historically, when a significant drop in the dollar occurred, gold and silver went up in value. Precious metals such as gold had a tendency to retain their purchasing power no matter how badly the currency declined. Precious metals have intrinsic value, while currency can literally become worth less than the paper it is printed on. Keep in mind, though, that past performance is no guarantee of future results. There can be no assurance that an investment will ever be profitable.

As with any other investment, risks are involved when investing in gold. These include certain risks uncommon to other types of investments, such as monetary policy changes and currency devaluations. Investors should discuss the risks of investing in gold with their financial professional.

Some options for investing in precious metals include actually purchasing the asset (i.e., gold bullion or coins), buying shares of mining companies, investing in a fund that concentrates its portfolio in the securities of issuers principally engaged in gold-related activities, buying futures or options contracts (see below) or investing in an exchange-traded fund that holds bullion.

Options

Options give the owner the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a set price before a certain date. The underlying asset can be currency, a stock, an index, a bond, or a Treasury bill. A call option is the right to buy the underlying asset, and a put option is the right to sell the underlying asset. The price paid for the option is called the premium.

An investor purchases an option to control a specific number of shares for a limited period of time. An investor might purchase a call option because he or she believes that the price of the stock will go up during that period. Similarly, an investor might purchase a put option because he or she believes that the price will go down during that period. If the investor has guessed wrong, the option expires worthless. As well, he or she could lose the total premium paid for the option.

An investor may sell an option for income on an underlying security that he or she owns. The income is the premium that an option buyer pays to purchase the option. If the underlying security moves in favor of the option buyer, the buyer may exercise the option, and the option seller may be required to sell the underlying security. If the underlying security moves in favor of the seller, the buyer normally will not exercise the option, and the seller keeps both the premium and the underlying asset.

These are just two strategies in which an investor uses options. Although there are many benefits in using them, options are risky and not suitable for all investors. Before attempting to buy or sell options, it is important to discuss the role they can play in your portfolio with a financial professional.

Futures

A futures contract is a promise to buy or sell a commodity for a certain price on a future date. Commodities include oil, natural gas, lumber, and base metals. As well as many agricultural products such as farm grains, beef, pork. coffee, and cocoa. In addition to commodities, investors can trade futures on foreign currencies, interest rate products such as Treasury bills, precious metals, and market indexes such as the S&P 500.

Investors purchase futures contracts either as a hedge against price fluctuations or for speculation purposes. Hedging is the primary purpose of futures contracts. The purchaser of the futures contract establishes a price now for a purchase or sale that will take place in the future. Speculators buy and sell futures contracts based on whether they expect prices to move up or down; they hope to profit from the price changes that hedgers try to avoid, and rarely take delivery of the underlying commodity itself.

Futures contracts are extremely high-risk investments. They should be considered only by experienced investors and professionals.

Real estate investment trusts

A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a corporation (or business trust) that invests in real estate or provides financing for real estate. REITs own and, in most instances, manage income-producing real estate such as offices, shopping centers, apartments, and warehouses. REITs derive their income from rents and capital gains realized on the sale of real estate. Some REITs invest in mortgages secured by real estate and get their income from the collection of interest. A REIT may specialize in one type of real estate. For example, office buildings have holdings in a variety of types.

REITs offer a convenient way for an investor to participate in commercial real estate. First, an investor’s capital commitment is lower, since the investor buys shares of a REIT rather than the actual property. Second, owning a REIT generally offers greater liquidity than owning the property itself. Most REITs trade on the major stock exchanges and can be purchased or sold through stockbrokers. Finally, you get professional property management. Which means you don’t have to chase after the rents or respond to late-night phone calls about maintenance problems.

REITs offer long-term growth potential and income. Also, investing in REITs helps diversify a portfolio, though diversification alone can’t guarantee a profit or protect against potential loss. However, risks are associated with real estate investing. The value of real estate is affected by interest rate changes, economic conditions (both national and local), property tax rates, and other factors. It is important to discuss with a financial professional the role REITs can play in your portfolio.

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Annuity Basics for Beginners

Annuity Basics for Beginners

An annuity is a contract between you, the purchaser or owner, and an insurance company, the annuity issuer. In its simplest form, you pay money to an annuity issuer, and the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary. Life insurance companies first developed annuities to provide income to individuals during their retirement years.

One of the attractive aspects of an annuity is that its earnings are tax deferred until you begin to receive payments back from the annuity issuer. In this respect, an annuity is similar to a qualified retirement plan. Over a long period of time, your investment in an annuity can grow substantially larger than if you had invested money in a comparable taxable investment. Like a qualified retirement plan, a 10 percent tax penalty may be imposed if you begin withdrawals from an annuity before age 59½. Unlike a qualified retirement plan, contributions to an annuity are not tax deductible, and taxes are paid only on the earnings when distributed.

Four parties to an annuity contract

There are four parties to an annuity contract: the annuity issuer, the owner, the annuitant, and the beneficiary. The annuity issuer is the company that issues the annuity. The owner is the individual or other entity who buys the annuity from the annuity issuer and makes the contributions to the annuity. The annuitant is the individual whose life will be used as the measuring life for determining the timing and amount of distribution benefits that will be paid out. The owner and the annuitant are usually the same person but do not have to be. Finally, the beneficiary is the person who receives a death benefit from the annuity at the death of the annuitant.

Two distinct phases to an annuity

There are two distinct phases to an annuity: (1) the accumulation (or investment) phase and (2) the distribution phase.

The accumulation (or investment) phase is the time period when you add money to the annuity. When using this option, you’ll have purchased a deferred annuity. You can purchase the annuity in one lump sum, or you make investments periodically, over time.

The distribution phase is when you begin receiving distributions from the annuity. You have two general options for receiving distributions from your annuity. Under the first option, you can withdraw some or all of the money in the annuity in lump sums.

The second option provides you with a guaranteed income stream from the annuity for your entire lifetime or for a specific period of time. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. This option can be elected at any time on your deferred annuity. Or, if you want to invest in an annuity and start receiving payments within the first year, you’ll purchase what is known as an immediate annuity.

Joint and Survivor Annuity

You can also elect to receive the annuity payments over both your lifetime and the lifetime of another person. This option is known as a joint and survivor annuity. Under a joint and survivor annuity, the annuity issuer promises to pay you an amount of money on a periodic basis. The amount you receive for each payment period will depend on how much money you have in the annuity. Also, it depends how earnings are credited to your account, and the age at which you begin the annuitization phase. The length of the distribution period will also affect how much you receive. If you are age 65 and elect to receive annuity distributions over your entire lifetime, the amount you will receive with each payment will be less than if you had elected to receive annuity distributions over five years.

When is an annuity appropriate?

It is important to understand that annuities can be an excellent tool if you use them properly. Annuities are not right for everyone.

Annuity contributions are not tax deductible. That’s why most experts advise funding other retirement plans first. However, if you have already contributed the maximum allowable amount to other available retirement plans, an annuity can be an excellent choice. There is no limit to how much you can invest in an annuity. As with other retirement plans, the funds are allowed to grow tax deferred until you begin taking distributions.

The big picture

Annuities are designed to be very-long-term investment vehicles. In most cases, you’ll pay a penalty for early withdrawals. If you take a lump-sum distribution of your annuity funds within the first few years after purchasing your annuity, you may be subject to surrender charges imposed by the issuer. As long as you’re sure you won’t need the money until at least age 59½, an annuity is worth considering. If your needs are more short term, you should explore other options. Contact us today for your complimentary consultation and let us help you!

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Six Keys to More Successful Investing

Six Keys to More Successful Investing

A successful investor maximizes gain and minimizes loss. Here are six basic principles that may help you invest more successfully.

Long-term compounding can help your nest egg grow

It’s the “rolling snowball” effect. Put simply, compounding pays you earnings on your reinvested earnings. The longer you leave your money at work for you, the more exciting the numbers get. For example, imagine an investment of $10,000 at an annual rate of return of 8 percent. In 20 years, assuming no withdrawals, your $10,000 investment would grow to $46,610. In 25 years, it would grow to $68,485, a 47 percent gain over the 20-year figure. After 30 years, your account would total $100,627.

This simple hypothetical example also assumes that no taxes are paid along the way, so all money stays invested. That would be the case in a tax-deferred individual retirement account or qualified retirement plan. The compounded earnings of deferred tax dollars are the main reason experts recommend fully funding all tax-advantaged retirement accounts and plans available to you.

You should review your portfolio on a regular basis. However, the point is that money left alone in an investment offers the potential of a significant return over time. With time on your side, you don’t have to go for investment “home runs” in order to be successful.

Endure short-term pain for long-term gain

Riding out market volatility sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what if you’ve invested $10,000 in the stock market and the price of the stock drops like a stone one day? On paper, you’ve lost a bundle, offsetting the value of compounding you’re trying to achieve. It’s tough to stand pat.

There’s no denying it–the financial marketplace can be volatile. Still, it’s important to remember two things. First, the longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to reduce your risk. Thus, you can improve your opportunities for gain. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up. Take your time horizon into account when establishing your investment game plan. For assets you’ll use soon, you may not have the time to wait out the market. You should consider investments designed to protect your principal. Conversely, think long-term for goals that are many years away.

Second, during any given period of market or economic turmoil, some asset categories and some individual investments historically have been less volatile than others. Bond price swings, for example, have generally been less dramatic than stock prices. Though diversification alone cannot guarantee a profit or ensure against the possibility of loss. You can minimize your risk somewhat by diversifying your holdings among various classes of assets. As well as different types of assets within each class.

Spread your wealth through asset allocation

Asset allocation is the process by which you spread your dollars over several categories of investments, usually referred to as asset classes. These classes include:

  • stocks
  • bonds
  • cash
  • cash alternatives
  • real estate
  • precious metals
  • collectibles
  • and in some cases, insurance products.

You’ll also see the term “asset classes” used to refer to subcategories, such as aggressive growth stocks, long-term growth stocks, international stocks, government bonds (U.S., state, and local), high-quality corporate bonds, low-quality corporate bonds, and tax-free municipal bonds. A basic asset allocation would likely include at least stocks, bonds (or mutual funds of stocks and bonds), and cash or cash alternatives.

There are two main reasons why asset allocation is important. First, the mix of asset classes you own is a large factor. Some say the biggest factor by far–in determining your overall investment portfolio performance. In other words, the basic decision about how to divide your money between stocks, bonds, and cash is probably more important than your subsequent decisions over exactly which companies to invest in, for example.

Second, by dividing your investment dollars among asset classes that do not respond to the same market forces in the same way at the same time, you can help minimize the effects of market volatility while maximizing your chances of return in the long term. Ideally, if your investments in one class are performing poorly, assets in another class may be doing better. Any gains in the latter can help offset the losses in the former and help minimize their overall impact on your portfolio.

Consider liquidity in your investment choices

Liquidity refers to how quickly you can convert an investment into cash without loss of principal (your initial investment). Generally speaking, the sooner you’ll need your money, the wiser it is to keep it in investments with comparatively less volatile price movements. You want to avoid a situation, for example, where you need to write a tuition check next Tuesday, but the money is tied up in an investment whose price is currently down.

Therefore, your liquidity needs should affect your investment choices. If you’ll need the money within the next one to three years, you may want to consider certificates of deposit or a savings account. These are insured by the FDIC, or short-term bonds or a money market account. Neither insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other governmental agency. Your rate of return will likely be lower than that possible with more volatile investments such as stocks, but you’ll breathe easier knowing that the principal you invested is relatively safe and quickly available, without concern over market conditions on a given day.

Dollar cost averaging: investing consistently and often

Dollar cost averaging is a method of accumulating shares of stock or a mutual fund by purchasing a fixed dollar amount of these securities at regularly scheduled intervals over an extended time. When the price is high, your fixed-dollar investment buys less. When prices are low, the same dollar investment will buy more shares. A regular, fixed-dollar investment should result in a lower average price per share than you would get buying a fixed number of shares at each investment interval.

Remember, just as with any investment strategy, dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or protect you against a loss if the market is declining. To maximize the potential effects of dollar cost averaging, you should also assess your ability to keep investing even when the market is down.

An alternative to dollar cost averaging would be trying to “time the market,”. This is an effort to predict how the price of the shares will fluctuate in the months ahead so you can make your full investment at the absolute lowest point. However, market timing is generally unprofitable guesswork. The discipline of regular investing is a much more manageable strategy, and it has the added benefit of automating the process.

Buy and hold, don’t buy and forget

Unless you plan to rely on luck, your portfolio’s long-term success will depend on periodically reviewing it. Maybe your uncle’s hot stock tip has frozen over. Maybe economic conditions have changed the prospects for a particular investment, or an entire asset class.

Even if nothing bad at all happens, your various investments will likely appreciate at different rates,. This will alter your asset allocation without. You need to review your portfolio periodically to see if you need to return to your original allocation. To rebalance your portfolio, you would buy more of the asset class that’s lower than desired. This would be possibly using some of the proceeds of the asset class that is now larger than you intended.

Another reason for periodic portfolio review: your circumstances change over time. Your asset allocation will need to reflect those changes. For example, as you get closer to retirement, you might decide to increase your allocation to less volatile investments, or those that can provide a steady stream of income.

We can make sure your investments are on the right track

Contact us today and set up a complimentary consultation with one of our advisors. They can review your current investments and make sure you are setting yourself up for a successful future.

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Buying a Home

Buying a Home

There’s no doubt about it–owning a home is an exciting prospect. After all, you’ve always dreamed of having a place that you could truly call your own. But buying a home can be stressful, especially when you’re buying one for the first time. Fortunately, knowing what to expect can make it a lot easier.

How much can you afford?

According to a general rule of thumb, you can afford a house that costs two and a half times your annual salary. But determining how much you can afford to spend on a house is not quite so simple. Since most people finance their home purchases, buying a house usually means getting a mortgage. So, the amount you can afford to spend on a house is often tied to figuring out how large a mortgage you can afford. To figure this out, you’ll need to take into account your gross monthly income, housing expenses, and any long-term debt. Try using one of the many real estate and personal finance websites to help you with the calculations.

Mortgage prequalification vs. preapproval

Once you have an idea of how much of a mortgage you can afford, you’ll want to shop around and compare the mortgage rates and terms that various lenders offer. When you find the right lender, find out how you can prequalify or get preapproval for a loan. Prequalifying gives you the lender’s estimate of how much you can borrow and in many cases can be done over the phone, usually at no cost. Prequalification does not guarantee that the lender will grant you a loan, but it can give you a rough idea of where you stand. If you’re really serious about buying, however, you’ll probably want to get preapproved for a loan. Preapproval is when the lender, after verifying your income and performing a credit check, lets you know exactly how much you can borrow. This involves completing an application, revealing your financial information, and paying a fee.

It’s important to note that the mortgage you qualify for or are approved for is not always what you can actually afford. Before signing any loan paperwork, take an honest look at your lifestyle, standard of living, and spending habits to make sure that your mortgage payment won’t be beyond your means.

Should you use a real estate agent or broker?

A knowledgeable real estate agent or buyer’s broker can guide you through the process of buying a home and make the process much easier. This assistance can be especially helpful to a first-time home buyer. In particular, an agent or broker can:

  • Help you determine your housing needs
  • Show you properties and neighborhoods in your price range
  • Suggest sources and techniques for financing
  • Prepare and present an offer to purchase
  • Act as an intermediary in negotiations
  • Recommend professionals whose services you may need (e.g., lawyers, mortgage brokers, title professionals, inspectors)
  • Provide insight into neighborhoods and market activity
  • Disclose positive and negative aspects of properties you’re considering

Keep in mind that if you enlist the services of an agent or broker, you’ll want to find out how he or she is being compensated (i.e., flat fee or commission based on a percentage of the sale price). Many states require the agent or broker to disclose this information to you up front and in writing.

Choosing the right home

Before you begin looking at houses, decide in advance the features that you want your home to have. Knowing what you want ahead of time will make the search for your dream home much easier. Here are some things to consider:

  • Price of home and potential for appreciation
  • Location or neighborhood
  • Quality of construction, age, and condition of the property
  • Style of home and lot size
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Quality of local schools
  • Crime level of the area
  • Property taxes
  • Proximity to shopping, schools, and work

Making the offer

Once you find a house, you’ll want to make an offer. Most home sale offers and counteroffers are made through an intermediary, such as a real estate agent. All terms and conditions of the offer, no matter how minute, should be put in writing to avoid future problems. Typically, your attorney or real estate agent will prepare an offer to purchase for you to sign. You’ll also include a nominal down payment, such as $500. If the seller accepts the offer to purchase, he or she will sign the contract, which will then become a binding agreement between you and the seller. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have your attorney review any offer to purchase before you sign.

Other details

Once the seller has accepted your offer, you, your real estate agent, or the mortgage lender will get busy completing procedures and documents necessary to finalize the purchase. These include finalizing the mortgage loan, appraising the house, surveying the property, and getting homeowners insurance. Typically, you would have made your offer contingent upon the satisfactory completion of a home inspection, so now’s the time to get this done as well.

The closing

The closing meeting, also known as a title closing or settlement, can be a tedious process–but when it’s over, the house is yours! To make sure the closing goes smoothly, some or all of the following people should be present: the seller and/or the seller’s attorney, your attorney, the closing agent (a real estate attorney or the representative of a title company or mortgage lender), and both your real estate agent and the seller’s.

At the closing, you’ll be required to sign the following paperwork:

  • Promissory note: This spells out the amount and repayment terms of your mortgage loan.
  • Mortgage: This gives the lender a lien against the property.
  • Truth-in-lending disclosure: This tells you exactly how much you will pay over the life of your mortgage, including the total amount of interest you’ll pay.
  • HUD-1 settlement statement: This details the cash flows among the buyer, seller, lender, and other parties to the transaction. It also lists the amounts of all closing costs and who is responsible for paying these.

In addition, you’ll need to provide proof that you have insured the property. You’ll also be required to pay certain costs and fees associated with obtaining the mortgage and closing the real estate transaction. On average, these total between 3 and 7 percent of your mortgage amount, so be sure to bring along your checkbook.

Are you thinking of purchasing a home?

If you are thinking of purchasing a home, speak with one of our financial advisors today for a complimentary consultation. We can help you make the best real estate investment that fits your current and future needs. Contact us today!

Disclosure: The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.