First Time Homebuyers – What You Need to Know

April 30, 2021

Buying your first home is exciting!  Whether you want a starter home, or you want a new build, you have a number of options to choose from.  Before you get swept up in the home search process, here are some tips to help guide you:

Get pre-approved first.

Getting pre-approved is extremely important.  Home loan rates are still low and there are many buyers out shopping for homes.  Having a written pre-approval lets the seller know you are a serious buyer who’s credit and finances are in order to purchase their home.  Pre-approval also allows you to see how much you can realistically afford to borrow.

Consider your must-haves.

Before your search begins, consider things that will be a must.  For example, if you’re ready to start a family, or have children, maybe you’ll want to focus on houses in certain school districts.  Or maybe, you’d prefer a home that’s not in a neighborhood with an association fee.  How long will your commute to work be?  Writing a list of must-haves will give you a strong jumping-off point and will help your realtor filter your search for homes that are best suited for you.

Avoid buying more house than you can afford.

Falling in love with a home is easy.  But just because you qualify for a $300,000 loan doesn’t mean you can afford the monthly payment.  You have to factor into that monthly payment, taxes, insurance and, if you’re putting less than 20% down, PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance).  Pre-approval tells you what’s possible, not necessarily what’s affordable considering all of your financial obligations.  So be honest with yourself and your realtor.

Don’t assume you need to put down 20%.

The reality is, not everyone has 20% to put down.  At Argent, you can put as little as 3 percent down for a conventional mortgage.  We also provide mortgage calculators to give you an idea of loan payments.  In addition, we work with you from start to finish to ensure you get in the home of your dreams with an affordable monthly payment.

Get started today!

Don’t Rely on Luck at Tax Time

March 18, 2021

At tax time, there’s no such thing as luck.

Plan ahead, be proactive and prevent surprises on your next tax return.

3 Tax Return Tips

don't rely on luck for your tax return | calendar with April 15th as the dateIs tax time a big mystery to you? Do the results of which seem like a crapshoot? Do you cross your fingers and hope the calculations come out in your favor? If you do a bit of prep work for tax time, you won’t have to hope you get lucky—you’ll have a good idea of how much you’ll get refunded or have to pay.

Review Your Withholdings

If you’re employed, at some point you used form W-4 to tell your employer how much tax to withhold from your paycheck. When filling out a W-4, the more allowances you claim, the bigger your paycheck will be, since fewer taxes are deducted. But what you don’t pay during the year, you’ll owe when you file your tax returns.

Conversely, if you have too much tax withheld, you’re giving the government a free loan. You’ll get a refund— without interest—at tax time.

Fortunately, the IRS website has a withholding calculator you can use to make sure you’re on the right path. If you decide you want to make changes, complete and submit a new W-4 to your employer.

Pay Your Estimated Taxes

If you expect to owe more than $1,000 in taxes, you might need to pay estimated taxes four times a year, usually the 15th of January, April, June, and September. Be sure to save money for those payments. If you don’t make those payments, you could face penalties.

Affordable Care Act and the Premium Tax Credit

The federal tax penalty in the Affordable Care Act for not having health insurance was eliminated in 2019. However, some states have their own requirements for health insurance. If you purchased your own health insurance plan from the Marketplace and are receiving advance payments of premiums, you must keep the Marketplace updated with life changes that would affect those payments. If the Marketplace decides you are receiving more assistance than needed, you will have to pay it back when you file your tax return.

At tax time, there’s no such thing as luck. As your circumstances and tax rules change, review and tweak your tax situation. Plan ahead, talk with your tax adviser and prevent surprises on your next tax return.

Tax Return Resources

Help and resources are available at irs.gov.

401(k) Hardship Withdrawals: Know the Stakes

March 1, 2021

Before your tap into your 401(K) retirement plan as a quick aid to expensive medical bills or to help out during unemployment, you need to know the 401(k) early withdrawal consequences.

401(k) Early Withdrawal

401(k) early withdrawals | man in blue checkered button up shirt paying bills on a computerA sudden job downgrade or an expensive medical bill could leave you desperately looking for an immediate source of income.

Your 401(k) should be the last place you look for quick money. But if you’ve exhausted all other options, and your employer plan allows hardship withdrawals, you might have no choice but to tap into your 401(k) retirement plan to help ease your financial burdens.

401(k) Hardship Withdrawals

  1. Comb the fine print in your 401(k) retirement plan to find out what qualifies as a hardship. Usually, it must be an immediate and heavy financial need pertaining to certain expenses.
  2. Find out if you are eligible to take a 401(k) hardship withdrawal. The IRS says you must exhaust other, specific options first.
  3. Learn how much money is available to you. It’s usually restricted to the amount you have contributed to the plan, without earnings, but not always.

Be aware that:

  • For at least six months after you receive the withdrawal, you may not make new pretax contributions and you’ll miss out on all or some employer matches during that time.
  • You will have to pay taxes on the amount you receive based on your tax bracket.
  • If you’re younger than 59½ years old, you will have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, the stimulus bill passed in January 2021 included a modification to the CARES Act and temporarily waived the penalty on coronavirus-related distributions.
  • In addition to the penalty, your plan might charge a fee to take a hardship withdrawal.

401(k) Early Withdrawal Consequences

Don’t go into this without understanding the consequences. First, and most importantly, is that you’ll forgo the compound earnings you’d otherwise enjoy in retirement. To drive this home, say you are 30 years old, in the 25% tax bracket, and want $10,000 to pay for your tuition this year. You will have to pay an employer withdrawal fee, an IRS early-withdrawal penalty, and taxes; and you’ll have to stop making elective deferral contributions for six months. The end result: You could come short approximately $194,000 when you retire—assuming you miss a 7% annual rate of return.

In some situations, it is worth taking the hardship withdrawal, but it should be your last resort. Consult with your HR department and your tax and financial advisers, and evaluate your alternatives with an Argent loan officer.

Rental Assistance During COVID-19: How to Get Help

February 16, 2021

Many of our members are facing the threat of losing their homes because of the pandemic. In late December, a relief bill was passed to help households at risk of becoming homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or someone you know is affected, find out how you can get rental assistance.

Rental Assistance During the Pandemic

eviction notice envelope | rental assistance during COVID-19 The Coronavirus has hit American families hard, on many different levels. As the virus continues spreading (the U.S. is averaging over 3,000 deaths each day), businesses have had to temporarily shut down or close altogether and lay off workers. Without a steady income, this is putting many households at risk of losing their homes.

In late December 2020, lawmakers passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, which included $25 billion to help households that are at risk of becoming homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The money is given to States, U.S. territories, local governments, and Indian tribes (eligible grantees) to be used to assist eligible households or rental assistance programs.

The money can be used for rent (current or past due), utility services (current or past due), and other expenses related to housing. Funds will be paid directly to landlords and utility service providers.

Do You Qualify for Rental Assistance?

To see if you qualify for this assistance, you’ll need to meet at least one of these criteria:

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19
  • Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • Has a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median. However, states have been instructed to prioritize applicants at or below 50 percent of the area median.

Apply for Rental Assistance

To apply for rental assistance, you must go through programs established by eligible grantees. To find such a program in your area, contact your state housing authority site. Also, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a webpage with information specifically for renters experiencing hardship because of COVID.

If you’re worried about being able to pay your rent or utilities during this extremely difficult time, know that there is help. Seek out the assistance available to you through your state and local governments.

Argent Credit Union, A Safe Place to Bank

January 15, 2021

It’s unsettling to see major swings in the stock market or to observe heated exchanges among political leaders about the best financial course for the country. It’s understandable that you might be concerned or worried.

However, Argent Credit Union is a safe place to bank. Keep reading to learn the advantages of credit unions.

Advantages of Credit Unions

National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)

You can be reassured on one point, and that’s the security and stability of your credit union and your accounts here. At Argent Credit Union, savings are always insured to at least $250,000 and backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Federal insurance protects your money in credit union share savings, share draft/checking, money market, share certificate, trust, and retirement accounts.

Strong Capital Position

In addition, our strong capital position—a safety net of undivided earnings and other reserves—helps us weather setbacks. And we keep an allowance for loan losses that provides an additional buffer in case a few members can’t repay their loans. Further strengthening the credit union, federal and/or state regulators routinely examine our business practices to make sure we’re observing safe and sound operations.

Personal Approach

advantages of credit unions | African American couple sitting on the couch happily discussing finances

If you’re concerned about your personal finances, an Argent Credit Union professional can help, too. Whether you’d like to review current loans to see about refinancing at better terms or find out about savings plans that will help you attain your goals, we’re here to help.

Lower Loan Rates | Higher Saving Rates | Fewer Fees

The advantages of credit unions can’t be overlooked. Credit unions provide financial benefits to members through lower loan rates, higher saving rates, and fewer fees than banking institutions. National studies show that credit union member households, on average, are about $225 a year ahead of other consumers.

Our credit union—your credit union—is strong when our members are strong.

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