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How Trump Officials Eviscerated America's Fair Housing Laws

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

As Donald Trump calls for suppression of Black Lives Matter protests against police abuse, new data reveal another form of Trumpian suppression of minorities. His administration is failing to enforce laws against racial discrimination in lending.

Detailed analysis of mortgage loan applications that were approved or denied found pervasive redlining in 61 metro areas.

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Should You Refinance Your Mortgage?

Dear Carrie: I’m thinking of refinancing my mortgage since I know interest rates are going up. Does it still make sense or have I missed the boat? — A Reader

Dear Reader: Rising short-term interest rates are on a lot of people’s minds these days. For savers, it’s a plus, but borrowers — especially those with credit card balances — may see their payments creep up over time. However, for homeowners with a mortgage, it’s a slightly different story.

While adjustable rate mortgages may be affected by short-term rate increases depending on the benchmark used to adjust the rate, fixed mortgage rates tend to be more closely aligned with the 10-year Treasury note. So, for instance, the recent increase in the short-term federal funds rate is unlikely to cause rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage to increase dramatically. Plus, even though we’ve seen rates inch up, when you compare today’s mortgage rates to historical norms, current rates are still a good deal.

But rates aside, deciding whether or not to refinance depends on a lot of personal factors. So you first need to ask yourself some questions and look at some specifics.

What’s Your Goal?

People refinance for a lot of reasons. Do you want to lower your monthly payment? Reduce the length of your mortgage? Take out extra money for home improvements? These are important initial questions.

If decreasing your payment is a top priority and you can lower your interest rate by .5 to 1 percent, it’s probably worth the effort. For instance, lowering the interest rate on a $350,000 30-year fixed mortgage by 1 percent could lower your monthly payment by about $300 a month.

On the flip side, if your goal is to shorten the length of your mortgage and you refinance that amount for 15 years, your monthly payment would go up, but you’d save a considerable amount in interest over the life of the loan.

How Long will You be in the House?

Refinancing usually involves paying points and fees. Points basically represent interest you pay upfront to get a lower rate on your loan. It’s not uncommon for points and fees to add up to 3-6 percent of your loan. You can pay this out of pocket or, often times, add them to the balance of your loan. (One positive: points on a refi are tax deductible, amortized over the life of the loan. Should you refi again, you can deduct any unamortized points at that time.)

However you pay them, it will take time to get to the breakeven point where these additional costs are offset by the lower rates, so you have to think realistically about how long you intend to be in your home. If you plan to sell in the near future, the extra cost of refinancing may outweigh the monthly short-term savings.

How Much Home Equity do You Have?

Just like with the down payment on a first mortgage, if you have less than 20 percent equity in your home, you’ll likely have to pay private mortgage insurance. PMI fees can range from less than half a percent up to about 1.5 percent of your loan. While that may not add a considerable amount to your payment, if your goal is to reduce your monthlies and you have very little equity, you may want to reconsider.

Do the Math

As you can see, it becomes a numbers game. A good way to start is to run some different scenarios using an online mortgage refinance calculator. That way you can see how it all adds up and decide on the optimum rate and loan term for you. In this interest rate environment, it could be smart to move from an adjustable rate mortgage to a fixed — depending on the rate, of course.

Also be aware that to get the best rate, you need to have a good credit rating, so you might want to begin the process by looking at your debt ratio and paying down outstanding credit card balances.

And if you’re increasing your loan balance or shortening the loan term, each of which could increase your monthly, make sure you’re being realistic about your ability to handle the new payment from your income. The last thing you want to do is to shortchange your retirement savings or emergency fund for the sake of your mortgage.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Certified Financial Planner, is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty,” available in bookstores nationwide. Read more at http://schwab.com/book. You can email Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. This column is no substitute for individualized tax, legal or investment advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax adviser, CPA, financial planner or investment manager. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: You want to keep a house like this. Flickr

Getting Started: Why Renters Insurance Is Worth It

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Renters insurance may seem like the last thing you want to spend money on when moving into a new apartment and trying to get settled. But it is a cost you shouldn’t skip.

More people are renting homes now, too. A report published recently by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University shows that in 2014, the U.S. homeownership rate fell to 64.5 percent, the lowest level in two decades.

Meanwhile, the number of renter households has increased by an average of 770,000 annually from 2004 through 2014, the fastest pace for a 10-year period since the late 1980s.

Young people are especially likely to rent. According to the study, nearly 40 percent of renters in 2014 were 35 and younger.

Already, many households are stretching to afford their monthly rent. And unlike homeowners insurance, which is required for a mortgage, not all landlords or property managers require renters insurance to get an apartment.

As a result, many people forgo it.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 95 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance in 2014. By contrast, only 37 percent of renters said they had bought renters insurance.

But by skipping insurance, renters open themselves up to a big financial risk.

“A lot of times people say they don’t need coverage because they think they are covered by a landlord’s policy,” said Jovana Evans, director of property product research at Liberty Mutual Insurance, a Boston-based insurer. “But that’s not the case.”

If you’re not familiar with renters insurance, Evans offers these tips on what you need to know.

What It Covers

Renters insurance covers personal belongings, such as your couch, TV, laptop, and clothes, if they are damaged or stolen. And the coverage is not limited to the space just inside your apartment. The policy also kicks in if, say, your bicycle gets pinched from a bike rack or items are stolen from your car.

“Generally, renters insurance will cover your belongings wherever you are,” Evans said.

In addition, the insurance can protect you from personal liability in case, for example, someone slips and falls in your apartment and you are held liable for the injury or if you cause damage to another person’s property.

“This is an important piece of the coverage that people often overlook,” she said.

It’s Affordable

Many people forgo renters insurance because they think it will be too expensive.

But the average policy costs about $12 per month — the price of one movie ticket in some cities — for $30,000 worth of property coverage and $100,000 of liability coverage, according to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

Bundle the policy with other types of insurance, such as auto coverage, and you may qualify for a discount of as much as 20 percent.

Don’t Believe Your Stuff Is Worth Much? Think Again

“Once you consider the cost of your clothes, your computer, your furniture, it all adds up to a lot of money really quickly,” Evans said.

To determine how much your belongings are worth and the amount of coverage you need, most insurers provide online calculators to help you make an estimate.

You can also keep an inventory of your belongings online or through a mobile app, which will come in handy if you need to file a claim down the road. Check with your insurer for an inventory tool, or use the Insurance Information Institute’s free version, Know Your Stuff.

There Is A Deductible

And speaking of claims, most renters policies will have a deductible, or an amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in.

Usually, the deductible is about $500, Evans said.

Photo: East Village apartments in New York City, Chris Ford via Flickr