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These Free TV Apps Will Let You Cut Cable but Keep Content

As cable subscription prices rise higher and higher and customer satisfaction ratings dive lower and lower, cutting the cable has never been more popular.

Sure, there are the usual big names in streaming services available for a monthly fee, but it’s possible to kick subscription fees entirely.

Luckily, there are more options than ever for replacing your traditional cable setup. Many free streaming services have stepped up to offer access to content overlooked by subscription-based services.

And you aren’t confined to squinting at your phone’s screen or gathering the family around the old iPad to watch your favorite TV series and movies — you can download apps to your Smart TV or even your Xbox or PlayStation consoles.

Of course, there are some rather shady options out there that stream pirated content. But we’ve rounded up free, legal streaming apps that provide no-strings-attached cable-cutting solutions.

12 Free TV Apps That Will Help You Cut Cable

With so many free streaming options out there, it’s easier than ever to cut the cord and save big. Whether you’re looking to keep up with the news, find a good movie for date night or entertain your kids with educational content, a streaming service exists to ensure you can do so without paying a dime.

Try these free TV apps out and see which works best for you.

1. Crackle

One of the go-to names not just in free streaming but in streaming video in general is Crackle. The cost-free service has a variety of content, ranging from classic TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Barney Miller,” as well as the newer “Snatch” series. It also has hundreds of films from major studios.

For a free streaming service, Crackle’s library is truly impressive. Crackle even has a handful of original series to its name. Best of all, Crackle works on nearly all mobile devices, streaming boxes and smart TVs.

2. Tubi TV

A division of FOX Entertainment, Tubi TV has deals with major studios like Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Lionsgate. It also features lots of foreign and independent productions.

Tubi TV’s library is updated regularly, and the service claims to add new content every week. The Tubi TV app works on more than 25 devices, including Android and iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, Samsung Smart TVs and Amazon Fire TV.

The library is solid and has started offering popular Fox TV series like “The Masked Singer” and “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back.”

Since the service is ad-supported, you can expect to watch a couple minutes of ads every 10 minutes or so. The experience is pretty similar to watching normal television.

3. Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers TV channels of linear content much like a cable package

There are dozens of classic TV, movie and sports channels — and even some highly curated streams of niche content.

If you’re looking for breaking news, you can choose from an assortment of major network news channels that are live streaming.

The kids (or kids at heart) can check out Nickelodeon classics like “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “Dora the Explorer.”

Pro Tip

Got a library card? You have access to even more entertainment options (besides the obvious, books). Check out these library apps for free access to movies, TV shows and more.

Or if you just want to veg out, switch over to their Binge menu for a seemingly endless stream of TV series, like “The Hills” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Pluto TV boasts a large list of supported devices including iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TVand Chromecast devices and Android TV.

Like Tubi TV, Pluto TV has advertisements similar to the ad load of normal TV.

4. NewsON

Streaming video isn’t always just about entertainment. The NewsON app provides hundreds of local and national news streams.

Both live TV and on-demand news broadcasts can be streamed from over 275 local news affiliates in 160 markets. The broadcasts are available for up to 48 hours after they air, so even if you don’t catch the news as it happens, you can catch up later.

Users can then select which news segments they want to watch from categories like sports, weather or entertainment. NewsON is compatible with iOS and Android phones and tablets, as well as Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

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5. Funny Or Die

The go-to streaming app for comedy programming is Funny or Die. Founded in 2007 by contemporary comedy giants Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, it has since grown to be a full-blown production house featuring original content from big names in show business.

Pro Tip

In 2018, the Funny Or Die began publishing on Vox Media’s Chorus and now uses the YouTube Player.

Content on the app must be streamed and cannot be downloaded.

6. PBS Kids

Kids need free streaming content, too. PBS has a PBS Kids Video app that provides hundreds of hours of educational and enriching content for the youngest members of the family. The app has a colorful, child-friendly interface, which makes it easy for kids to take control themselves.

You can even tap the “Live TV” button to watch what’s currently airing on your local PBS station.

Pro Tip

Almost all of the networks and cable TV channels have their own free apps for you to download — although many charge you to actually watch current content.

Videos from many of PBS’s most popular series are available for streaming including “Curious George,” “Wild Kratts” and “Sesame Street.” The PBS Kids app is supported for Android, Windows and iOS phones and tablets.

7. Xumo

Whether you want it now or later, Xumo offers live TV and on-demand options.

Like Pluto, you can choose from an assortment of major network news channels that are live streaming.

But it also includes more than 160 free channels, including themed ones in case you’re in the mood for action movies or comedies — you can watch the Funny Or Die channel here, too.

Xumo is available on most smart TVs and Roku and for download on iOS and Android devices.

Pro Tip

Many of the free TV apps offer “premium” channels — if you see that word, expect to pay for those services.

8. Crunchyroll

Anime and manga fans are likely already familiar with Crunchyroll. It specializes in mostly Japanese content, but it also features films and series from all over the world. Crunchyroll boasts a library of thousands of anime films and series, many of which are hard to find on other streaming services.

There is a paid premium feature, but the free Crunchyroll service has thousands of hours of popular series like the “Dragon Ball” franchise, “Attack on Titan,” “Naruto” and “One Piece.”

The Crunchyroll app is supported by Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices, as well as by gaming consoles, Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku.

Crunchyroll is a great app for anyone with an interest in anime. Of course, when it comes to anime content, you have to be watchful with your younger children, as a lot of it is geared toward teens (and sometimes even adults).

9. Twitch

For anyone with even a passing interest in gaming and esports, Twitch is the go-to free streaming service.

Twitch hosts user-created channels and streams focused on video games and other esports. It features a built-in chat feature, so users can chat with other streamers in real time.

Pro Tip

You’re there anyway — why not get paid to play video games? Here are four simple ways to start earning real cash for virtual play.

While there are thousands of free streams, Twitch also features premium features for a monthly subscription. Twitch apps are compatible with PCs, iOS and Android devices, game consoles, Chromecast and Fire TV.

While Twitch is popular with children, parents should beware: Twitch streams are somewhat unregulated and can sometimes contain adult language or content.

10. IMDb TV

Owned by Amazon, IMDb TV (formerly Freedive) features a host of full episodes of your favorite current and classic TV shows as well as an array of movies.

The catalogue includes some binge-worthy sci-fi hits like “Lost” and “Fringe.”

The free version of IMDbTV is ad-supported, so you’ll have to sit through a few commercial breaks.

It is available in the United States on the IMDb app, the IMDb website, the Amazon Prime Video app and Amazon Fire TV devices.

11. YouTube

Yes, YouTube. YouTube apps are compatible with just about every device that has a screen, and the service features videos to choose from on nearly any topic imaginable.

Most of those videos are not exactly premium content, but there are still plenty of full-length films, documentary series and curated channels that provide cost-free entertainment for the whole family.

While there are ways to download YouTube content for offline viewing, proceed with caution: Many of these sites and apps are full of malware.

12. Peacock

NBCUniversal launched this streaming service, which includes over 7,500 hours of free content, in July 2020.

Although Peacock offers paid premium options, the free version includes current and classic TV shows, movies, news, sports, kids’ shows, Spanish-language programs and even select episodes of Peacock originals.

If you’re a fan of shows like “The Office,” “Law and Order: SVU,” or “Saturday Night Live,” you can watch them on this streaming service.

Customers can stream Peacock on a variety of platforms, including LG Smart TVs, Vizio SmartCast TVs, Roku, Google and Apple devices and Playstation and Xbox consoles.

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Chris Brantner is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to get the Southwest Companion Pass

#If you’re itching to voyage around the country and to bring a partner along on your adventures, the Southwest Companion Pass is an incredible deal. Believe it or not, with the Companion Pass, you can bring a friend or family member with you for free on every Southwest flight for up to two years.

You may have heard the news: On Jan. 1, 2020, Southwest officially boosted the points requirement for the Companion Pass to 125,000 points. This bump made the Companion Pass harder to earn for many less frequent flyers, though not impossible

With travel interruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, earning the Companion Pass for 2021 might seem completely out of reach. Luckily, Southwest is offering relief to those whose canceled plans throttled their hopes of achieving this coveted perk. Southwest has now twice extended statuses for Southwest Companion Pass members. Members who received an extension of their earned Companion Pass benefits through June 30, 2021, will have their benefits extended for another six months through Dec. 31, 2021. Additionally, Rapid Rewards members with an account opened by Dec. 31, 2020, are getting a complimentary boost of 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points and 25 flight credits toward Companion Pass status. This shortcut, when combined with alternative ways to earn Companion Pass qualifying-points, means the benefit is still achievable in the current environment.

What is the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass is a special benefit for elite members of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards programs. Once you earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points or 100 qualifying flights in a year, you can designate a companion to bring with you for free (except for taxes and fees) on any Southwest flight that you purchase – with either cash or points. The earlier in the year that you earn the Companion Pass, the better because it’s good through the remainder of the year and the year after that.

The threshold for earning the Companion Pass is steep – amounting to thousands of dollars per month in airfare or multiple flights per week. However, you don’t need to be a rabid Southwest flyer to earn the pass. In the following guide, we’ll delve into the details of the Southwest Companion Pass and shortcuts to earning it.

The best card for Southwest flyers

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card

Why should you get it?

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card is by far the best value for a frequent Southwest flyer, thanks to its $75 travel credit and 7,500-point annual bonus. Plus, the sign-up bonus of up to 80,000 points can help you toward the Southwest Companion pass.

Learn more

More things to know:

  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 in the first 9 months
  • 7,500 bonus points each year after your card anniversary
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases made with your card

Southwest Companion Pass rules

  • You must earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights each year to qualify.
  • Qualifying points include: revenue flights on Southwest, credit card points, base points earned through Southwest partners.
  • Qualifying points don’t include: purchased points, points transferred from other members, points converted from hotel and car loyalty programs, e-rewards, e-miles, Valued Opinions, Diners Club, points earned from program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points and partner bonus points.
  • You should designate a companion at least 21 days in advance to receive a Companion Pass card before your flight. You’ll need the card to board your flight, and it’s nontransferable.
  • You may change your designated companion up to three times each calendar year.
  • Once you qualify, you can begin booking flights with your Companion Pass immediately, and it is good through the remainder of the year and the next calendar year (up to two years, depending on when you qualify).
  • You must pay for your flight with cash or points before you book your companion’s pass.
  • Your companion can’t fly without you – they must be booked on the same flight and dates. If you cancel your ticket, their ticket will also be canceled. Also, he/she will be charged for the fare if you don’t make the flight.
  • You have to pay for your ticket to bring a companion (i.e., you can’t use a companion pass to fly with a partner also using a companion pass).

How to get the Southwest Companion Pass

You may be surprised to learn that Southwest flights aren’t the only way to earn points. In fact, there are faster ways to rack up the points that you need for the pass. Here are some of your best options:

Credit card bonuses

The best way to earn a lot of Rapid Rewards points all at once is to sign up for a Rapid Rewards credit card and earn the card’s sign-up bonus.

However, you should be aware of Chase’s rules on applying for Southwest credit cards before you hit submit. Due to Chase’s 5/24 rule, your application likely be denied if you’ve opened more than five credit cards (with any issuer) in the past 24 months. You can’t earn the bonus on a particular Southwest card if you’ve earned a bonus with that card in the past two years. Also, you’re prohibited from owning two consumer cards at once – which means you can’t sign up for, say, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card to earn two bonuses in a single year.

However, you can own a consumer card and a business card at the same time. If you can qualify for a business card (which is not as difficult as you may think – any sort of side income may qualify you), signing up for a business card along with another Rapid Rewards card will give you most (or all) of the points you need to earn the Companion Pass – you can earn up to 180,000 points with two cards combined.

Sign-up bonus
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card 50,000 points if you spend $2,000 in first 3 months; plus 30,000 points if you spend $10,000 in first 9 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card 50,000 points if you spend $2,000 in first 3 months; plus 30,000 points if you spend $10,000 in first 9 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card 50,000 points if you spend $2,000 in first 3 months; plus 30,000 points if you spend $10,000 in first 9 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card 60,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card 70,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months; plus 30,000 points if you spend $25,000 in first 6 months

Note, Southwest changes the sign-up bonuses on its cards frequently throughout the year. Before you sign up for a particular card, you should check the history of the bonus on that card to make sure it’s at its peak.

Referral bonuses are another great way to rapidly accumulate points toward the Companion Pass. Chase offers 10,000 points per each friend who is approved for a Southwest card, up to 50,000 points per year. Even better, Chase recently updated its refer-a-friend offer for Southwest so that you earn a bonus on any card that your friend chooses to apply for, including the business cards, even if you don’t own that particular card. You can log into the Chase site to grab your Refer-a-Friend link to share with friends, family, and of course social media.

Southwest flights

Besides credit card bonuses and referral bonuses, flying frequently on Southwest Airlines is your next best bet for stacking up Rapid Rewards points. Depending on the fare, you can earn between 6 and 12 points per each dollar that you spend on Southwest airfare. You would need to spend between $9,167 and $18,333 on airfare to earn enough points for the pass.

Rapid Rewards points earned
Wanna Get Away fares 6 points per dollar
Anytime fares 10 points per dollar
Business Select fares 12 points per dollar

Rapid Rewards partners

Southwest has several travel and shopping partners through which you can earn Rapid Rewards points. For instance, many of Southwest’s car rental partners offer 600 Rapid Rewards points per rental. Also, the Southwest hotels portal is a great way to earn up to 10,000 Southwest points per night – all of which qualify for the Companion Pass.

Credit card spend

Your spend with the Southwest credit cards also earns points that count toward the Companion Pass. Most of the Southwest cards offer the same earning rate: two points per dollar on Southwest purchases (on top of your base point earnings), Rapid Rewards hotel purchases and car rental partner purchases, and one point per dollar on everything else.

Unfortunately, the overall earning rate with most Southwest cards is very low – amounting to around 1.08-percent per dollar for the average cardholder. At that rate, you’d have to spend around $101,851 on average on a Southwest card to earn the pass just through credit card spending – not a very realistic amount for most cardholders. Still, using your Southwest credit card is a good way to add incrementally to your earnings, especially for purchases that earn double points.

Additionally, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card has a slightly higher earning rate than the rest of the airlines co-branded offerings. The Performance card earns 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 2 points per dollar on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. That means small business owners who spend a significant amount in these areas can get a bit more value.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program is another good way to add incrementally to your point balance. You can earn up to two Rapid Rewards points per dollar by eating at qualified restaurants.

This is an especially valuable option for those who cannot travel right now due to current restrictions. You’ll still earn points for purchases made with qualifying restaurants when you order takeout or delivery from the restaurant itself.

Rapid Rewards shopping portal

You can earn Rapid Rewards points that stack on top of your credit card points (as well as other deals and discounts) by clicking on a retailer’s link through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal. The Rapid Rewards site includes many major retailers, such as Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond. The number of points that you earn varies quite a bit by retailer, but tends to range between one to four points per dollar. For instance, Bass Prop Shops is currently offering four Rapid Rewards points per dollar on online purchases. At that rate, you’d have to spend around $27,500 to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points.

Earning the Companion Pass on a moderate budget

While 125,000 points seems like a daunting number, when you add all these earning opportunities together, it’s actually quite feasible to earn the Companion Pass with a moderate amount of spend.

For instance, consider you earn the up to 80,000-point sign-up bonus and refer two friends to Southwest credit cards. Those two actions alone can earn you 100,000 points – a significant portion of the way toward the pass. To earn the other 25,000 required for the pass, you can leverage high-earning categories like Southwest flights and purchases in the shopping portal – putting all spend on your credit card to ensure you earn as much as possible.

Additionally, you can maximize your Southwest points by using your Southwest card on planned, recurring payments like select gas purchases or certain utility bills.

How to use the Southwest Companion Pass

Register your companion

As soon as you qualify, go to the Southwest website and designate a companion for your next flight. Make sure you register your companion well in advance of your flight – your companion needs the pass to board the plane, and it takes up to 21 days to mail. You aren’t stuck with one flying companion – you can change your designated companion up to three times per year. (You can do this online or instantly over the phone.)

Book a flight

To book a free flight for your companion, first, go to the Southwest Airlines website and book your own airfare with cash or points. Once your ticket is booked, you can add your companion to your reservation by clicking on the “Add Companion” option on Southwest.com. (Or you can call Southwest’s reservations line to book your flight and have a companion added over the phone.)

Check in at the airport

You must bring your Companion Pass to the airport to check in. You’ll be asked to present a photo ID for yourself and your companion. Be sure not to stand your partner up at the last minute – if you don’t show up at the airport, your companion will be charged the full price of the fare.

Tips for earning the Southwest Companion Pass faster

  • Sign up for credit bonuses when they hit a peak – Wait until the bonus on a particular card hits a peak, and then apply for it.
  • Sign up for two Southwest credit cards – Consider signing up for both a Southwest business and consumer card within the same year to earn all the points you need from sign-up bonuses.
  • Look for special deals – If you keep an eagle eye on the Rapid Rewards program, you can find some incredible deals that can allow you to get a large influx of points or even earn the pass with a much lower threshold. For example, Southwest sometimes offers additional points on airfare purchases. Also, in 2017, Southwest ran a promotion in California that allowed residents there to immediately qualify for the pass if they signed up for a Southwest credit card.
  • Take advantage of all your point-earning opportunities – Stick to flying Southwest Airlines (even for business trips) and make every car rental, credit card expense, online shopping experience and hotel stay count toward earning the pass.

Bottom line

That Southwest Companion Pass is in closer reach than you think, even while travel is currently restricted. The points boost for Rapid Reward members in 2020, plus earning options like the online shopping portal and dining program, keep the perk within reach for Southwest flyers. By keeping a keen eye on credit card sign-up bonuses and taking advantage of all the earning opportunities, many Southwest enthusiasts successfully earn the pass each year.

See related: What are Southwest points worth?, Southwest credit cards, Best ways to earn Southwest points, Best ways to redeem Southwest points, Southwest Airlines partners, Southwest A-list status, How to book a Southwest Rapid Rewards flight, Rapid Rewards Shopping guide

Source: creditcards.com

How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

talk to a credit bureau

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax Reason for Calling Phone Number General inquiries 800-525-6285 Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273 Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191 Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285 Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191 Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045 Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian Reason for Calling Phone Number Buying a credit report,

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file 888-397-3742 or

888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN) Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000 Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239 Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Milkos, Â©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/fstop123

The post How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

What Do New FICO Changes Mean for Me?

Have you ever applied for a credit card, car loan or mortgage? If so, then one of the first things the lender looked at was your FICO score. It has a major impact not only on getting approved in the first place, but also on the interest rate you will receive after approval.

On August 7, FICO announced some pretty major changes in how they will be calculating that ever-important number. Before you can understand how the changes will or won’t impact you, you need to have a firm grasp of the basics.

What is my FICO score?

Your FICO score, or credit score, is a number ranging from 300-850 that shows lenders how reliable you will be in repaying your debts. A bad score is anything below 560, not very good is 560-659, good is 660-724, very good is 725-759, and anything above 760 is classified as great. While it is best to be in the great range, you can sometimes qualify for the best available interest rates with 720 or above.

In order to calculate your credit score, FICO pulls information from your credit reports from the three major reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. When banks and other lending institutions consider your application, they look at several factors. The first is usually your FICO score, which will either get you in the door or get it slammed in your face, but after that they consider other aspects of your finances, such as income and the detailed history on the credit report itself.

What are the changes, and how will they affect me?

There will be four notable changes to how FICO evaluates your credit score once the announced new model is released. Some of them will be very good for some people, some of them will be bad for others, and some of them may prove to show negligible changes.

The first, and biggest, is that medical debts will no longer be considered when calculating your score. This is a huge relief. Many otherwise fiscally responsible people go into massive debt when a medical emergency happens. Others don’t even know they owe money on medical bills in the first place, as they thought their insurance was going to cover their costs. When they realize they owe money, the responsible consumers pay it back, but it still leaves a scar on their credit report and, therefore, their FICO score.

With this new change, your FICO score will not be impacted. In fact, if you have no other negatives on your credit report (which would mean you most likely have a halfway decent score), you can expect to see your FICO score increase by up to 25 points.

Changes will also be made in considering debts that you have paid off. Currently, after you’ve paid off a debt, it stays on your credit report for seven years. That will continue to be the case after FICO’s updates go into effect, but FICO will no longer look at those debts, even though they show up on your credit report. If you have consumer debts that you have paid off, and they’re the only thing holding you back, you may see your score improve, as well.

There will also be an update to consider the creditworthiness of people who do not have an extensive report, taking into consideration things beyond just paying your month-to-month bills on time. (A lot of times, the people you are paying those bills to don’t even report that anyways.) Depending on how this is done, it could be a boon for those who are unable to get credit not because they are irresponsible, but simply because they have never chosen to borrow money before.

The final update is not good news for those who hold consumer debt. If you owe money and it isn’t paid in full, you can expect to see your credit score take a hit.

Hold your horses – and your enthusiasm.

While FICO has announced that it will make these changes, the new model has not gone into effect. It will not be ready to release to lenders until late 2014 or early 2015. Even then, banks have to choose to adopt it. Thismodel will be FICO 9. FICO 8 was introduced in 2009, and some lending institutions still have not updated since FICO 7. Just because they are releasing a new model doesn’t mean that your lending institution will apply it to their evaluation process.

Another thing to remember is that while your FICO score gets you in the door, banks will look at your credit report. All of those things FICO ignores will still show up. If your medical debts are deemed too oppressive for you to possibly be able to pay for a mortgage on top of them, you may still be denied. And while FICO will ignore debt that has been paid off and closed, it will still stay on that pesky credit report for seven years for all of your potential lenders to see.

While these changes could be a great way to get your foot in the door with lenders, they’re not a holy grail to your credit problems. The same tried and true wisdom will still apply: Spend responsibly, make sure the information on your credit report is accurate and pay off any debts as quickly as possible.

Femme Frugality is a personal finance blogger and freelance writer. You can find more of her writing on her blog, where she shares both factual articles and esoteric ruminations on money.

The post What Do New FICO Changes Mean for Me? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen Finally Sell Their Massachusetts Mansion

Tom Brady Sells Massachusetts Mansionrealtor.com, John Shearer/Getty Images

NFL great Tom Brady has finally offloaded his Massachusetts mansion. The quarterback and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, have sold their luxe Brookline estate, according to the Boston Globe.

The transaction appears to have been an off-market deal, with no price information disclosed for the transaction. Sources told the Globe that the property was offered for $32.5 million.

The custom-built,12,000-square-foot estate outside of Boston initially debuted at $39.5 million in 2019, then quickly dropped to $33.9 million.

The mansion built in 2015 came off the market in May, when luxury home sales were stalled by the coronavirus pandemic. But a buyer surfaced at the end of 2020.

Brookline, MA, estate

realtor.com

Brookline abode

In 2013, the couple picked up a prime 5-acre plot from the local cash-strapped Pine Manor College for $4.5 million.

They tapped architect Richard Landry, of Landry Design Group, to create their East Coast estate. Landry has also worked on the couple’s Los Angeles mansion, which was featured in Architectural Digest.

Landry’s design sits adjacent to the ninth hole of the Country Club in Brookline, with serene views and plenty of privacy.

The five-bedroom main house features a dining room, living room, home office, chef’s eat-in kitchen, and family room. A grand stairwell leads to the bedrooms on the second floor.

The lower level includes a rec room, playroom, wine room, gym, and spa.

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Watch: QB Drew Brees Looks to Unload His Amazing Kauai Condo

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The sprawling grounds include gardens, a pool, and a “barn-inspired” guesthouse with a yoga studio, full bathroom, and sleeping loft. The property comes with a three-car garage, carport, and circular drive with ample parking.

Brady’s mansion sits just down the road from Reebok founder Paul Fireman‘s lavish property, which was finally sold in 2020 after four years on the market. That 27,000-square-foot mansion had been priced at as much as $90 million, before finally selling for $23 million. George and Manny Sarkis of Douglas Elliman represented Fireman.

The agents also sold Fireman’s adjacent 7 acres for $18 million to developer C. Stumpo Development, which plans to build luxury homes on the land.

“After closing on both 150 Woodland Road [the Fireman home] and the five adjacent lots, we are very excited about the current and future Brookline market,” says Manny. “Buyers continue to trend to the suburbs, seeking more land and bigger homes.”

Main house

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Living room

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Office

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Kitchen

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Home theater

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Spa

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Guesthouse

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Manhattan move

The jet-setting duo received another Christmas gift of good news in 2020, with a reported sale of their Tribeca loft. The two had made the penthouse available for just under $40 million last November. If they got their asking price, they’ll stroll away with a large profit.

The couple had picked up the place in 2018 for $25.46 million. The five-bedroom, 5.5-bath unit features a 1,900-square-foot terrace and Hudson River views. Building amenities include an 82-foot lap pool and a private drive-in entrance.

The couple still own a lower-floor unit in the same 14-floor building.

New year, new homes

Brady left Brookline after he signed with the Buccaneers. The QB has since put roots down in South Florida. In October, Brady and Bundchen were reportedly circling a waterfront property in Clearwater.

And then Brady made a move on Florida’s other coast in December, with a reported $17 million purchase of a home on Miami’s Indian Creek Island, known as the Billionaires Bunker.

The couple plan to raze the current house on the land in Miami and build anew. They’re reportedly looking to emulate the L.A. home they sold to Dr. Dre for $40 million in 2014. Sounds like the services of their favorite architect may once again be required.

The post Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen Finally Sell Their Massachusetts Mansion appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Activate Chase Freedom cash back categories for Q1 2021 now

Chase has announced the 5% cash back categories on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the retired Freedom card for the first quarter of 2021.

From Jan. 1 through March. 31, 2021, Freedom and Freedom Flex cardholders can earn 5% cash back on select streaming services, internet, cable and phone services and wholesale club purchases (up to $1,500 in combined purchases) after activation.

Besides that, the new Flex card offers 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases and 1% on everything else. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.

See related: Chase to launch new Freedom Flex card, add new categories to Freedom Unlimited

Activation for first-quarter categories on both the Freedom and Freedom Flex launched on Dec. 15, 2020, and will be open until March 14, 2021.

Here’s what you need to know at a glance:

  • Activation of first-quarter bonus categories begins on Dec. 15 for both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Flex.
  • Cardholders must activate by March 14 to earn the bonus rate.
  • From Jan. 1 to March 31, Freedom and Freedom Flex cardholders can earn 5% cash back on eligible streaming services, internet, cable and phone services and wholesale club purchases.
  • The 5% cash back bonus is capped at $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter.
  • As of Jan. 12, 2020, Chase Freedom cardholders earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022.

Chase 5% cash back calendar 2021

Winter Spring Summer Holiday
January – March

(Activation closes on March 14)

April – June

(Activation closed)

July – September

(Activation closed)

October – December

(Activation closed)

  • Select streaming services
  • Phone, cable and internet services
  • Wholesale clubs

TBA

TBA

TBA

Chase only releases its quarterly bonus categories one quarter at a time, so we can’t yet predict what will be offered in the rest of the quarters in 2021. Here’s a quick look at some of the categories Chase has offered in the last year.

Chase 5% cash back calendar 2020

Winter Spring Summer Holiday
January – March April – June July – September October – December
  • Select streaming services
  • Gas stations
  • Phone, cable and internet services
  • Gym memberships
  • Fitness clubs
  • Grocery stores
  • Select streaming services
  • Amazon
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Walmart
  • PayPal

What is included and excluded in the ‘Select streaming services’ category?

In this category, you can earn 5% cash back on select streaming services, including music and video streaming.  The eligible services include Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV.

What is included and excluded in the ‘Phone, cable and internet services’ category?

You can earn cash back on your monthly bills, such as your cable, internet and phone services. To earn 5% cash back in the category, make sure to pay these bills with your Freedom or Freedom Flex card.

Equipment purchases don’t qualify in this category. You may also not receive the bonus cash back if you pay for your phone, cable or internet service at a merchant’s store that’s not classified in the applicable services category.

What is included and excluded in the ‘Wholesale clubs’ category?

In this category, you can get 5% back when you’re shopping at wholesale clubs, including Sam’s and BJ’s. You can also use your Chase Freedom (no longer available for new applications) to earn bonus cash back at Costco. Since Costco only accepts Visa cards, the new Freedom Flex, which is a Mastercard, won’t be accepted. Mastercards are, however, accepted on Costco.com.

See related: Best credit cards for Costco purchases

earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined spending in rotating categories each quarter, upon enrollment, then 1%.

Chase vs. Discover cash back categories 2021

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Discover it® Cash Back

January – March Select streaming services, phone, cable and internet services, wholesale clubs Grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS
April – June TBA Gas stations, Uber, Lyft and wholesale clubs
July – September TBA Restaurants and PayPal
October – December TBA Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com

Which card offers the best deal?

The best card for you depends on where you plan to spend your money in the first quarter of 2021.

Discover it® Cash Back offers bonus cash back at grocery stores at the beginning of the year. Since groceries are regular expenses that can get rather high, especially if you’re grocery shopping for a family, this category can be pretty lucrative.

At the same time, if you have a wholesale club membership, it can be very easy for you to meet the spending cap in this category with your Chase card. This can make up for the other two underwhelming categories.

For the rest of 2021, we can’t predict which card will be best for you, as while Discover has announced its categories for the next year, Chase only releases bonus categories one quarter at a time.

Source: creditcards.com

Don’t Freak Out About the Recent Mortgage Rate ‘Spike’

Queue the panic. Mortgage rates have officially spiked and the media is all over it. Yep, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage increased from 2.65% to 2.79% this week, per Freddie Mac’s weekly survey. Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater noted in the weekly news release that mortgage rates have been under pressure [&hellip

The post Don’t Freak Out About the Recent Mortgage Rate ‘Spike’ first appeared on The Truth About Mortgage.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

5 Myths About Transitioning From Renter to Homeowner

Cavan Images/Getty Images

Making the leap from being a renter to becoming a homeowner is a process that includes taking stock of your financial situation and determining whether you’re ready for such a massive responsibility. For most people, the primary question is affordability. Do you have enough cash in the bank to fund a down payment, or do you have a credit score high enough to qualify you for a home loan? But there are other considerations, too—and plenty of misconceptions and myths that could keep you from making that first step.

Below, our experts weigh in on why some situations that may seem like roadblocks are actually not as daunting as they appear.

1. Buying a home means heavy debt

Some may argue that continuing to rent can spare you from taking on heavy debt. But owning a house offers advantages.

“Buying a home and using a typical loan would be spread out over 20 to 30 years. But if you can make one extra payment a year or make bimonthly payments instead, you can shed up to seven years from that long-term loan,” says Jesse McManus, a real estate agent for Big Block Realty in San Diego, CA.

Plus, as you pay your mortgage, you gain equity in the home and create an asset that can be used when needed, such as paying off debt or even buying a second home.

“Currently, mortgage interests rates are at their lowest point in history, so … it’s a great time to borrow money,” McManus says.

2. At least a 20% down payment is needed to buy a home

“Contrary to popular belief, a 20% down payment is not required to purchase a home,” says Natalie Klinefelter, broker/owner of the Legacy Real Estate Co. in San Diego, CA. “There are several low down payment options available to all types of buyers.”

These are as low as 0% down for Veterans Affairs loans to 5% for conventional loans.

One of the main reasons buyers assume they must put down 20% is that without a 20% down payment, buyers typically face private mortgage insurance payments that add to the monthly loan payment.

“The good news is once 20% equity is reached in a home, the buyer can eliminate PMI. This is usually accomplished by refinancing their loan, ultimately lowering their original payment that included PMI,” says Klinefelter. “Selecting the right loan type for a buyer’s needs and the property condition is essential before purchasing a home.”

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Watch: 5 Things First-Time Home Buyers Must Know

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3. Your credit score needs to be perfect

Having a credit score at or above 660 looks great to mortgage lenders, but if yours is lagging, there’s still hope.

“Credit score and history play a significant role in a buyer’s ability to obtain a home loan, but it doesn’t mean a buyer needs squeaky-clean credit. There are many loan solutions for buyers who have a lower than the ideal credit score,” says Klinefelter.

She says government-backed loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration have lower credit and income requirements than most conventional loans.

“A lower down payment is also a benefit of FHA loans. Lenders often work with home buyers upfront to discuss how to improve their credit to obtain a loan most suitable for their needs and financial situation,” says Klinefelter.

McManus says buyers building credit can also use a home loan to bolster their scores and create a foundation for future borrowing and creditworthiness.

4. Now is a bad time to buy

Buying a home at the right time—during a buyer’s market or when interest rates are low—is considered a smart money move. But don’t let the fear of buying at the “wrong time” stop you from moving forward. If you feel like you’ve found a good deal, experts say there is truly no bad time to buy a home.

“The famous saying in real estate is ‘I don’t have a crystal ball,’ meaning no one can predict exactly where the market will be at a given time. If a buyer stays within their means and has a financial contingency plan in place if the market adjusts over time, it is the right time to buy,” says Klinefelter.

5. You’ll be stuck and can’t relocate

Some people may be hesitant to buy because it means staying put in the same location.

“I always advise my clients that they should plan to stay in a newly purchased home for a minimum of three years,” says McManus. “You can ride out most market swings if they happen, and it also gives you a sense of connection to your new space.”

In a healthy market, McManus says homeowners will likely be able to sell the home within a year or two if they need to move, or they can consider renting out the property.

“There is always a way out of a real estate asset; knowing how and when to exit is the key,” says Klinefelter.

The post 5 Myths About Transitioning From Renter to Homeowner appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes

beach house Darwin Brandis/Getty Images

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and civil unrest could cause many rental real estate properties to run up tax losses in 2020 and maybe beyond. This column covers the most important federal income tax questions and answers for rental property owners. Here goes.

What can I write off?

Nothing new here. You can deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on rental properties. You can also write off all standard operating expenses that go along with owning rental property: utilities, insurance, repairs and maintenance, care and maintenance of outdoor areas, and so forth.

What about depreciation write-offs?

For many rental property owners, the tax-saving bonus is the fact that you can depreciate the cost of residential buildings over 27.5 years, even while they are (you hope) increasing in value. You can generally depreciate the cost of commercial buildings over 39 years.

Example: You own a small apartment building that cost $1.5 million not including the land. The annual depreciation deduction is $54,545 ($1.5 million/27.5). The deduction can shelter that much annual positive cashflow from income taxes. So, depreciation write-offs are nice tax-savers, especially if you own an expensive property or several properties.

Variation: As stated earlier, commercial buildings must be depreciated over a much-longer 39-year period. Even so, the annual depreciation write-off for a $1.5 million commercial building is $38,462. The deduction can shelter that much annual cash flow from income taxes.

Can I claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation?

Yes, for qualified improvement property (QIP) expenditures on a nonresidential building. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a retroactive correction to the statutory language of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The correction allows much faster depreciation for commercial real estate qualified improvement property (QIP) that’s placed in service in 2018-2022. QIP is defined as an improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service. However, QIP doesn’t include any expenditures attributable to: (1) enlarging the building, (2) any elevator or escalator, or (3) the internal structural framework of the building. Thanks to the CARES Act correction, you can write off the entire cost of QIP in Year 1, because it qualifies for 100% first-year bonus depreciation.

Alternatively, you can choose to depreciate QIP over 15 years using the straight-line method. That alternative might make sense if you expect higher tax rates in future years. Discuss your QIP depreciation options with your tax pro.

What else do I need to know about depreciation write-offs?

You ask such good questions. There’s more. The TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction for qualifying real property expenditures to $1 million, with annual inflation adjustments. The inflation-adjusted maximum for tax years beginning in 2020 is $1.04 million. The Section 179 deduction privilege potentially allows you to deduct the entire cost of qualifying real property expenditures in Year 1. I say potentially, because Section 179 deductions are subject to several limitations. Ask your tax pro for details.

The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying property to include expenditures for nonresidential building roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Finally, the TCJA further expanded the definition of qualifying property to include depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. Examples of such property include beds, other furniture, and appliances used in the living quarters of an apartment house.

Can I claim the qualified business income (QBI) deduction base on my net rental income?

Maybe. For 2018-2025, the TCJA established a new personal deduction based on qualified business income (QBI) passed through to your personal Form 1040 from a pass-through business entity (meaning a sole proprietorship, LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, partnership, LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes, or S corporation). The deduction can be up to 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that kick in at higher income levels. For a while, it was unclear if you could claim QBI deductions based on net rental income passed through to you from one of the aforementioned pass-through entities. The IRS eventually issued taxpayer-friendly guidance that allows QBI deductions in most such cases, but you must follow complicated rules to collect the tax-saving benefit. As your tax pro for details.

What about the passive loss rules?

Ugh. If your rental property throws off tax losses (most properties do, at least during the early years and during years when the economy is suffering — like now), things can get complicated. The so-called passive activity loss (PAL) rules may come into play. Losses from rental properties will usually be classified as passive losses.

In general, the PAL rules only allow you to currently deduct passive losses to the extent you have current passive income from other sources, like positive income from other rental properties or gains from selling them. Passive losses in excess of passive income are suspended until you either have enough passive income or you sell the property that produced the losses. Bottom line: the PAL rules can postpone any tax-saving benefit from rental property losses, sometimes for years. Fortunately, there are several exceptions to the PAL rules that can allow you to deduct rental property losses sooner rather than later. Your tax pro can explain the exceptions and help you plan to become eligible, if possible.

Is that the end of the bad news?

Not exactly. Say you manage to successfully clear the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules for your rental property losses. So far, so good. But the TCJA established another hurdle that you must also clear to currently deduct those losses. For tax years beginning in 2018-2025, you cannot deduct an excess business loss in the current year. An excess business loss is one that exceeds $250,000 or $500,000 for a married joint-filing couple. Any excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for net operating loss (NOL) carry-forwards. This loss disallowance rule applies after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your rental losses, this rule is a nonfactor.

COVID-19 Relief: Thankfully, the CARES Act suspends the excess business loss disallowance rule for losses that arise in tax years beginning in 2018-2020. That’s good news.

What’s the deal with net operation losses (NOLs)?

Say you manage to successfully clear both of the preceding hurdles for your rental property losses. Now we are talking, because you can generally use those losses currently to offset taxable income from other sources. If losses for the year exceed income from other sources, you may have a net operating loss (NOL) for the year.

COVID-19 Relief: The CARES Act allows a five-year carryback privilege for an NOL that arises in a tax year beginning in 2018-2020. So, you can carry an NOL from one of those years back to an earlier year, deduct it, and recover some or all of the federal income tax paid for the carryback year. Because federal income tax rates were generally higher in years before the TCJA took effect, NOLs carried back to those years can be especially beneficial. The TCJA kicked in starting with tax years beginning in 2018.

What if I have positive taxable income?

Eventually your rental property should start throwing off positive taxable income instead of losses, because escalating rents will surpass your deductible expenses. Of course, you must pay income taxes on those profits. But if you piled up suspended passive losses in earlier years, you can now use them to offset your passive profits.

Another nice thing: positive taxable income from rental real estate is not hit with the dreaded self-employment (SE) tax, which applies to most other unincorporated profit-making ventures. The SE tax rate can be up to 15.3%. Something to avoid when possible.

One bad thing: positive passive income from rental real estate owned by a higher-income individual can get socked with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and gains from selling properties can also get hit with the NIIT. Ask your tax pro for details.

The bottom line

There you have it: most of what you need to know about the federal income tax issues that can come into play for rental property owners. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and recent civil unrest increase the odds that rental properties will suffer losses in 2020, but tax relief provisions may soften the blow.

The post 2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com