Why mortgage lenders want tax returns

Shopping for a home mortgage loan? Prepare to hand over real proof of your taxable income.

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

During the housing boom, lenders rarely required borrowers to provide copies of federal tax returns.

But today, lenders often ask borrowers to turn over entire tax returns, according to Brad Blackwell, national sales manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

"Often, people will think they can bring in the first two pages of the tax return, and what they need to bring is the full tax return and all schedules because a person's full income picture is contained in the entire set of documents, not just the first two pages," he says.

Borrowers generally also will be required to sign a Form 4506-T, which allows the lender to retrieve a tax transcript from the Internal Revenue Service.

Read on:

Real estate appraisal rules changing

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Real estate appraisals have been dogged by allegations of undue influence and outright fraud throughout much of the past decade. But new financial reform legislation aims to resolve many of the seemingly intractable issues.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act should result in more reliable appraisals, according to Ken Chitester, a spokesman for the Appraisal Institute in Chicago.

"The new law will protect consumers by encouraging the use of highly trained and competent real estate appraisers with much-needed resources for oversight and enforcement," he says.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/real-estate-appraisal-rules-changing-1.aspx

Bank accounts gone wild

Most people need some sort of checking or savings account, whether it's at a traditional bank, credit union or brokerage company. But most people don't need multiple bank accounts that serve more or less the same purpose.

Indeed, there are good reasons not to open extra bank accounts, even if an interest rate bonus or other attractive perk is on offer, says Conrad S. Ciccotello, associate professor and director of graduate personal financial planning programs at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/savings/how-many-bank-accounts-do-you-need.aspx

How To Choose an HSA

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

A health savings account, or HSA, is exactly what the name implies: a financial account that can be used to save money for future medical expenses. These accounts, combined with a high-deductible health insurance plan, also offer certain income tax breaks that make them even more attractive.

But which health savings account offers the best deal?

The answer depends in part on how the account will be used, according to Liz Ryan, senior vice president of the health benefit services group at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis. Most people fund an HSA and then use the money to pay for recurring or occasional medical costs either immediately or over time. But some use an HSA to accumulate savings for anticipated medical costs far in the future.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/savings/how-to-choose-a-health-savings-account-1.aspx

Fielding a Lowball Purchase Offer

By Marcie Geffner - HouseLogic.com

You just received a purchase offer from someone who wants to buy your home. You’re excited and relieved, until you realize the purchase offer is much lower than your asking price. How should you respond? Set aside your emotions, focus on the facts, and prepare a counteroffer that keeps the buyers involved in the deal.

Read on: http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/fielding-lowball-purchase-offer-your-home/

Bank accounts after death

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

It's a morbid thought, but the fact is that a dead person can't use a bank account. So what happens to a bank account -- and the money in it -- when someone dies?

The answer depends on whose name is on the account and whether the account is held in a living trust, according to Michael Halloran, a wealth management adviser in Jacksonville, Fla.

If the account isn't held jointly or in a trust -- and Halloran says such lack of planning is the case more often than not -- the account becomes off limits until the estate is settled in a court proceeding. In the meantime, a judge may issue a letter to allow an executor or administrator of the estate access to the account, but only to pay so-called "last expenses" (e.g., funeral costs).

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/savings/when-you-die-is-your-bank-account-in-limbo-1.aspx

Unemployed homeowners get mortgage help

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

A new government program requires lenders to offer three to six months' of lower mortgage payments to some homeowners who've lost their jobs. The temporary assistance is intended to help unemployed homeowners keep their homes while they seek new employment.

The new Temporary Assistance for Unemployed Borrowers program is a step forward, but many of the details are yet to be worked out, according to Faith Schwartz, executive director of Hope Now, a mortgage outreach alliance in Washington, D.C.

The program was announced March 26, but won't be rolled out until later this year.

"The next step is for everyone to race to implement, execute and fine-tune," she says.

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Refinance help floated to underwater homeowners

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Underwater homeowners may be able to refinance into a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, and get rid of some of debt -- but only if their lenders agree.

The federal government has announced adjustments to FHA programs intended to increase the number of qualifying mortgages "responsibly restructured and refinanced into FHA loans as long as the borrower is current on the mortgage and the lender reduces the amount owned ... by at least 10 percent," according to congressional testimony by Phyllis Caldwell, chief homeownership preservation officer at the U.S. Treasury Department.

The program is aimed at homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth -- so-called "underwater" homeowners -- and differs significantly from the Home Affordable Refinance Program started up about a year ago.

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Open Houses That Work

By Marcie Geffner - REALTOR Magazine

It’s a never-ending debate that has become more heated in recent years. Do open houses provide any real value as buyers spend more of their house hunting time online?

Some practitioners dismiss the open house, saying it’s an outdated custom that’s carried on mainly to placate home sellers. Other real estate pros remain devoted to the method. Their track records show that open houses can, and often do, get the property sold.

Even when a Sunday afternoon buyer doesn’t emerge, the open house serves as a prospecting opportunity, a way to fill their pipeline with future business.

Read more: http://www.realtor.org/rmosales_and_marketing/Articles/2010/1005_selling_openhouses

New alternatives to foreclosure unveiled

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Homeowners who can't afford their mortgage payments may want to take a look at the federal government's new alternative to foreclosure: the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative program, or HAFA, which intended to encourage lenders to facilitate short sales and deeds-in-lieu, or DIL, as alternatives to foreclosure.

The program, which is a part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, may help some homeowners escape a bad situation, but the rules are complicated and they won't be able to keep their homes.

U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary Herbert Allison explained the concept in congressional testimony.

"HAMP does not, nor was it ever intended to, address every delinquent loan," he said. "In these instances, the borrower may benefit from an alternative that helps the borrower transition to more affordable housing and avoid the substantial costs of foreclosure."

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/new-alternative-to-foreclosures-unveiled-1.aspx

Should you buy a house that's been vacant?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

A for-sale house that's been vacant may look like a bargain, but buyers should be cautious because expensive problems often lurk inside homes that have been unoccupied for some time.

A home can become vacant due to a marriage, job relocation, death or other life event. But vacancies today are more often due to a bank foreclosure or short sale in which the lender accepts less than the mortgage balance. It's these bank-owned properties, sometimes called "real estate-owned," or REOs, that tend to be "problem homes," says David Tamny, owner of Professional Property Inspection in Columbus, Ohio, and 2010 president of the American Society of Home Inspectors in Des Plaines, Ill.

Vacant homes can suffer from a wide variety of ills due to neglect, deferred maintenance on the part of the prior cash-strapped homeowner and vandalism, Tamny explains. Broken water pipes, stolen copper wiring, damaged appliances and unhealthy molds are but a few examples of the potential problems that may await buyers of these homes.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/should-you-buy-a-home-that-s-been-vacant-1.aspx

2010 Housing Forecast - California

Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

When it comes to employment and housing, California might well be called a tale of two states.

In one state, which is made up mostly of coastal counties from Oregon to Mexico, unemployment is no more than 13 percent and more often 10 or 11 percent. In the other state, which is comprised mainly of Central California, again from border to border, unemployment stands at more than 13 percent and often as high as 15 or 16 percent. There are a few anomalies among the state’s 58 counties, but if you plotted those unemployment rates on a color-coded map, the geographical disbursement of joblessness would be starkly apparent.

Still, that doesn't mean there won't be opportunities for Realtors, according to Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist of the California Association of Realtors.

Read on: http://www.onlinedigitalpubs.com/publication/?i=30208&p=25

Home buyer tax credit secrets

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

The basic rules of the federal homebuyer tax credit are not difficult to figure out. But the credit, which has been amended and extended, also contains more than a dozen little-known twists and traps that can affect whether a buyer will or won't qualify for the full amount of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers or $6,500 for repeat homeowners.

Here are some facts homebuyers should know about the rules that became effective Nov. 7, 2009:

•The amount of the credit technically isn't $8,000 or $6,500, but rather 10 percent of the purchase price of the house up to those amounts for a buyer who hasn't owned a home in the last three years or a homeowner who has occupied the same principal residence for five consecutive of the last eight years, respectively. For example, if the home cost $50,000, the maximum credit amount would be $5,000, not $8,000 or $6,500.

•Buyers can elect to claim the credit on their 2009 or 2010 tax return, whichever is more advantageous for them. Buyers who claim the credit on a 2009 return must file on paper forms, not electronically. Expect to wait 12 to 16 weeks for a refund from an amended 2009 tax return.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/secrets-of-the-homebuyer-tax-credit-1.aspx

How long will your house last?

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

A house may survive for hundreds of years. But the individual components that make up the house may -- or may not -- be as resilient. Components made of concrete or brick can last a long time while major appliances are almost disposable, despite how costly they are to purchase, repair and replace.

Examples of especially sturdy products include cabinets in a garage or laundry room, brick pavers, a concrete or cast iron waste pipe and copper rain gutter downspouts, all of which can last 100 years or longer, according to a 2007 National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, study of home components' life expectancy. Other durables that can last a lifetime include natural stone or tile countertops, fiberglass, wood or fire-rated steel exterior doors, copper wiring, wood floors, walls, ceilings and most types of insulation.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/how-long-will-your-house-last-1.aspx

Hot Colors for Your Home

New colors inspire trendy paint, home décor choices

By Marcie Geffner, Cyberhomes Contributor

Homeowners who want to paint or redecorate their home won’t need a crystal ball to figure out what the hot colors will be this year. That’s because the Pantone Color Institute has announced eight new sets of coordinated colors, or palettes, for home décor.

Three of the new palettes are:
■Greenmarket, which includes Apple Green, Super Lemon, Peach Blossom and Vanilla Ice
■Gatherings, which includes Copper Coin, Lion, Smoke Blue and Twilight Mauve
■Pastiche, which includes Mimosa, Lavandula, Tangerine and Bright Cobalt

Read on: http://www.cyberhomes.com/content/news/10-01-07/home-decor.aspx