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5 Insider Tips for Finding Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance

Years from now most baby boomers will need help with the daily stuff of life, like dressing, bathing, eating or remembering to take medication.

Regular health insurance, including Medicare, doesn’t pay for help with these “custodial care” tasks, except in limited circumstances. Long-term care insurance does.

Yet faced with the coverage costs, many long-term care insurance shoppers get sticker shock and give up. Here’s how to keep the price affordable.

1.Buy sooner rather than later

“The key to long-term care insurance is to apply early while it’s inexpensive,” says Kevin M. Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

You can buy long-term care insurance up to age 75 from most companies, but you’ll pay more at older ages and if you have health conditions.

Among 65-year-old applicants, 28% will be denied because of their health, Lynch says.

The ideal age to start shopping? “I think 50 is the magic number,” says Deb Newman, president of Newman Long Term Care, an independent insurance agency in Richfield, Minnesota.

Don’t give up if you’ve passed the half-century mark. Apply at least 60 days before your next birthday to get a price based on your current age, advises Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance.

2. Work with an independent agent

Prices vary by insurer for the same amount of coverage. Work with an agent who can sell — not just quote — policies from different carriers, Slome says. A good agent will know which companies will likely accept you for coverage based on your health and give you the lowest price.

Get price comparisons even if you’re offered the opportunity to buy long-term care insurance through a group, such as your employer. If you’re healthy, you might find a better deal on your own.

3. Start with a budget

Decide what you’re comfortable spending for coverage, and ask the insurance agent for quotes that fit your budget, advises Brian Gordon, president of Maga Ltd., an independent long-term care insurance agency in Riverwoods, Illinois. Gordon discourages people from buying a policy if they’ll struggle to pay the premium.

Work with a financial advisor to review other options if you can’t qualify or pay for long-term care insurance. Medicaid, the federal and state insurance program for people with low incomes, will pay for nursing home care, but to qualify, you have to spend down most of your money first.

4. Plan realistically

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 70% of today’s 65-year-olds eventually will need long-term care, and 20% will need it for longer than five years. But few folks want to think about that.

“First of all what pops into people’s minds is the dreaded nursing home,” Newman says. Yet 80% of elderly people who receive long-term care live at home, according to a 2013 Congressional Budget Office report. About 18% live in nursing homes and other care facilities, and 2% live in residential senior communities that offer some support but not round-the-clock supervision.

Newman encourages clients to buy enough coverage to pay for home health care for a few years. The average annual cost of a full-time home health aide is $46,332, compared with $82,125 for a semi-private nursing home room, according to the Genworth 2016 Cost of Care Survey.

Most long-term care insurance policies reimburse you for care at home or in assisted living or a nursing home. So if you buy enough to pay for home health care but instead go to a nursing home, the policy will pay at least some of the nursing home costs.

Look at costs of care in your area to estimate how much coverage to buy, Lynch advises.

5. Go for a simple vs. souped-up policy

Ask for quotes for good, better and best coverage from each company to see costs at different levels, Slome says.

Avoid adding features, called riders, that you don’t need. “Keep it a good, simple, long-term care policy without all the bells and whistles,” Gordon says.

An example is a “restoration of benefits” rider: If you need long-term care but then get better, the benefits you used are restored for a later date. But Gordon says once people start to need long-term care, they usually continue to need it.

An inflation protection rider allows your benefits to grow to keep up with inflation. Reducing the inflation protection, from, say, 3% to 1% will drop the policy price. If you’re older, say 70 instead of 55, you may be able to get by with less inflation protection, Lynch says.

A final thought

Avoid an all-or-nothing approach when buying long-term care insurance.

“Sometimes people look to insuring 100% of the cost of the care,” Gordon says. Instead, think about the costs you can handle and what you want to insure. “Don’t buy more than what you need.”

Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

4 Simple Money-Saving Tips for Couples

By Kurt Smith

Learn more about Kurt on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Having the same goals as your partner is important, whether they involve your careers, family or finances. To achieve those goals and live in harmony, it helps to be on the same track, working together toward the same things.

If one partner has the goal of getting out of debt while the other is constantly spending, there’s bound to be friction. It’s important to discuss these differences and make a plan to address any issues as a couple. Remind yourselves that you’re a team and better off when working together.

Having some extra cash on hand will help you work toward goals such as paying off student loans, saving up for a wedding or a down payment on a house, or starting a family. Here are four simple ways couples can start saving money today:

1. Rethink date night

How often do the two of you have a date night? Some couples have a weekly date night where they go out to a fancy restaurant, order drinks and then do an activity afterward, like a movie or bowling. An evening like that can quickly add up to more than $100.

If you want to save money together, you may have to change what you do together. Keep date night a tradition, but decide on a spending limit that supports your goals and then get creative. You can have a “no technology night” where your turn off all devices, or a Netflix marathon, or cook up some food and play board games at your kitchen table. Whatever you do, make date night about spending time together and connecting with one another, not about paying an expensive bill.

2. Declare a ‘no dining out’ month

The money you spend eating out adds up quickly. Even fast food, lattes and vending machine snacks can slowly empty your pockets. You can make simple, homemade meals for a fraction of what you’d spend going out to eat. Choose one month and commit to making all your meals at home, including brown bagging your lunch for work. Then, fight the temptation to stop at the drive through or grab a sandwich at the office deli. You’ll have saved a substantial amount of money by the end of the month.

3. Forgo gifts for a while

While you’re looking to reach specific financial goals, make a pact that you won’t buy each other lavish birthday, anniversary or holiday presents. Couples often spend hundreds of dollars on these special occasion gifts. By putting that amount into a savings account toward your financial goals, you’re both still receiving a gift. You can celebrate the occasion with a card and handwritten note reminding each other of what you’re saving for together, and then enjoy an intimate evening at home. If that doesn’t feel like enough, you can always be creative and make something for your partner out of inexpensive materials.

4. Plan a staycation

Instead of planning your annual getaway, consider having a staycation this year. You and your partner can take the same week off from work and do fun things around town together. Rent a movie and watch it in the middle of the day, have an at-home wine tasting adventure, go for a hike or to the beach, pack a picnic and have a day at the park. There are likely many activities you can do that are close to home and inexpensive. Keep your savings goal in mind and let vacations be relaxing and rejuvenating, instead of draining your bank account.

Track your savings

As you follow these suggestions, keep a log on the kitchen counter that you use to write down how much you saved on a purchase that was reduced or forgone. Keeping a running tally of your savings can be exciting as you watch them grow and bring you closer to your goals.

Of course it’s fun to splurge and do new things or go to fancy meals together. But the most important part of your relationship is that you’re spending quality time together, and you don’t have to spend money for that to be enjoyable and meaningful. When you set financial goals, it’s good to have a plan in place for how you’ll reach them. Making sacrifices and staying the course together can make your relationship stronger and improve your financial position at the same time.

Kurt Smith is a financial and relationship counselor at Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching.

This article also appears on Nasdaq

Mortgage Rates Today, Monday, Sept. 26: Rates Go Even Lower, Home Values Up

Thirty-year and 15-year fixed mortgage rates as well as 5/1 ARM rates continued their decline, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Monday.

With rising home values across the country, though, are lower rates enough to coax potential homebuyers off the sidelines?

Mortgage Rates Today, Monday, Sept. 26 (Change from 9/23) 30-year fixed: 3.61% APR (-0.01) 15-year fixed: 3.03% APR (-0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.51% APR (-0.02) Zillow: Home values up

Homeowners will be happy with this news, but potential homebuyers might cringe a little when they hear that U.S. average home prices increased 5% nationally over last year to $188,100 last month, according to the August Zillow Market Report.

In some metro markets, Zillow reported that home values soared by double digits, especially in Portland, Oregon (up 14.8% to $338,9000); Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (up 12% to $193,900); and Seattle (up 11.3% to $397,800).

And while the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Americans earned 5.2% more in annual household income in 2015 over 2014 — the first notable increase in eight years — wages in some of the country’s pricier metro markets still aren’t keeping pace with rapidly appreciating home values.

“The housing market is starting to smooth out ever so slightly, as the peak home shopping season winds down,” Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell said in a release. “This is good news for frenzied buyers tired of tight inventory, rapidly rising home prices and intense competition.”

Gudell warned, however, that it’s “still tough out there for buyers,” especially in booming job markets in the West.

“Things won’t switch from a sellers’ market to a buyers’ market overnight, but conditions are starting to improve,” Gudell said.

 

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

More from NerdWallet Compare online mortgage refinance lenders Compare mortgage refinance rates Find a mortgage broker

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

3 Options to Save for Your Child’s College Education

By Mike Eklund

Learn more about Mike on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor 

For the 2015-2016 school year, college costs, including tuition, fees, and room and board, averaged approximately $20,000 per year for a public four-year university (in-state) and around $44,000 at private four-year schools, according to the College Board. In some cases, elite private schools cost more than $60,000 a year (including room and board and other fees).

If you plan to pay for four years of college, this quickly adds up. Fortunately, there are several different ways to save for college. Here are the pros and cons of three popular college savings options. The right one for your family depends on your situation.

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged individual retirement account. With a Roth, you put in after-tax money, and it grows tax-free. Your contributions are nondeductible, and qualified distributions after age 59½ are tax-free. Before age 59½, you can also withdraw contributions to the account tax-free. If you withdraw any earnings before age 59½, you must pay a 10% penalty, except in some special cases.

Though a Roth IRA is intended to be a retirement savings vehicle, it can be used for college savings as well, since contributions can be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free to pay for college. Compared to other college savings options, this flexibility makes it an excellent choice for many families.

Pros
  • You can save for college and retirement.
  • Contributions can be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free at any time.
  • IRA assets are not included for financial aid calculations, improving aid eligibility for your student.
Cons
  • Earnings withdrawn before age 59½ may be taxed as income and assessed a 10% penalty.
  • There are income limits for eligibility (but high earners may be able to fund a Roth IRA through a “backdoor” strategy).
529 college savings plan

These tax-advantaged plans are offered by states and are designed to help families save for future college costs. Investments grow tax-deferred, and withdrawals are tax-free if used for qualified education expenses. All states offer plans, and you can invest in any state you choose. If your only goal is to save for college, 529 plans are a great tool. They have excellent tax benefits, but lack the flexibility of some of the other options if the money is not used for college.

Pros
  • Earnings grow tax-free.
  • Withdrawals are tax-free if used for qualified education expenses.
  • Some states offer a state tax deduction for contributions.
  • You can change beneficiaries in the future if funds are not needed.
Cons
  • Earnings withdrawn for nonqualified education expenses are subject to a 10% withdrawal penalty and ordinary income taxes.
  • Contributions withdrawn for nonqualified education expenses are subject to income tax.
  • These assets are included in determining your family’s ability to pay for college for financial aid purposes.
  • There are limits on the amount you can contribute annually.

Note that there are also private college 529 plans that allow parents to prepay for tuition credits at certain private schools, locking in future tuition costs at today’s prices. But these are even less flexible than state-sponsored 529 plans, since they are school-specific. 

Taxable investment account

This is a regular brokerage account that is funded with after-tax money. Earnings in the account are taxed, but the money can be used for anything. (This could also be cash in the bank, which won’t yield much and will also be taxed.)

A taxable investment account offers the most flexibility of any option on this list, but it’s the least desirable from a tax standpoint. However, there may be ways to eliminate capital gains taxes by transferring assets to your child and using a combination of the personal exemption, standard deduction and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. But this can be complicated, and I’d recommend working with a tax or financial professional to implement such a strategy. 

Pros Cons
  • These assets are included in determining your family’s ability to pay for college for financial aid purposes.
  • Capital gains, dividends and interest are taxed annually.
Get help

These three vehicles tend to be the best options for college savings, and many families will employ a strategy that uses more than one. Other options, like custodial accounts or cash-value life insurance, are less attractive. A custodial account is one created in the student’s name with someone else assigned as a custodian. The funds must be spent for the benefit of the child and become the child’s once he or she reaches a certain age. Cash-value life insurance includes an investment component, which parents may be tempted to use for college. But high fees and limited investment options make this a poor choice for college funding. In both cases, these vehicles lack flexibility, and since the assets are included in financial aid calculations, they may reduce the level of aid a student receives.

Consider working with a fee-only financial planner who specializes in college planning to help you decide what makes the most sense for your family. It’s important that you don’t let saving for college derail your other financial goals — especially your retirement plans. While your child can take out a loan for college, you can’t do that for retirement. Developing a college savings strategy as part of your long-term financial plan will help you determine how much you can save while still reaching your personal and financial goals.

Mike Eklund is a financial planner at Financial Symmetry in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Study: State Insurance Department Websites Are Short on Consumer Help

The trillion-dollar insurance industry is largely regulated at the state level — that’s the first place consumers should go for help and information on products such as home, auto and life insurance. But the websites of individual state departments of insurance are falling short on their duties to consumers, according to a new analysis.

The NerdWallet study looked at department of insurance websites for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, scoring each on more than 20 factors to determine which sites were most helpful to insurance consumers. The results: The average insurance department has considerable work to do online when it comes to helping residents navigate the complex world of insurance.

The average rating in the analysis was 60%. The Texas Department of Insurance scored the highest at 98%, and New Mexico’s Office of the Superintendent of Insurance the lowest at 17%.

Insurance department websites were rated on offerings such as updated premium comparisons, updated insurance company complaint data, consumer education resources and the quality of consumer telephone assistance.

These departments “have a lot of information for consumers that no one else has, information that no one else can really help you with,” says Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America and former insurance commissioner of Texas.

Since being notified of the study, several departments have updated their websites, including in New Mexico, where spokesperson Alan Seeley credited the NerdWallet analysis for motivating its consumer-centric updates.

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: elizabeth@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

Will Yahoo Breach Compromise Credit Cards? Probably Not

It’s password-changing time again.

Yahoo’s announcement that a “state-sponsored actor” had pilfered data, potentially including concealed passwords, from half a billion accounts in late 2014 represents one of the largest such security breaches ever disclosed. The “good” news — if we can call it that — is that the passwords were concealed and that the hack doesn’t appear to have directly involved credit cards or bank accounts, according to Yahoo’s announcement.

Credit card accounts probably won’t be affected. But “probably” is not “certainly.” If you tend to reuse passwords across multiple sites, now’s the time to stop, and to change those passwords. And Yahoo is still encouraging people to check their credit reports.

Not another Target

When you hear “data breach,” you might think of what happened to Target in 2013. About 70 million customers were affected, and — worse — 40 million credit card numbers were stolen. Millions of customers had to worry about fraudulent activity on their cards as a result.

The Yahoo breach is roughly seven times as big as the Target one, but for affected consumers, it’s not seven times worse.

The difference has to do with what was stolen. In Yahoo’s case, the stolen information included names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, concealed passwords and, in some cases, security questions and answers both unencrypted and encrypted, according to a news release from the company. Yahoo also notes that the ongoing investigation suggests that “stolen information did not include unprotected passwords, payment card data, or bank account information.”

The passwords were also “hashed,” according to Yahoo. That means they were run through a “mathematical function that converts an original string of data into a seemingly random string of characters,” according to Yahoo.

Signs of a potential hack reportedly emerged earlier this summer on the “dark web” — a space of the internet unreachable by search engines, where illegal dealings can go undetected. A hacker tried to sell what was supposedly 200 million Yahoo accounts for 3 bitcoins, or roughly $1,860, Motherboard reported in August. That’s on the cheap side, if you consider that login credentials for banks around the world go for “between US$200 and US$500 per account” in marketplaces like these, according to a white paper by Trend Micro.

What could happen

The credentials stolen in the Yahoo breach aren’t that valuable as long as the passwords are concealed. But there’s still a risk that hackers could glean more information from the breach than we think.

Take the passwords, for example. When passwords are hashed, they’re essentially useless. But it’s possible that hackers could “unhash” those passwords, says Al Pascual, senior vice president and head of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy & Research.

“There is software such as Hashcat and John the Ripper which is designed to crack passwords,” Pascual says. “It takes time and processing power, and even then not every password is typically decrypted.”

If hackers were successful at unhashing some of the passwords, they could run scripts to hit as many websites as possible to see where those passwords work, Pascual says. That could affect consumers who use the same password for every account.

Even if that proved successful, though, hackers probably wouldn’t be able to get at your financial accounts. Major banks and issuers have security software that locks users out after multiple failed sign-in attempts. However, Pascual says some smaller issuers don’t have this capability.

Phishing scams are another potential result of the breach, and one that Yahoo is anticipating. The company stressed that the email it sent to those affected by the breach “does not ask you to click on any links or contain attachments and does not request your personal information” — requests that are common tactics in phishing emails. Your credit card information might not be affected by the Yahoo breach directly, but it might be compromised if you give your log-in credentials to someone pretending to be Yahoo via email.

» MORE: Crooks want your credit card points

What to do about it

If you received notice from Yahoo that you were affected by the breach, here are three things you can do to guard against potential fraud on your credit cards and other accounts:

  1. Change your passwords. “People tend to not update their passwords unless they absolutely have to,” Pascual says. Hackers see that as a major opportunity. So if you use the same password for all your accounts, don’t just update your Yahoo password — update your other passwords, too. At the very least, make sure the passwords you use on your credit card and bank accounts aren’t the same ones you use on websites that look like they were designed by sixth-graders in 1999.
  2. Read emails carefully. Don’t reply to emails purporting to be from Yahoo — or any company, for that matter — if they prompt you to provide a password, username or any other personal information, or ask you to click a link. Fraudsters use urgent-sounding emails like these to get valuable information out of unsuspecting consumers.
  3. Check your credit report and financial accounts. Although Yahoo’s breach didn’t include financial data, “we encourage you to remain vigilant by reviewing your account statements and monitoring your credit reports,” according to a statement from the company.

You can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com. If you detect signs of fraud on your credit card account — say, unfamiliar purchases — call your issuer right away and report it. The law sharply limits your financial responsibility on bank account fraud and credit card fraud. Even if your credit card is indirectly affected by this breach, you probably won’t have to pay for it.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

What Students Can Do When For-Profit Colleges Close

It’s an uneasy time for students of for-profit colleges. Mass school closures have dominated the headlines recently, and more uncertainty is on the way: The Department of Education said Thursday it will no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the largest accreditor of these colleges.

That’s significant because without accreditation, for-profit colleges can’t receive federal student aid, which is their primary source of revenue. Without that funding, these schools won’t be able to operate.

Fallout from Corinthian, ITT

The Department of Education’s announcement was a response to a recommendation made to it in June by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. The committee ruled that ACICS should no longer be recognized by the federal government, citing a lack of oversight of its institutions, including the now-shuttered Corinthian Colleges and, most recently, ITT Technical Institute, which closed in September and left 40,000 students high and dry nationwide. Both schools’ closures left thousands of students without degrees, burdened by loans and with their educational futures in limbo.

ACICS says it will appeal the department’s latest decision, leaving final say in the hands of Secretary of Education John B. King. Experts say King is likely to announce a final decision by the end of the year, before his term concludes. If the appeal is rejected, colleges accredited by ACICS will have 18 months after the decision is finalized to secure accreditation by another federally recognized agency. Schools that can’t find a new accreditor are likely to close.

A changing landscape

Accreditation recognizes that a college or university upholds the standards of quality necessary for its students to earn credentials in a professional field or be admitted to other recognized institutions.

Increased scrutiny of accreditation agencies and the for-profit sector has altered the landscape for these institutions and their students, according to Kevin Fudge, director of consumer advocacy and ombudsman at American Student Assistance, a nonprofit centered around education finance.

Vocational and trade schools once typified for-profit colleges, until the industry ballooned with the advent of online education. Schools such as University of Phoenix — now a nonprofit — considerably broadened the reach of for-profit schools by attracting nontraditional students. In recent years, for-profit colleges have been chastised for their high price tags and low completion rates, as well as lower-paying jobs and high instances of student loan default among graduates.

ACICS first received federal recognition in 1953 and most recently was the accrediting agency for nearly 250 schools and hundreds of their campuses. It’s unclear which accreditors those schools will turn to now. Schools with sound practices or existing accreditations from other agencies aren’t likely to have a problem maintaining accreditation. But institutions with shakier foundations, such as those already being monitored for their financial and recruiting practices, may have a more difficult time finding an agency to accredit them.

Fudge advises students to carefully weigh their options. “It illustrates the importance for students to be wise consumers,” he says. “If you think your school is one that might be under scrutiny, you can check with the school about its current accreditation status.”

Unfortunately, the federal government is offering no independent means of assessing or obtaining information about a particular school’s status, except for its list of schools under financial scrutiny, known as Heightened Cash Monitoring.

What you can do

Obtain your educational and financial records early so that if your school closes — or is on the brink of shutdown — you’ll have the documents you need to move forward. Graduates will want to obtain copies of their transcripts. Here are your options and the consequences if you have federal loans.

Apply for closed school discharge

Under a closed school loan discharge, all of your federal loans will be dismissed. That amount discharged will not count as taxable income on your federal return. If your school loses accreditation but doesn’t close, this option won’t be available.

If you’re eligible, you can apply with your federal loan servicer only if a school closes while you’re enrolled and haven’t completed your program, or if the school closes within 120 days after you withdraw from a program without a degree. However, you are not eligible if you completed a comparable educational program through a teach-out program elsewhere (more on that below) or have completed all coursework for your intended degree.

Seek borrower defense to repayment

To receive relief under a provision called borrower defense to repayment, you would have to demonstrate, in court, that your school violated laws in its state when it came to educational services or loans. The Department of Education is expected to soon release guidelines about borrower defense, since the right has not been exercised en masse in the past.

Reid Setzer, deputy director of policy and legislative affairs at Young Invincibles, a nonprofit focused on engaging young adults in political issues, pointed to the lack of structure when Corinthian Colleges closed. “When Corinthian went down, there was no playbook,” he says, citing the sheer volume of students eligible for the option. But by the time more closures occur after the start of the 18-month clock, borrower defense regulations may be available.

You can submit a claim for loan forgiveness as well as reimbursement for any payments already made. You can work with an attorney, but it’s not required. After submitting a claim, your loans will be placed into forbearance and collections on any defaulted loans will be suspended. However, interest will continue to accrue.

Transfer to another school or teach-out

While your school is finding a new accreditor, you can continue to access federal aid, but you might want to consider transferring.

“If a school isn’t soluble, you might not want to keep funneling money to them,” Setzer says. “You have a right to get out of those schools and attempt to transfer, which we know can be difficult.”

Transferring can be problematic because credits obtained under a school that is no longer accredited or has closed may not be transferable to another institution.

If your school is on the path to closure, it may offer students a teach-out program in which you finish your coursework at another institution that has agreed to take on students from your school. Be sure to check on the status of a new institute using College Scorecard.

Transferring or enrolling in a teach-out program will render you ineligible for a closed school loan discharge, but you may be able to pursue borrower defense.

Options for private loans, grants, military

Federal loan borrowers may have options in the event of a school closure, but if you have private loans or grant funds for education, or if you paid cash for your tuition, little relief is possible.

Private loan borrowers: While federal loan borrowers may have options, private loan borrowers will still be responsible for repayment. Contact your lender or servicer to see what assistance may be available.

Pell Grant recipients: There’s no way to reimburse students for distributed Pell Grant funds, which means the amount already disbursed will still count toward a student’s six-year maximum eligibility.

GI Bill benefit recipients: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have the authority to reset GI Bill benefits for a student when a school closes, even if a student cannot transfer credits. If a school is no longer approved by the VA as an institution where GI Bill benefits may be used, students can’t continue to use those funds at that location. Students can transfer to a new school and continue to receive GI Bill benefits.

State tuition recovery funds

For students who don’t qualify for federal debt assistance, there may be one last resort. If your state offers a tuition recovery fund or student protection fund, you may be able to receive some compensation for lost costs and educational opportunity due to a school closure. Fund availability and qualifications will vary from state to state, so check with your state’s post-secondary or licensing agency.

Once the clock begins ticking for ACICS accredited schools to find a new agency, you’ll have 18 months to make your decision about your educational future. Contact your school to learn more about the status of the process.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

What You Need to Qualify for a Credit Card for Bad Credit

When you have damaged credit, those “easy-to-get” credit cards aren’t always easy to get.

Even with credit cards for bad credit, issuers vet applicants carefully against several requirements, known as underwriting standards, to find customers who are less likely to default. In some cases, federal law also requires issuers to get certain information before extending credit to a borrower.

If you want to qualify for a secured credit card — that is, a card that requires a cash deposit — or an unsecured card for bad credit, here’s what you’ll need.

An identification number, an address and other personal information

Required for all U.S. credit cards.

No matter where you apply for a credit card, your issuer will always want to know who you are. Provisions of the USA Patriot Act designed to combat terrorism and money-laundering require issuers to get your personal information.

For most people, providing name, address and birthdate is the easy part. But if you’re new to the U.S., filling out the Social Security number field might be a stumbling block. If you don’t have an SSN, you can get an individual taxpayer identification number. If you skip these sections altogether, or if you’re under 18, your application will be rejected.

Income

Required for all U.S. credit cards.

Issuers must check that borrowers have an “ability to pay” before extending them credit, under the Credit Card Act of 2009. But depending on the issuer, that can mean different things.

At the very least, your issuer is going to ask about your annual income, to make sure you have one. If you’re over 21, this includes all the income to which you have “reasonable expectation of access.” That means you can include your partner’s income.

Most secured cards don’t have minimum income requirements. But some take your debt and monthly living expenses into consideration. The Capital One® Secured MasterCard®, for example, will deny your application if your monthly income doesn’t exceed your rent or mortgage payment by at least $425, according to its terms.

If you’re applying for an unsecured credit card from a major issuer, you’ll likely have to meet a minimum income requirement — usually $10,000 or $12,000 per year. If your income is too low, or you’re carrying too much debt, your application might be rejected.

A security deposit

Required for all secured cards.

Unlike “regular” credit cards, secured cards require cash collateral when you open a new account. Typically, you need to put down at least $200 or $300 for a security deposit, which then determines your credit limit. For example, a $300 deposit would get you a $300 limit. If you fall behind on payments, the issuer keeps that deposit. Otherwise, you’ll get your money back when you close the account in good standing or upgrade to an unsecured credit card.

If you’re having trouble coming up with that kind of money, it’s usually best to save up for a secured card with a lower deposit requirement. Unsecured credit cards from subprime specialist issuers — or issuers that focus on borrowers with bad credit — may seem appealing, but could end up costing you over $100 more in fees each year, according to a NerdWallet study.

A checking or savings account

Requirement varies by issuer.

A checking or savings account gives you a secure place to store money and can help you build an emergency fund. But often it’s also required for funding a secured card’s security deposit or used by issuers to determine your financial stability. If your ChexSystems record is keeping you from opening an account, look for a bank or credit union that offers a second-chance checking account in your area.

A credit history without serious negatives

Requirement varies by issuer.

Some credit cards, like the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card, don’t run credit checks. But most do. Usually, issuers do this to look for red flags that your financial life might be getting worse, not better. For instance, for the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee, “Factors such as income, bankruptcy, debt and judgments” — for example, liens or lawsuits — “may impact your ability to be approved,” according to a statement from Discover. Among major issuers, these types of warnings are typical.

Try to improve your credit as much as you can before applying for cards — say, by getting caught up on payments on your existing accounts. If a recent bankruptcy is keeping you from an approval, find out whether you can get a credit card with your local bank or credit union. While cards that skip credit checks are an option, they tend to be more expensive.

» MORE: Applying for a credit card after bankruptcy

A clean history with the issuer

Requirement varies by issuer.

Bad blood can sometimes get in the way of a credit card approval. If you’ve defaulted on your payments with a certain issuer before, that issuer likely won’t approve your application for a new card. Instead of dwelling on the past, start a clean slate by working with a different company. Remember, many banks are happy to get your business. Look for a lender that gives you a chance to rebuild your credit on good terms.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Sept. 23: Lower Again

Thirty-year and 15-year fixed mortgage rates as well as 5/1 ARM rates were all lower again this morning, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Friday.

Rates on 30-year fixed home loans are at their lowest level in two weeks, according to the NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index.

NerdWallet provides clarity to all of life’s financial decisions. Hal M. Bundrick, CFP Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Sept. 23 (Change from 9/22) 30-year fixed: 3.62% APR (-0.01) 15-year fixed: 3.04% APR (-0.02) 5/1 ARM: 3.53% APR (-0.02) Mortgage rates likely to move higher by year-end

The Federal Reserve left short-term interest rates alone this week, but that doesn’t mean mortgage rates won’t move higher. Steve Hovland, director of research for HomeUnion, an online real estate investment management firm, sees the potential for mortgage rates to rise, despite the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to stand pat.

“Rates are almost certain to move by year-end, barring any catastrophic economic news. The capital markets are expected to lift borrowing costs well ahead of December’s meeting, once again leaving the FOMC catching up to the market rather than setting it,” Hovland said in an analysis. “Last year, average mortgage rates drifted up approximately 25 basis points (0.25%) between the September and December meetings.”

Although a lot of attention is given to Fed policy decisions, it is important to remember that mortgage rates remain extremely low by historical standards, Hovland added.

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

More from NerdWallet Compare online mortgage refinance lenders Compare mortgage refinance rates Find a mortgage broker

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

Ask Brianna: Should I Delay Goals While I Repay Student Loans?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column for 20-somethings, or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

“I want to get married, buy a house and hit other adult milestones in my 20s and 30s, but my student loan debt is holding me back. Should I put off other goals while I repay my student loans?”

Feeling stymied by student loans is becoming a defining part of being a 20- or 30-something. The numbers are stacked against us: College is more expensive, we’re taking on more debt to afford it, and it’s harder for us to repay the money we borrow.

According to the College Board, the average public four-year college’s net price — the amount you pay for tuition, fees, room and board after accounting for scholarships, grants and tax benefits — jumped from $9,940 a year to $13,320 from 2003-04 to 2013-14. Not surprisingly, the average amount of student loan debt at graduation went up 56% between 2004 and 2014, the Institute for College Access & Success reports. Meanwhile, the median household income fell 6.5% between 2007, the year before the recession hit, and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Your concerns are real, and don’t let anybody tell you that you just shouldn’t have taken out student loans, or that you should have chosen a more lucrative major when you were 18 and couldn’t plan past your next meal.

But there are ways to make your student loan payments more manageable so you can afford a wedding, a down payment and other trappings of adulthood. You can also recast your expectations of what you’re supposed to achieve in your 20s and 30s to lessen that feeling of falling behind.

Lower your student loan payment

Affording your student loan bills should be your priority because the consequences of default can be severe. When you default, the government, for instance, has the power to withhold your pay or seize your tax refunds to collect your unpaid federal loan debt.

If you’re having trouble making your payment, switch to an income-driven repayment plan. These options can reduce your monthly student loan bill to 10% or 15% of your income. Check whether you’re eligible for student loan forgiveness, too: Public Service Loan Forgiveness will make your remaining loan balance disappear after 120 on-time payments if you work for a nonprofit or government agency.

Refinancing can also help you manage your student loans. A private lender will pay off your current debt and issue you a new loan at a lower interest rate. You must qualify based on your income, credit score and job history, so it’s best for those who aren’t in danger of falling behind on payments. You’ll also lose certain benefits if you refinance your federal loans.

Set your own expectations

Before you lament the cushy lifestyle your loans robbed from you, remember that those loans helped get you a college education. A degree earns 25- to 34-year-olds an extra $20,000 a year on average compared with those with a high school education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Yes, you might hit those classic adult milestones later — but you’ll still hit them. Starting about age 27, homeownership rates are higher among those who took on debt to go to college than those who didn’t go to college at all, according to a recent report by Susan M. Dynarski, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Michigan.

Keep in mind, too, that buying a house isn’t the ultimate sign you’re an adult, and putting it off doesn’t make you a failure. Helen Ngo, a certified financial planner and principal at Capital Benchmark Partners in Atlanta, says her 20- and 30-something clients who recently graduated with medical, law and other graduate debt aren’t eager to buy homes.

“Most of them just want to make money and pay off debt and travel,” she says.

Is that such a problem? Given the chance, I know you’d get rid of your student loans tomorrow; I would, too. But if they got you a degree, they were probably worth it. Work them into your budget, plan for the future anyway, and know that you don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations but your own.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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