Contribute to a 529 College Savings Plan With Gift Cards

Parents contributing to a 529 college savings plan may find it difficult, if not a little time-consuming, to transfer cash and checks that their children receive on their birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations into the popular college savings fund.

Instead of not knowing if their cash gift is going to pay for college or for a night out on the town, grandparents and others can buy gift cards and have the money deposited in the student’s college savings plan.

The 529 gift cards are used at GiftofCollege.com, a registry for online gifts to 529 accounts.Electronic gift cards for 529s are available at the Gift College website. The 529 gift cards come in fixed amounts of $25 or $50, and in variable amounts up to $500.

Some of the gift cards promote a specific state plan, but all of them can be redeemed as a deposit into any state’s 529 plan.

A 529 plan is a state-run program for families to invest in for college expenses. The money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for education. Contributions aren’t deductible from federal income taxes, but many states allow the deductions on state returns.

Recipients must create a profile on the Gift of College website to redeem the card and have the money put into their 529 plan. If they don’t yet have a 529 plan, their parents must first create one for them in order for the money to be transferred.

The Gift of College cards carry a fee of $3.95 to $5.95, depending on the card’s value, and it’s paid upfront by the buyer. There is no fee for redeeming the card, so a $25 card will equal a $25 deposit to a 529 plan.

To avoid paying the fee, givers can obtain the child’s 529 account number and send a paper check directly to the plan with the 529 account number on it. Some plans also allow direct online gifts, though parents have to initiate the transaction.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Best Instagram Accounts to Follow for Everyone's Design Style

When youre moving into a new residence or staging your current home before selling it, finding the right design inspiration can help save you a lot of time and anguish. While there are plenty of good resources to consider, Instagram is perhaps one of the most useful platforms for exploring the latest design trends. Below are a few of my favorite accounts to follow for every style of interiors.

Traditional: @theglampad
Run by an interior design blogger, this account is regularly updated with traditional and elegant living spaces that everyone can enjoy. For those who want to capture a classic aesthetic, youll find an abundance of looks to recreate in your home.

Mid-Century Modern: @dc_hillier
If you have a love for all things mid-century modern, then head over to DC Hilliers Instagram account because this Montreal-based designer shares your passion. He captures the textures, shapes and angles of this style in a way that will leave you feeling nostalgia for the heyday of the mid-century modern movement.

Transitional: @stephensillsassociates
Settling on one specific style can be a challenge for some of us, which is why you might want to blend the best of classic and contemporary with transitional style. Renowned designer Stephen Sills is a master of such and his firms Instagram account has the pictures to prove it.

Modern Farmhouse: @farmhouse_homes
The modern farmhouse style has quickly become a favorite among design enthusiasts and this account will guide you in just the right direction when its time to bring the look into your home.

Minimalist: @interiordesign_addict
When it comes to interior design, sometimes less is more, and this is the account for those who live by that mantra. The stark and striking spaces that youll find here will be enough to have you doing a deep clean throughout your home and stripping it down to the bare essentials.

Contemporary: @sheltonmindel
Architecture and design firm SheltonMindel is celebrated for their breathtaking portfolio of contemporary spaces that span the globe. Their Instagram account showcases some of the firms most exciting work and is a must-see for anyone who wants this style for their home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Incorporate More Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet

Many people dont eat as many servings of fruits and vegetables as they should. Consuming a variety of produce every day can help you get all the nutrients you need for good health and may lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and other serious medical problems. There are a lot of simple ways to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Breakfast
Add fruits and vegetables to things you ordinarily eat in the morning. For example, if you eat cereal for breakfast, toss in some berries or banana slices. If you usually have plain eggs, cut up some vegetables and make an omelet. You can also make a breakfast smoothie with a variety of colorful foods to get your morning off to a healthy start. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients.

Lunch
Put lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables on a sandwich or have a vegetable or fruit salad. If you like soup, buy or make some that contains a variety of vegetables. If you make soup from scratch, prepare a large amount and store the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer so you can have several healthy meals.

Dinner
For dinner, you can have a vegetable or salad as a side dish or incorporate vegetables and fruit into the main course. Try pasta and rice dishes with a variety of vegetables. You may also find creative ways to use fresh fruit to add some sweetness to your evening meal.

Snacks
Instead of cookies or chips, have some fresh or dried fruit or raw vegetables as snacks. Put a fruit bowl on the kitchen table or counter so you will see it when youre hungry and reach for a nutritious snack. If you like sliced veggies, prepare some ahead of time so they will be available when you need something to hold you over until your next meal.

Dessert
If you typically choose desserts filled with sugar, look for healthy alternatives, such as fruit salad. If youre craving ice cream, find a brand that is low in sugar and serve it with a homemade fruit sauce.

Look for Creative Ideas
If you arent sure how to work more fruits and vegetables into meals, look for recipes in cookbooks or online. You will easily find many that combine familiar foods in unexpected ways. You may even be inspired to try some foods you have never had before and find that you love them.

Shopping Tips
Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually as nutritious as fresh ones. If you buy canned or dried fruits and vegetables, soups and other prepackaged foods, check the labels to avoid products with a lot of sodium and preservatives.

Fruit and vegetable juices can be good sources of nutrients, but be sure to read the labels so you dont buy products with large amounts of sugar. Dont try to get all your fruits and vegetables from juice. Fresh produce has fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy immune system.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC]

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights

  • In today’s whirlwind real estate market, houses are selling at astonishing speed – from sea to shining sea.
  • Four years ago, the average house spent 39 days on the market. Two years ago, homes were on the market for about 24 days. Today, that number has dropped to just 17 short days.
  • If you’re looking to sell your house quickly and on the best possible terms, today’s market can’t be beat. Let’s connect to discuss how to secure a speedy, top-dollar sale for your house.

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC]

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights

  • In today’s whirlwind real estate market, houses are selling at astonishing speed – from sea to shining sea.
  • Four years ago, the average house spent 39 days on the market. Two years ago, homes were on the market for about 24 days. Today, that number has dropped to just 17 short days.
  • If you’re looking to sell your house quickly and on the best possible terms, today’s market can’t be beat. Let’s connect to discuss how to secure a speedy, top-dollar sale for your house.

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC]

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights

  • In today’s whirlwind real estate market, houses are selling at astonishing speed – from sea to shining sea.
  • Four years ago, the average house spent 39 days on the market. Two years ago, homes were on the market for about 24 days. Today, that number has dropped to just 17 short days.
  • If you’re looking to sell your house quickly and on the best possible terms, today’s market can’t be beat. Let’s connect to discuss how to secure a speedy, top-dollar sale for your house.

How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You

There’s a lot of discussion about affordability as home prices continue to appreciate rapidly. Even though the most recent index on affordability from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows homes are more affordable today than the historical average, some still have concerns about whether or not it’s truly affordable to buy a home right now.

When addressing this topic, there are various measures of affordability to consider. However, very few of the indexes compare the affordability of owning a home to renting one. In a paper just published by the Urban Institute, Homeownership Is Affordable Housing, author Mike Loftin examines whether it’s more affordable to buy or rent. Here are some of the highlights included.

1. Renters pay a higher percentage of their income toward their rental payment than homeowners pay toward their mortgage.

The report explains:

“When we look at the median housing expense ratio of all households, the typical homeowner household spends 16 percent of its income on housing while the typical renter household spends 26 percent. This is true, you might say, because people who own their own home must make more money than people who rent. But if we control for income, it is still more affordable to own a home than to rent housing, on average.”

Here’s the data from the report shown in a graph:How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You | Simplifying The Market

2. Renters don’t have extra money to invest in other assets.

The report goes on to say:

“Buying a home is not a decision between investing in real estate versus investing in stocks, as financial advisers often claim. Instead, the home buying investment simply converts some portion of an existing expense (renting) into an investment in real estate.”

It explains that you still have a housing expense (rent payments) even if you don’t buy a home. You can’t live in your 401K, but you can transfer housing expenses to your real estate investment. A mortgage payment is forced savings; it goes toward building equity you will likely get back when you sell your home. There’s no return on your rent payments.

3. Your mortgage payment remains relatively the same over time. Your rent keeps going up.

The report also notes:

“Whereas renters are continuously vulnerable to cost increases, rising home prices do not affect homeowners. Nobody rebuys the same home every year. For the homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage, monthly payments increase only if property taxes and property insurance costs increase. The principal and interest portion of the payment, the largest portion, is fixed. Meanwhile, the renter’s entire payment is subject to inflation.

Consequently, over time, the homeowner’s and renter’s differing trajectories produce starkly different economic outcomes. Homeownership’s major affordability benefit is that it stabilizes what is likely the homeowner’s biggest monthly expense, assuming a buyer has a fixed-rate mortgage, which most American homeowners do. The only portion of the homeowner’s housing expenses that can increase is taxes and insurance. The principal and interest portion stays the same for 30 years.”

A mortgage payment remains about the same over the 30 years of the mortgage. Here’s what rents have done over the last 30 years:How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You | Simplifying The Market

4. If you want to own a home and can afford it, waiting could cost you.

As the report also indicates:

“We need to stop seeing housing as a reward for financial success and instead see it as a critical tool that can facilitate financial success. Affordable homeownership is not the capstone of economic well-being; it is the cornerstone.”

Homeownership is the first rung on the ladder of financial success for most households, as their home is most often their largest asset.

Bottom Line

If the current headlines reporting a supposed drop-off in home affordability are making you nervous, let’s connect to go over the real insights into our area.