If you’re interested in entering the housing market but haven’t found success via traditional financing methods, you may be encouraged to know that there are options to aid people who require an alternative approach. Consider these financial “hacks” as you contemplate their validity and usefulness in regard to your situation.

The Dreaded Down Payment

The down payment, which tradition has long put at 20 percent, has discouraged many potential homebuyers from pursuing their dream home. In fact, the average down payment these days is more like 11 percent, which should be good news for a great many Americans, especially those who are in the market for the first time. It’s worth your while to do some research in the area you want to live. You could find out, based on the average down payment for homes there, that a down payment is within your capabilities after all.

If you still don’t think you have enough, there might be help waiting in the form of government assistance. US Department of Agriculture and Veterans Administration loans make available mortgages with no down payments, and the Federal Housing Administration offers low-down-payment loans as long as your credit score is at least 500.

Come in Low

Most homebuyers pay every bit of what they can afford when purchasing a home, particularly if it’s a property they’ve fallen in love with. It’s a typical approach, but it can leave you without much in the way of reserve funding when something goes wrong, like a flooded basement or a major appliance that suddenly decides to call it quits. Try spending a bit below what you believe you can afford and leave yourself with some cushion for when the unexpected does happen.

A Tax Break

There are also hacks that can help you get a tax break. If you buy a home for less than it was appraised, ask the county tax assessor about lowering your taxes to match the purchase price, which will save you some money year to year.

Under List Price

Another good way to save some bucks is to look for homes in an area where the percentage of those that sell for less than their listing price is comparatively high. That gives you an opportunity to get something of a bargain, depending on the area and the kind of house you’re looking for. You might also look for homes that have been on the market for longer than usual and find out what the problem is. You could discover that the “problem” is something that is really no problem for you. People have all kinds of reasons for passing on a house, and some of them just come down to personality, quirks, or an overly picky buyer.

For example, it could be a property without a lot of natural light, or a maybe it only has a one-car garage instead of two. Whatever the reason, determine whether it’s something you can live with or make an upgrade later on that will resolve the problem. This can be an excellent approach if you’re looking for a good price and an opportunity to create equity with some improvements.

Sometimes, purchasing a house you love just requires some outside-the-box thinking and a willingness to try something a little offbeat. There’s no rule that says you have to do everything a realtor advises or approach financing in the traditional manner. Sometimes, there’s a way that just works better for your situation.

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You’ve got big plans: two kids and a dog, an illustrious career, and maybe even an early retirement. But turning your dreams for life into reality takes a lot of planning, and many people struggle to transform goals into action.

This is where life planning comes in. Life planning helps you create the life you imagine for yourself and make the most of your time. Here’s how you do it.

What is Life Planning?

Life planning is the process of taking stock of your current situation in life, identifying your goals, and planning the steps needed to get from Point A to Point B.

When you create a life plan, you’ll establish your greatest priorities in life. These may be family, career, buying your dream home, financial security, community service, or something else. For each priority area, you’ll establish where you are now and where you want to be in one to two years, five years, and at the end of your life. You’ll identify the challenges that stand in the way of those goals, and create action plans to overcome obstacles and find success.

What Makes a Successful Life Plan?

Creating a successful life plan starts with a strong sense of self. You need to have an understanding of your passions, your values, and your strengths and weaknesses. You may not know exactly where you want to be 30 years from now, but you should have a rough idea.

When you’re creating goals for your life, it’s important to make them specific and measurable. Instead of saying, “I want to pay for my children’s college,” say, “I want to set aside $X into a 529 plan each year, so that each child will have $X to use for college.”

It’s also crucial to be realistic when you’re creating a life plan, otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Factor in the unexpected such as children, repairs, and illnesses. Take into consideration what is happening now as well such as job layoffs or a family member’s addiction. A life plan is a plan, but sometimes plans change, and that’s okay.

What Does a Life Plan Include?

There’s a lot to consider when you’re planning out an entire life, and your life planning categories will depend on your personal priorities. However, there are a few basics that all life plans should include:

  • Career: What kind of upward mobility and salary growth does your career path offer? Do you plan on making any career changes? If so, will you need further education?
  • Retirement: At what age do you plan to retire, and how much money will you need to live comfortably? Will you stay in your home as you age or move into a care facility?
  • Homeownership: Do you plan to purchase a home or rent? How much does a home cost in your market and how will you save for a down payment?
  • Children: Do you plan on having children? How many, and at what age? Will they attend private school or public school? Will you save for your children’s college education, and how much?
  • Life Insurance and a Will: How will you care for your family if something happens to you or your spouse? Who will handle your assets when you die, and how can they access them?

How to Get Started

If you’re not sure where to start, it may be helpful to meet with a financial life planner who can help flesh out your goals and create a financial strategy plan that supports them. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by life planning, but a professional can help you break it down into manageable, actionable steps. And if you’re thinking you’re not ready for life planning, remember that no plan is set in stone. If your goals or circumstances change as life progresses, you can always revisit your life plan and adapt it to meet evolving needs.

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