When to Repair or Replace Your Appliance

Consider age, repair cost, pricing, energy efficiency, and whether to modify your kitchen to accommodate a new unit.

when is it time to repair or replace appliances image of a vintage red metal toolbox on the grass in front of a broken air conditioner with a blurry background
Image: skaman306/Getty

When an appliance is old and isn’t working efficiently, it may seem natural to decide to replace it rather than repair it — may it rest in peace.

But appliances often break before their time, making the repair-or-replace decision harder. Also, the replacement cost may give you second thoughts.

If money is tight, you may have to repair the appliance and hope for the best. But if you’ve got some coin, replacing with a new, energy-efficient model may be the better way to go.

Those are a lot of ifs, and the repair-or-replace dilemma is often hard to resolve. Here are some guidelines to help you decide.

Is It Really Broken?

When appliances stop working, we get so rattled that the obvious escapes us. Before you panic, make sure:

  • The appliance is plugged in.
  • Circuit breakers haven’t tripped. (I once replaced a blender only to discover that the circuit needed resetting.)
  • Flooring hasn’t become uneven, which can stop some appliances from turning on.
  • Vents and filters aren’t clogged with lint and dust.

Related: How to Help Your Appliances Last Longer

Is It Still Under Warranty?

Check your owner’s manual or records to see if the sick appliance is still under warranty. Most appliances come with a manufacturer warranty that will cover the cost of repairs anywhere from one to three years after the initial date of purchase. If it’s still covered, schedule a service call.

Related: Is an Extended Warranty Right for You?

Is It Truly at the End of Its Useful Life?

Appliances have an average useful life — the typical lifespan after which the machine is running on borrowed time. The closer your appliance is to its hypothetical past-due date, the wiser it is to replace rather than repair.

Here are the typical lifespans of major appliances.

ApplianceAverage Lifespan (Years)
Compactor6
Dishwasher9
Disposal12
Dryer13
Exhaust Fan10
Freezer10-20
Microwave9
Range, electric13-15
Range, gas15-17
Range/oven hood14
Refrigerator9-13
Washer5-15

How to Follow the 50% Rule

In 2021, the cost to repair an appliance ranged from $100 to $300. Should you pay it?

If an appliance is more than 50% through its lifespan and if the cost of one repair is more than 50% of the cost of buying new, you should replace rather than repair.

To do the math, you’ll have to know the typical lifespan (see above) and get a repair estimate. Most service companies charge a “trip charge” to diagnose the problem. These charges vary widely, so be sure to ask when you arrange the appointment. If the company repairs the appliance, it usually waives the trip charge.

DIY Whenever Possible

If you know your way around a socket wrench, you may be able to make simple appliance repairs yourself and save labor fees. YouTube has lots of DIY repair videos, and user manuals can help you troubleshoot.

Can’t find your manual? Search online for “manual” along with your appliance brand and model number. Most manufacturers provide free downloadable PDFs of appliance manuals, and several websites specialize in nothing but manuals.

However, there is a downside to repairing appliances yourself.

  • Many electrical replacement parts are nonrefundable, so if you misdiagnose the problem, you’ve wasted money.
  • Large appliances are heavy and bulky. You risk injury if you don’t know how to move, open, and lift the machine properly.
  • Some appliance warranties are voided when you mess with the machine yourself.
  • If you forget to unplug the machine before making repairs, you can electrocute yourself (making savings a moot point).

How to Calculate Whether Energy Efficiency Is Cost Effective

New water-saving and energy-efficient appliances can be cost effective: An old refrigerator uses about 33% more energy than a new model with ENERGY STAR certification, according to Energy Star.

But replacing energy clunkers that still have miles left on them may not be a money-wise move. You might spend thousands on an appliance in order to save hundreds (if you’re lucky) on your energy bill.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says if you’re planning to stay in your home for 10 to 15 years, upgrading appliances is a good idea. However, if you’re planning on moving soon, you’ll save money by keeping your older appliances and letting the new owners upgrade to energy-efficient models.

What Are the Hidden Costs When Replacing Old Appliances?

The cost of replacing an appliance may include more than just the price of the machine. In fact, the price tag could be the least of the money you’ll spend to upgrade an appliance.

  • A new refrigerator may not fit in the old spot. You could have to modify cabinetry to fit the new appliance. Be sure to measure accurately.
  • Gas ovens and ranges will save money only if your home already has gas connections. If not, you could spend thousands bringing a gas line into your home or hundreds rerouting the lines you already have.
  • Upgrading from a simple gas range to one with all the bells and whistles may require upgrading or adding electrical wiring and circuits.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How to Get Rid of Ticks

Here are two ways to nix ticks in your yard to keep your dog — and you — healthy.

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Image: Macrovector/Getty

Ticks may be one of the smallest summer pests in my neighborhood, but they’re also the scariest because they carry Lyme disease. I’ve had Lyme; my daughter had Lyme; her BFF two doors down had Lyme; and my dog, Spot, got it twice.

I blame the herd of deer that live in my side yard for giving us all Lyme, a bacterial illness carried by ticks. We tend to think of deer as being the usual carriers and the woods as being the danger zones, but other wild animals carry ticks, too. Think opossums, raccoons, squirrels, birds, lizards, mice, and even rats. (Look out, urban areas.)

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some ticks — like the American dog tick and the brown dog tick — even specialize in dogs. And Lyme disease is a big deal for our fur babies, because the organism can travel to many parts of their body and localize in joints or kidneys.

My War on Ticks

I’m warring with the ticks by:

  • Targeting the ones shacking up with field mice
  • Creating a tick barrier on the edge of my yard

How to Make DIY Tick Tubes

To get at the ticks living with the mice, I sprayed cotton with a permethrin (costs $11 to $16), a pesticide that kills ticks but not mice, and stuffed the cotton in toilet paper tubes. Then I put the tubes in the brushy undergrowth in the woods edging my lawn. 

My plan is that the field mice will use the cotton to build little tick-killing nests in my yard.

If that sounds like too much work, you can buy premade tick tubes for $22 to $45.

Create a Tick Barrier

To make it hard for the ticks to walk into my yard, I cleaned the winter leaf debris from the edge of the woods surrounding the lawn.

If your yard is small enough (or your tick warfare budget is big), you can create a tick barrier by putting a yard-wide swath of mulch, stones, or gravel between the wooded areas of your yard and your lawn. 

I also moved my daughter’s play equipment (a field hockey goal) to the center of the lawn to keep her away from the tick-filled woods.

This may sound like a lot of work, but your family’s health, including your dog’s well-being, are well worth the effort.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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4 Ways to Make Fido Happy in Your New Home

Your dog will love these features, which will look awesome in your home, too.

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Image: Image Source/Getty
The Ugly Duckling House logo

CONTRIBUTED BY

This article was contributed by Sarah Fogle, a DIYer, self-professed power tool addict, and home renovation blogger, who writes “The Ugly Duckling House.”

Life with pets. They frustrate you, and they make things messy. But you can’t help loving them anyway.

I’ve spent years DIYing with the world’s greatest sidekick, who likes to be in on the action at all times (even when I’m on a ladder or using an air compressor). Even so, I pause whenever I see a cool idea to make Charlie feel more at home in the middle of chaos.

Brown dog in a field at dusk
Image: The Ugly Duckling House

I have a long list of favorite ideas for pet-friendly home features, but these are at the top.

Pet Feeder

I used to think having a fancy food bowl setup was one of those nice-to-have things that I would get around to making eventually. This was one of the more impactful tweaks I made this past year, and it really changed some of the everyday annoyances I’d been dealing with for years

Charlie had a long-standing habit of constantly flipping over her food bowl before eating. I hated the way stray bits of food would wind up scattered across my floor in the process. But once I built her a food bowl stand that also fit my design style, the house was so much cleaner. 

It was like, boom! She stopped flipping, and I stopped flipping out. There are lots of DIY feeder options out there. They can suspend from the wall, have food storage below the bowls, or just look nice in the kitchen.

Poplar board dog feeder with dog food and water bowls
Image: The Ugly Duckling House

https://www.youtube.com/embed/kg__1nuy2js?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1First-Time Buyer by NAR

Outdoor Lounger

I filled in my backyard this past year and now have lots of DIY outdoor projects on my task list. I’m adding one more.

Cute dog sitting in a wooden doghouse gazebo
Image: House of Wood

Upgraded Gates

I used a retractable baby gate when Charlie was a pup. It was useful to help train her, but not all that aesthetically pleasing.

Puppy peering over puppy gate
Image: House of Wood

I’d rather have had something that suits my style a little more, like this gorgeous custom-designed gate over at the “Yellow Brick Home” blog. Unfortunately, Charlie’s a little too big to be deterred by a gate anymore, but this would still be a great build for owners with small pets.

White DIY dog gate with dog peering out from behind it
Image: Yellow Brick Home

Dog Beds

Charlie has a bed of some sort in virtually every room of my house. She likes to follow me around. And I like to have a place where she can be both comfortable and out of the way. 

Still, though, why do dog beds have to be so ugly? I like the idea of making them more tied into furniture, such as with an ottoman or side table. That’s pretty much what Mindi from the “MyLove2Create” blog did with an old crib turned dog crate.

That wooden top is perfect for making it look like the rest of the furniture in her home.

White DIY'ed dog crate with dark wood top
Image: MyLove2Create

Ultimately, it’s important to me to make Charlie feel just as at home in our shared space as I do. While some design choices are made just for me, taking her needs into account can help us both. There’s less clutter, fewer messes to clean up, and a house that can still be beautiful while addressing my biggest pain points of dog ownership. 

Win-win is always better, right?

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Landscaping for Dogs: Do’s and Don’ts

Dog-friendly landscaping tips so you can have a beautiful yard and a happy dog.

Happy puppy on a yard landscaped for dogs
Image: Haus of Cruze

Landscaping for dogs is easy with these tips about what to do and what NOT to.

Like choosing the right mulch.

Mulch

DO: Use gravel, shredded hardwood mulch, or wood chips; they won’t stick to longhair coats.
DON’T: Use cocoa mulch, which may contain theobromine, the same ingredient that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs.

Dog-friendly yard with mulch and a fire hydrant
Image: Down to Earth Landscaping, Inc. of Bellevue, WA

Yard Features

DO: Create a water feature so your dog can cool off on hot days.
DON’T: Install a pond or pool that’s hard for your dog to enter and exit.

Plants

DO: Use organic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides on lawns and plants.
DON’T: Spread toxic lawn and plant care products, which can harm dogs. Studies have shown that exposure to pesticides may affect dogs similarly to how it affects humans. Scientists have linked lawn chemicals to canine cancer, according to EcoWatch.

DO: Select plant species that reduce fleas, such as lavender, rosemary, and mint, and others that are good for dogs to eat — blueberries, strawberries, wheat grass, and oat grass.
DON’T: Select plants that can make your dog sick, like foxglove, iris, monkshood, and lily of the valley.

DO: Landscape with urine-resistant plants, such as Euonymus japonica (Japanese spindle tree) and Burkwood osmanthus.  
DON’T: Freak out when you find yellow and brown spots in your lawn caused by urine. Reseeding is a simple and easy cure for those spots. Or create a potty station.

Boundaries

DO: Create paths or walkways along routes your dog already travels. 
DON’T: Think you can redirect your dog away from areas they’ve already claimed. Don’t resort to planting thorny shrubs or other plants to deter them. You’ll both be sorry.

Dog-friendly xeriscaped back yard
Image: MaryLea Harris

DO: Edge flowerbeds with rocks or foot-tall shrubs to protect your posies.
DON’T: Use a metal edging that can cut your pooch.

DO: Give up the idea of having a perfect yard — a place that’s perfect for you and your pet is better.
DON’T: Let your dog rule the roost. Train them to respect boundaries and do their business in a designated spot.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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5 Outdoor Patio Lighting Ideas

Creative patio lighting ideas add a nighttime glow to keep you outside.

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Image: Jakub Mazur/Getty

Outdoor patios are an extension of your home, perfect for gathering with guests, getting lost in a good book, or even working out. But the fun shouldn’t stop when the sun goes down. You can spend more time doing what matters most by adding the perfect patio lights to your space (dinner under the stars, anyone?). 

If you’re ready to shine some light on your outdoor space, we’ll dive into five great options for outdoor patio lights. Then, we’ll explore different approaches to setting up your patio lighting for all you DIYers. Let’s jump in!

Patio Lighting Ideas

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Image: mtreasure/Getty

How you illuminate your patio can depend on the overall design you’re going for, your patio’s purpose, and the amount of lighting you need. Some of the most popular outdoor patio lighting ideas include outdoor pendants, string lights, and floor lights.

1. String Lights and Rope Lighting

String and rope lights are small electric lights placed along a cable and used indoors and outdoors. They’re ideal for stringing along your patio and deck railing, in your tree branches, or along the walls of your home. You can purchase string or rope lighting with heavy-duty wiring and sockets for outdoor use.

2. Outdoor Pendants

Outdoor pendant lights, also called drop or suspender lights, are hanging pendants suspended by a cord or chain. They can instantly enhance your outdoor patio with little effort. Outdoor pendant lights are available in many sizes, including full-length, large, mini, and lantern.

3. Outdoor Table and Floor Lights

Outdoor table lights and floor lights are decorative and functional ways to illuminate an outdoor living space. These lamps provide the perfect ambience for a family get-together or an intimate dinner — without blinding you.

4. Pathway Lighting

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Image: volgariver/Getty

Pathway lighting is best for illuminating a walkway that leads to your patio (safety first!). You can also use pathway lights to brighten driveways and footpaths or as a simple and affordable way to accent your patio steps or highlight shrubbery and flowerbeds.

5. Uplighting

Uplighting is the effect when you place light fixtures on the ground and point them up to enhance specific landscape or architectural features. It’s a great way to emphasize your manicured landscape and garden in your backyard and shine a light on your patio area, too.

Consider This: DIY Patio Light Techniques

There are almost limitless creative techniques for setting up your patio lights, from DIY projects to energy-efficient lighting. Today’s top trends include high-level lighting with prestrung and pendant lights, tabletop lighting with candles, DIY lanterns, and tabletop fireplaces.

DIY Patio Lights

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Image: Image Credit: Nuno Valadas/Getty

Lighting your patio doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. There are plenty of DIY patio lighting ideas to help you get the same aesthetically pleasing outcome you see on Pinterest.

Ideas include wire basket lighting, mason jar lanterns, recycled wine bottles, and even tin cans. Since the size and shape of lighting will vary, these creative touches can make the space your own.

Use Solar

Solar lighting is energy efficient and uses sunlight to recharge during the day, so there’s no fuss with unsightly cords or wiring, or need for outlets. You can incorporate solar with a solar path light, solar LED deck post caps, solar LED floodlights, or solar string lights.

Illuminate Your Garden and Shrubbery

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Image: AHatmaker/Getty

There’s no reason you can’t enjoy your garden and shrubbery when the sun goes down. Consider decorating your garden and shrubbery with small touches of lighting. You can weave soft lighting within your bushes, shrubs, and tree branches to create a warm look in your outdoor living space.

Consider Candles

Candles are a simple yet decorative patio lighting option that can add romantic ambiance to any occasion. You can place them on your outdoor tables or alongside the steps and walkways. Candles come in so many different sizes, shapes, colors, and scents that the possibilities are almost endless.

Outdoor Patio Lights: Simple Upgrades to Improve Your Comfort and Safety

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Image: Image Credit: bruev/Getty

Although the purpose behind patio lights is mostly to create a more pleasing environment, you’ll want to stay safe while enhancing and using the space. That means you’ll need to:

  • Consider all safety measures before you start screwing in your light bulbs.
  • Check your power cords and inspect the lights before installing them.
  • Choose only lights rated for outdoor use to weather the elements.
  • Avoid placing your patio lighting next to flammable materials.
  • Turn off your lights when you’re not using them.

Use your creativity to make your patio shine with outdoor patio lighting ideas like pathway lighting, string lights, and solar lighting. In no time, you’ll transform your simple outdoor patio space into something extraordinary that reflects your personal style.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Keeping Your House Clean with Dogs While It’s on the Market

Grout can be a real problem because it soaks up pet odors.

Black dog sitting on green corduroy armchair | Keeping clean
Image: Meredith Novario/Offset

Oof. Houses that smell or look like pets have lived in them are just harder to sell.

To avoid that happening to you, de-pet your house before putting it on the market — and keep it that way while you sell. Here’s how.

#1 Steam Clean Everything Fabric

Job No. 1 is to take care of the soft surfaces in your house, says Melissa Maker, star of Clean My Space YouTube channel and owner of a Toronto cleaning service. “They hold odors and hair like nothing else.”

This includes carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and even the drapes, she says. Pets rub against drapes, getting oils, odors, and fur on the fabric. Send curtains out for a professional cleaning.

#2 Groom Your Pet

Tail of siberian husky peaking out from wall of bushes
Image: wichatsurin/Getty

Hire a pro to groom your pet before you list your house. You can do it yourself, but a pro can get more hair and dander off than you can — plus, all that gunk is better off in the groomer’s drain than yours.

Brush your furry friend regularly (outside, preferably) while your house is on the market. Any hair you get off on a brush is hair that won’t end up on your sofa or in your rugs.

#3 Clean Tile-Floor Grout

White hallway with stone tile | Keeping Clean with Dogs
Image: Cavan Images/Offset

Tile resists dog stains, but grout is porous and sucks them up like a sponge. “I had a cat who had an accident on a tile floor, and the pee seeped into the grout,” Maker says. Steam clean grout to lift old smells and stains. If your grout is really cruddy, hire a pro to chip out the old grout and put in new — or DIY it if you have the skills.

#4 Get an Air Purifier Tower

To you, it smells like home. But others may not find that smell so inviting after your HVAC has circulated the same hair and dander again and again (especially in hot and cold weather when the windows are closed).

Add an air purifier tower with a HEPA filter. It pulls hair and dander out of the air before they even reach your HVAC.

Most air ducts don’t need cleaning, especially if you change filters regularly. But if dander and fur seem to be taking over, hire a duct-cleaning company before putting your home on the market.

#5 Use Enzymatic Cleaners

They’re the special forces of odor busters. Enzymatic cleaners are made of beneficial bacteria that eat stains and odors. That means they’re formulated to stamp out a specific type of stain, so a cleanser that targets urine won’t be the same as one for vomit.

“They’re cultivated for a specific mess,” Maker says. Apply them liberally to stains regardless of how old they are, before listing your house.

#6 Get Rid of Scratch Marks

Close up of brown dog's paws | Keeping House Clean with Dogs
Image: Jen Rogers/EyeEm/Getty

Pet toenails leave telltale marks on doors and walls. The material used will dictate how you treat the scratches. Paint over marks on walls and doors made of synthetic materials. But repair scratches on a wooden door with a wood-filler pen. For hardwood floors, rub out small scratches with steel wool or fine sandpaper followed by mineral spirits, wood filler, and polyurethane. If damage is major, refinishing the hardwood is a good investment; it has a stellar 100% ROI.

#7 Absorb Odors With Charcoal

Charcoal pulls moisture and odors out of the air. You can get inconspicuous little bags of it to hang in places your pets love most. Or, just strategically stash some charcoal briquettes around the house.

Just be sure to get the ones that aren’t presoaked with lighter fluid.

#8 Spot Clean Furniture Daily

Black dog sitting on green corduroy armchair | Keeping clean
Image: Meredith Novario/Offset

If you’re like many pet owners, trying to keep your fur buddy off the couch completely isn’t worth the effort. Instead, cover your freshly cleaned furniture with throws or pet covers, and wash them at least once a week. Vacuum rugs and carpets every day. If that seems like too much, remember that pet smells sink in fast.

For quick hair removal before a showing, wipe down the couch with rubber gloves. The hair comes right off.

#9 Get a Sniff Test

You’ve scrubbed everything, and you think your house smells like a pet has never set foot in the door and a litter box has never been part of the decor. Get a second opinion about whether the odors are really gone, Maker says. “You may be noseblind. Ask your agent to walk through and give you an honest opinion.”

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How to Move Past Student Debt — and Into a Home

You’ve got options, like repayment help from your employer and coaching from a mortgage broker.

student loan debt payoff and buy a house graphic of a hand dropping a US coin into a black graduation cap held by another hand
Image: tommy/Getty

You want to buy a house. But you’re worried you won’t qualify for a mortgage because of your student loan debt. You’re not alone. Half of non-homeowners (51%) say student loan debt is delaying them from buying a home, according to a survey from the National Association of REALTORS®. That number jumps to 60% for millennials.

The numbers tell an ugly story of a generation paying for its education long after graduation.  As a result, they’re having to make hard life choices for decades. The average public university student borrows $30,000 in student loans to get a bachelor’s degree, according to the Education Data Initiative. The average student loan payment is $460 a month. And nearly 48 million people have student loans. 

student loan debt payoff buy a house infographic of 4 points of student debt facts
Image: HouseLogic

Student debt is no longer just a first-time home buyer problem, says Cale Iorg, a loan officer at Supreme Lending in Alpharetta, Ga. “We get people in their 40s and 50s who are still paying off student loans. They went back for a master’s degree, or they are parents who cosigned their children’s student loans.”

President Biden provided some relief (not reflected in the previous numbers) when he announced in late August 2022 that he would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year. The relief includes an additional $10,000 for those who received Pell grants for low-income students.

Before the pandemic, more than 8 million people — one in five borrowers with a payment due — had defaulted on their loans, the “New York Times” reported. But because many of them carried relatively small balances, they’ll now be eligible for loan cancellation.

Student loan payments have been paused since March 2020, but are scheduled to resume in January 2023.

Despite uncertainty about debt cancellation timing and impact, you can get a mortgage while you have student debt. Here are eight tips for making it happen.

#1 Lower Your Debt-to-Income Ratio.

studen loan debt payoff buy a house infographic with debt to income ratio equation for payments
Image: HouseLogic

Your debt-to-income ratio, or score, is one of the most impactful numbers on your life since your ACT score. It measures the percentage of your monthly income that goes to pay your debts. You calculate it by adding all your monthly debts – credit card minimums, rent or mortgage, car payments, and, yes, student loan payments. Then, you divide the total by your monthly gross income (take-home pay before taxes and other monthly deductions).

Your debt-to-income ratio should be no more than 45% of your gross monthly income, Iorg says. Many lenders consider the ideal debt-to-income ratio, including a mortgage payment, to be 36% or less. Depending on your credit score, savings, assets, and down payment, lenders may accept higher ratios, according to Bankrate. It depends on the type of loan you’re applying for.

You can improve your debt-to-income ratio three ways: Make more money, spend less money, and pay down your debt, Iorg says. “Not everybody can wake up tomorrow and say, ‘Oh, well, I’m going to get a job that pays $4,000 more a month,’” he adds. Sure, there are always side hustles to bring in extra bucks to help you pay down bills. “But the surest way to improve your debt-to-income ratio is to live within your means.”  

And pay down those student loans.

#2 Increase Your Credit Score.

Your credit score is the other number that profoundly affects your financial fortune. It’s basically a grade for what kind of a job you do paying your bills. The simplest ways to boost your credit score include paying your bills on time, using less than 30% of the credit limit on your credit cards, and paying off debts. There’s a lot of help out there, including free webinars, to guide you on improving your score. Generally, these tips involve paying off bills and spending less money. Yes, frugality.

#3 Look for Down Payment Assistance.

When you’re paying off student loans, saving for a down payment can be tough. The down payment can range from 3.5% to 20% of the home purchase price. If you don’t have a relative who can dump a chunk of cash on you – known in the mortgage biz as gift money – there’s other help.  Down payment assistance programs offer loans or grants that pay the down payment on a house. Some DPA funds can be used toward closing costs, too.

Most DPAs require you to be a first-time home buyer with a credit score of 640 or higher and a moderate source of income. DPAs are usually offered at the local level, and their eligibility rules vary by state, city, or even ZIP code. In Seattle, for instance, you can get up to $55,000 in down payment assistance in the form of a low interest loan, depending on your household size and income. The buyer must pay just 1% down out of pocket, and the DPA pays the rest. In Georgia, a DPA offers loans of $7,500 for most buyers. Teachers, health care providers, active duty service members, and public employees are eligible for $10,000.

#4 Get a Co-Borrower.

Want to instantly improve your chances of getting a mortgage? Put a co-borrower on your mortgage. Their income counts toward the debt-to-income ratio, and their credit history bolsters yours. You’re combining forces to strengthen your financial qualifications, and that can offset the dead weight of your student loan debt.

“Co-borrowers are not uncommon,” Iorg says. “It’s a good way to go for a buyer who just doesn’t have enough money from their monthly income to qualify for a mortgage.” Iorg says the co-borrowers he sees are usually parents, siblings, or grandparents. Most co-borrowers are family members or someone with whom the homeowner has a personal relationship. But lenders don’t require a co-borrower to produce proof they know you or are related to you. They just want proof the co-borrower can pay your mortgage if you don’t.

Remember, a co-borrower will share title on the home. If that’s not your cup of joint ownership, consider a co-signer. Their income will boost your financial profile, but they won’t be a co-owner of the house.

#5 Look into Student Loan Protection Programs.

You could be eligible for loan forgiveness if you’re a teacher, attended a for-profit school that went out of business, or have a total and permanent disability. Here are the programs erasing student debt:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: This program has been around since 2007 to grant debt relief to teachers, social workers, firefighters, employees of nonprofits, and other public servants. But the Biden administration loosened the rules to make more people eligible. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the PSLF has forgiven $2 billion in student loans and is still going.
  • Borrower Defense and Closed School Discharge: You may also be eligible for debt relief if you attended a school that turned out to be scamming you. Hello, ITT Tech, DeVry University, and Corinthian Colleges. Thanks to rules under the Biden administration, defrauded students who got only partial debt relief under the Trump administration can now get the rest of their student loans wiped out.
  • Total and Permanent Disability Discharge: Borrowers with permanent disabilities that prevent them from working can shed their student debts, thanks to changes to an existing program that the Education Department says will help at least 370,000 borrowers drop more than $6.5 billion in student debt.

#6 Get Help from Your Employer to Repay Student Debt.

Some companies are offering student loan repayment assistance as a benefit. Google matches employee payments up to $2,500 a year; Aetna matches up to $2,000 a year with a lifetime cap of $10,000; and Fidelity Investments pays up to $10,000 of an employee’s student loans. Other companies that offer payment assistance include Carvana, Chegg, Hulu, Lockheed Martin, New York Life, and PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers).

Employer-sponsored student loan repayment may become more common. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2021 gives a tax break to companies that offer student loan repayment assistance. From now till Dec. 31, 2025, employers can contribute up to $5,250 a year tax-free to an employee for repayment of student loans. So, if your boss gets on board this year, you could get as much as $15,000 of your loans paid off before the program ends.

#7 Lower Your Student Loan Payments.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  • Opt for an income-based repayment plan for federal student loans. You can apply for loan repayment plans that will lower your monthly payment on a federal student loan based on your income and family size. The basic income-based repayment plan caps your payments at 10% of your discretionary income. It also forgives your remaining loan balance after 20 years of payments. That can go a long way toward lowering monthly debt payments and your debt-to-income ratio.
  • Refinance your private student loans. This is a good idea if you have private student loans that aren’t eligible for federal loan forgiveness or have variable rates. If you can get a lower interest rate, you can change your life. For example, if you have $30,000 in private student loans with an 8% interest rate, you’ll pay $364 for 10 years. Refinance that to a 15-year loan at 4% interest, and your payment drops by $142 a month. You’ll also save around $3,735 in interest over the life of the loan.

#8 Get a Mortgage Broker Who Will Coach You.

Look for someone who is experienced at working with borrowers who have more student debt than they’d like. Get a broker who will work with you to find DPA programs; steer you through the ins and outs of FHA, conventional, and VA loans; and help you get your finances in order so you become a better mortgage candidate. Iorg says his office has a credit analyst whose job is to help clients improve their credit scores and debt-to-income ratios.

The Bottom Line

There’s no quick fix to buying a house when you have student loans.

The good news is there’s more public support for student debt forgiveness. Many economists say forgiving student loans, such as the Biden plan for debt cancellation, would put money back into Americans’ pockets. That would boost the economy and encourage the formation of more businesses and households. More businesses means more jobs, and more households means more spending. And spending fuels the U.S. economy.

Recent events have reinforced that changes are the norm for student loan debt and relief. Changes to the PSLF program have made more people and more types of federal loans eligible for forgiveness. Add to that the raft of assistance programs that help renters become first-time home buyers, and you may be able to afford it all: a college education, a mortgage, and a 401(k) contribution. You just may not be able to do it all at once. It will take planning and time.

student loan debt payoff buy a house infographic of a summary of the 8 points on how to get it done

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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You Only Think It’s True: 10 Myths Costing You Time and Money

Save your cash for more important things, like, you know, your mortgage.

home maintenance myths that cost money man holding a money bag between a miniature yellow house split in half
Image: PM Images/Getty

You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!

Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends, and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Myth 1: Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

A cracked gray and pink marble stone countertop
Image: Marble Lite Inc.

Fact: Even rock can be damaged.

Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.

Marble is easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.

“Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it. The next morning you’ll have a problem,” says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.

And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. “It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock,” Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Myth 2: Your Smoke Detector’s Test Button Is Foolproof

home maintenance myths that cost money a lit burning match held up to an outdated smoke detector
Image: Maggie Stuart for HouseLogic

Fact: The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.

Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.

The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match; blow it out; and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. Replace the batteries if the smoke doesn’t set off the alarm. If the smoke detector still doesn’t work after that, you need a new one. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

Myth 3: Gutter Guards Are Maintenance-Free

Fact: You gotta clean gutter guards, too.

Gutter guards keep out leaves, but small debris like seeds, pine straw, and flower buds will still get through.

Gutter guards can lessen your work, though — sometimes a lot. Instead of shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of leaves and other crap twice a year, you might just need to clean them every two years. But if there are lots of trees in your yard, once a year might be necessary.

Myth 4: A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

Lemons ready to be added to a disposal
Image: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, most of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.

The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of Americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.

The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive, so it will clean the blades. But it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs about a buck.

Myth 5: Mowing Your Lawn Super Short Means You’ll Mow Less Often

Fact: You might not have to mow as often, but your lawn will look like awful.

Cut that grass under an inch high, and you’ll never have to mow again because your grass will die. Mowing a lawn down to the root — a screwup known as scalping — is like cutting all the leaves off a plant.

Grass blades make and store your lawn’s energy. Removing more than a third of the length of the blade will leave your grass too weak to withstand weeds and pests. It also exposes the roots to the sun, causing the lawn to dry out quickly. Leave one to three inches of grass above the roots to keep your lawn lush.

Myth 6: CFLs Cost Too Much and Are Dangerous

Fact: CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) have come down in price since they first hit the market and don’t contain enough mercury to cause any harm.

You can buy a package now for less than $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $40 a year for the life of the bulb in replacement costs alone, says Save on Energy. The major benefits of an Energy Star-rated CFL include using about 75% less energy than a standard incandescent and lasting up to 10 times longer.

And CFLs are a safe option. Using CFLs (and other fluorescent bulbs) instead of incandescent bulbs lowers your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew mercury into the air each year won’t have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What’s not to love?

Myth 7: A Trendy Kitchen Redo Will Increase My Home’s Value

home maintenance myths that cost money HDR shot of an outdated kitchen with wood paneling and avocado-green counters old appliances and light fixtures
Image: Martin Deja/Getty

Fact: Décor trends come and go as fast as viral videos.

Remember those Tuscan-style kitchens with mustard gold walls, ornate cabinets, and medieval-looking light fixtures that were the must-have of the late ’90s and early aughts?

Today, they’re as dated as flip phones. Instead of remodeling in the latest look, which costs an average $45,000, according the the National Association of REALTORS® “Remodeling Impact Report,” try repainting in on-trend colors, which costs $600 to $1,320, according to FixR. If you do opt for a full remodel, choose elements like Shaker cabinets, wood floors, and subway tile, a timeless style you’ll love 10 years from now.

Myth 8: A Contractor Recommendation from a Friend Is Good Enough

Fact: Good contractors have more than just your buddy to vouch for them.

Your neighbor’s rec is a good start, but talk to a couple of sources before you hire anyone. Check the contractor’s reviews on Angie’s List or other online rating sites.

Ask a local building inspector which contractors meet code on the properties they inspect. Ask the contractor for the names of past clients you can talk to, how many other projects they have going, how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors, and if they routinely do projects the size of yours.

Look at this as a job interview where the contractor is an applicant and you’re the hiring manager. Make them show you they’re the one for the work.

Myth 9: Turning Off Your AC When You Leave Saves Energy

Fact: Turning off the air conditioner when you leave could actually cost you money.

That’s because when you turn it back on, all your savings will be lost as the unit works overtime to cool your hot house. A better way to save on utilities is to turn the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) 5 to 10 degrees when you leave, says home improvement expert Danny Lipford of TodaysHomeowner.com.

And the best option? “Install a programmable thermostat,” he says. Even better, buy one you can control remotely with your smartphone and adjust the temperature before you get home. Because thermostats you have to touch are so 1998.

Myth 10: Permits? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permits

Fact: You do.

Let’s say your neighbor’s brother-in-law, Cecil, is an electrician. Cecil can rewire your kitchen in a weekend because he won’t inconvenience you with a permit. Should you hire Cecil? No. Building codes protect you. From Cecil. Getting a permit means an inspector will check his work to make sure he didn’t screw up.

Plus, if your house burns down in an electrical fire and your insurance company finds out the work was done without a permit, it won’t cover your loss. Check with your local planning or building department to find out if your project needs a permit. If it does, get one.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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7 Household Expenses You’re Probably Wasting Your Money On

There are better ways to spend.

home maintenance wasting money on expenses illustration of open hands under a yellow light bulb with a purple background
Image: RSW Creative/Getty

“They were this gorgeous, greenish-teal, and they looked great in my laundry room,” says Eliesa Prettelt, avid DIYer and author of “A Pinterest Addict” blog.

The washer/dryer combo was perfect. Such a delightful way to brighten laundry day — with a cheerfully colored front-loader set. They could actually make laundry fun!

A teal washer and dryer combo in a light-blue laundry room
Image: Eliesa Prettelt, Pinterest Addict Blog

But after barreling through three sets in four years, she knew she’d made a mistake. “They looked so pretty, but I had nothing but problems with them,” she says.

She eventually gave up and got nondescript, white, commercial-grade top-loaders she scored for less than half the cost of her original machines. They may be plain, she says, but “I’ve had no problems since.”

Lesson learned. The hard way. Now for learning the easy way. Here are seven common money mistakes homeowners make — and now you won’t.

1. Contractor House Calls

Think you need a pro to fix that leaky toilet? You’d be surprised how easy it can be to fix it yourself — and save the typical $70 to $120 per hour plumbers can charge (and don’t forget the boost in your can-do attitude). You can often find home remedies for small jobs like a leaky faucet or a broken garbage disposal on YouTube. Just make sure the source is reputable. And check out several videos on the same repair. That’ll help make sure you don’t miss a crucial step.

“We save a couple hundred dollars per year by doing small home repairs ourselves,” says Lauren Greutman, frugal living expert and author of “The Recovering Spender: How to Live a Happy, Fulfilled, Debt-Free Life.”

For those who prefer an expert, try smaller, local retail appliance stores, Greutman suggests. “It’s a little-known secret that they usually have repair people who are very inexpensive.”

2. Extended Warranties

It’s tempting to insure your new, big purchase, but according to “Consumer Reports,” you’re probably already as covered as you need to be.

How’s that? Most major appliances come with at least a 90-day manufacturer’s warranty. Buy with a major credit card (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express) and it will likely double that standard warranty.

Combine that with the fact that “Consumer Reports” found most products don’t break during the standard two- or three-year service contract period. When they do, the repair cost is usually just a few dollars more than the cost of the warranty.

Instead of paying for an extended warranty, stash the cash in a savings account earmarked for home repairs. When you need it, it’ll be there.

3. Flashy Feature Appliances

The newest appliances come with super fun features. Who wouldn’t want an oven that talks, remote access to your AC, or bottle jets in the dishwasher (hey, new parents)? Still, it may not be financially wise to replace a fully functioning older model just to gain modern perks. So says Arthur Teel, owner and operator of The Handyman Plan in Asheville, N.C. Circuit boards break, and energy efficiency numbers don’t always add up, he says.

Yup. That’s even true for some energy-efficient appliances that boast cost savings. “Spend $1,000 on a new, energy-efficient stove, and it could take 10 years of energy savings to offset the cost of the new stove,” he says. “Unless you have a really old appliance, it’s probably efficient enough for your needs. Also, putting the appliance into the landfill isn’t exactly great for the environment.”

4. Budget Bulbs

Incandescents may be easy on your everyday household budget, but they’re tough on your energy bill. Start replacing them now with LEDs. To help swallow the initial costs, just replace them as they die out. A typical LED bulb can recoup its cost in less than six months. Even better, since LEDs can last a decade or more, you won’t have to buy bulbs as often, and your energy costs will be lower.

5. Commercial Cleaning Supplies

Even if you’re buying off-brand products to save costs, you’re still wasting money. You don’t have to spend anywhere near the cost of commercial products.

“Vinegar will clean a lot of things, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying pricey cleaning supplies,” says Prettelt. She also likes baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, each of which can be found for just a fraction of the cost of their popular store-bought equivalents.

“You can use these natural products in your dishwasher, in your garbage disposal, in your wash,” Prettelt adds. Easy peasy. And it’s super cheap.

That’s right. You can make dishwasher soap from a cup each of borax and washing soda, a half-cup of kosher salt, and five packets of unsweetened lemonade mix. Or whip up your own window cleaner with these simple ingredients:

  • A quarter-cup white vinegar
  • A quarter cup rubbing alcohol
  • Two cups of water
  • One tablespoon of cornstarch

All those ingredients are cheap. And to think you were paying $2 to $4 for the commercial kind.

6. A Storage Unit

If it doesn’t fit in your home, is it really worth keeping? Ditch nostalgia and think with your bank account: At a cost of $20 to $450 per month, it may be time to purge the junk.

If you can’t bear to part with something you don’t use regularly — say, Great-Grandma’s heirloom china — rethink your home’s organizational storage. Clean out the closet, craft shelves beneath the stairs, or build window seats with drawer storage. You’ll be investing in your home instead of giving money to a storage vendor.

7. Private Mortgage Insurance

Bought your house with less than 20% down? You’re probably paying for private mortgage insurance, or PMI (a type of insurance that guarantees your mortgage lender will be covered if you default). On a $300,000 mortgage loan, you’d pay between $1,500 and $3,000 each year, depending on the premium you’re required to pay for PMI. You’ll have to pay for PMI until your loan balance drops to 78% of the original appraised value of your home. You can also request an end to paying PMI premiums once your loan balance has dropped to 80% of your home’s value.

That 2% difference could cost you hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on your home’s mortgage balance. So, keep an eye on your statement and whip out that calculator when you’re getting close. Then, if you’re feeling really savvy, keep paying that amount every month — but apply it to your mortgage principal instead. Do that, and you could recoup your PMI fees. Because as you pay down your principal, you’ll pay less in interest, potentially saving thousands. Now how savvy is that?

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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