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Jan, 28, 2020 Topic: Hobbies

Benefits of Hobbying SmartRE

Work is a constant challenge that keeps your mind sharp.  Whatever your occupation, you needed to both think on your feet and spend time in contemplation.  Logic, math, science – whatever the subject we swore we’d never use again when learning them in school – were ubiquitous despite our incorrect assertions.  But once you stop working, that is no longer the case.  Problem solving is often times a thing of the past.  That’s why, no matter your age upon retirement, it is important to find a hobby.  Why? Because hobbies replace the mental manipulation that was a minute by minute fixture of your working days. 

The key is to do something that keeps your mind sharp.  Because using your head has multiple benefits.

 According to the European Journal of Epidemiology, which reviewed recent studies done in the US and 12 European countries, the memory problems are correlated to age of retirement – the earlier one retires, the more likely they are to eventually have memory issues.  One study showed that short-term memory decreased 40% faster once employees retired.  So consider a hobby that places a barrier to stop the erosion of mental acuity.

Kelly Lambert, a University of Richmond neuroscientist, likens working with the hands to pharmaceuticals because the actual neurochemistry of the brain can be positively altered through craftwork.  In addition to cognitive benefits (the Journal of Neuropsychiatry showed that crafting, playing games, and reading books could reduce the chance of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30 to 50%), crafting is used to treat soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder; CNN reported one study showed 81% of over knitters with depression reported feeling happy after knitting.  50% felt very happy.

In another study from University College of London, Dr Daisy Fancourt found that basketwork conducted by stroke patients helped re-establish neural pathways and improve brain plasticity.  It can do the same for people suffering from dementia.   Creativity can be used to control emotions, to boost self esteem, and as a means of reflection and contemplation. 

Gardening has similar positive impacts.  According to a study called “The benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing”, gardening reduces dementia risky by 36% in people aged 60 or older.  A bacteria in soil releases serotonin, a natural anti-depressant that strengthens the immune system, into the brain.

AgingInPlace.org is a website whose goal is to help people stay in their home as they age.  They’ve actually been able to identify specific benefits for different types of hobbies.  Music helps to reduce blood pressure and elevate mood.  Meditation helps induce positive outlook and reduce anxiety.  Reading, and recounting what has been read, is a significant means of improving cognitive ability.  Problem solving, a constant during everyone’s careers that is typically lost upon retirement, can be replaced through working puzzles.  They also reduce blood pressure and heart rate, while 3D puzzles especially improve manual dexterity.   Research reveals that playing brain games delays dementia’s onset in older people. Hobbies are critical in retirement.  But they often don’t come cheap.  Woodworking requires tools.  Car restorations require expensive tools, materials, and, of course, cars.  Art work like sculpting, painting, and pottery typically require retrofitting kids’ old rooms into studios and have their own equipment and material costs.  So approach your hobby the SmartRE way – use the money frozen in your home equity to fund your retirement hobbies. 

Jan, 13, 2020 Topic: Travel, Volunteering

Volunteer AND Travel SmartRE

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Everyone has heard the reason – I’m traveling to find myself.  A great place to look is through providing service while traveling, because it combines the thrill of exploring the unknown with the fulfillment of helping those in need. 

Initially, the idea of volunteering abroad might be intimidating.  But consider the benefits.  You are literally broadening your horizons, seeing new places but connecting in an intimate and personal way that can never be matched by mere touring.  You are immersed in local culture in a way that normal tourists can never hope to experience.  With volunteering, unlike a monetary donation, you know firsthand how your contribution is being applied.  And just by telling your story to others when you arrive home after your excursion, you’re helping to bridge the divide in understanding that can exist. 

And you can do it without going overseas.  AmeriCorps says “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.”  AmeriCorps State and National has programs as short as 3 months.  Projects include disaster services, environmental impact, and veterans and military families.

The Peace Corps isn’t just for recent college graduates. “Retired Americans can use the life skills and professional experience they gained during their careers to make a lasting impact in communities around the world,” says Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen.  About 6% of Peace Corps volunteers are over 50.  The oldest is 93, working in Malawi.  housing is paid for and volunteers get enough of a stipend that they don’t have to dip into savings set aside for retirement.  Approach with an open mind, because the Peace Corps isn’t for everyone.  Living is rougher than American standards and there is a significant time commitment.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities for travel and service that are much shorter and a more comfortable.  

  • Discover Corps is an organization that combines vacations abroad with service.  Trips target Wildlife & Nature, Festivals, Cultural Explorations, and Custom Travel to places like Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, and Thailand. 
  • Build Abroad is like a global Habitat for Humanity.  Volunteers construct homes, schools, or better infrastructure in places like Nepal, and Costa Rica.  
  • GVI is an organization committed to providing high-quality and sustainable experiential and development programs in 13 countries around the world.  Volunteers travel to places like Ghans, Laos, Fiji, and Greece to work with children, marine life, or in public health.  
  • Go Overseas is a website that acts as a clearing house for global volunteer programs.  They have projects in countries like South Africa, India, and Brazil. 
  • Global Volunteers is the highest rated volunteer abroad program since 1984.  They have a multitude of service projects, including computer literacy, gardening, nutrition and teaching.  Their programs are all over the world as well – 13 counties including China, the Cook Islands, Poland, Cuba, Vietnam, Tanzania, and St. Lucia.

Travel volunteerism is a commitment of both time and money.  Be prepared to be away from home for weeks at a time and to pay a four or sometimes low five figure amount.  And since these programs are addictive, with many people pursing several trips a year, the cost adds up.  But it is a cost that is more than worth it.  So use SmartRE to fund your adventures.  With only a low, one-time fee, you can free cash locked in your growing home equity and put it to use for you and the world.

Jan, 3, 2020 Topic: Hobbies, Retirement

SmartRE Choices for Hobbies

According to USA Today, 34% of people approaching retirement intend to spend their time pursuing hobbies.  But, since most people have spent their pre-retirement time working and raising a family, there was never enough time to commit to hobbies.  So what choices are there?

Whether you like to spend time alone or with others, inside or outside, or saving money versus spending money, there are a lot of wonderful things to do to occupy your time.  Because studies show that maintaining a routine, even if it is not as robust or strict a routine as your former workday, is critical to a healthy retirement. 

‘Making’ is a term that covers creating with your hands.  Artwork like painting, drawing, and sculpting, craftwork like crochet, scrapbooking, or knitting, and shopwork like woodworking or working on cars are all hobbies that fit within the ‘making’ category.  Working with your hands has multiple benefits, not least of which is the finished product.  The gratification of a beautiful (to just you or to everyone) piece of art makes the hours of effort pay off.

If making is too much, try finding.  As in finding treasures at swap meets, flea markets, or arts conventions.  You can build collections like car parts or comic books or lamps or thimbles or movie posters or lunchboxes, or dabble across categories, but the thrill of the hunt drives ‘pickers’ to find that item that others overlooked or even trashed.  Building your knowledge so you can spot the needle in the haystack is a constant driver, and you’re always on the lookout for something you’ve never seen before.

Keep your mind active through continuing education.  You can do something close by at a nearby parks and recreation center or community college, you can go a little further to a four-year university’s “learning in retirement” program.  Many schools offer UBRC, or university based retirement communities.  There you immerse yourself in the college experience – with people like you – and live in a campus-like facility with events, gyms, and classes all a walk away. 

Go global and combine travel with education.  Road Scholars is an organization that individuals, couples, and families love.  See the world and learn deeply while also closely embracing the local culture of the country you visit.  Its killing three birds with one stone. 

Before you go away, consider starting to learn the language of the country you’re visiting.  Studies now show that learning a new language is no harder than when you’re young.  And learning that second (or third?) language stimulates cognitive activity, creates new neural pathways, and helps to decrease chances of developing Alzheimer’s. 

If travelling far and enrolling in classes is too much, you can still learn a lot just by day-tripping.  People are always amazed at what’s in their own backyard.  State parks, local museums, funky shopping districts – new and fun things are typically a short drive away. 

If you just want to sit at home, fill your time reading, solving puzzles, playing mind games, competing online in chess or bridge, or solving the daily crossword.  Create your own little reading club, deciphering motifs, symbols, and themes with your spouse, sister, or friend down the street.  Play any of a number of highly rated apps on your phone.  Medical News Today rated their favorites as Luminosity, Elevate, Peak, Fit Brains, Reaction Field, and Speedy Sorts. 

Birdwatching is something you can do from any window in your house.  If you like to travel, it can be done all over the globe as well.  Watch or read “The Big Year”, a great film about the passion and devotion of bird watchers.  A wonderful documentary about the people of birding is called “Birders: The Central Park Effect”.  Phone apps make this hobby easy as well.

Hobbies are a fantastic way to ease the transition from work to retirement.  Remember, though – they cost money.  Lessons for painters or musicians, binoculars for bird watching, studio space for sculptors, furniture purchases, tuition expenses, or frequent global travel – it takes substantial money to fund your interests.  Don’t take away from your retirement savings.  Get the money instead from your home equity.  Speaking of hidden treasures, that’s just what your home equity is.  Your home has grown in value since you first purchased it, and that increase is just sitting in your equity.  Take the cash frozen in your equity and put it to use – all while remaining in your home.  Cash in and stay in – the SmartRE Way. 

A look at different hobbies and what they do for you….
Dec, 22, 2019 Topic: Volunteering

Volunteering SmartRE

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give”. Kahlil Gibran

Whether you retired at 65, 75, or 50, charitable opportunities open up exponentially.  Because time is now not an issue.  A life of hard work mandates lounging and vacationing upon retirement, but that ends and new retirees are eventually faced with boredom.  Volunteering beckons as a welcome medium between the slavish demands of your working days and the sedentary sameness of retirement.

The dual demands of a life raising a family as well as providing for that family leave little time for volunteering.  Really, because of this time crunch, the best avenue for accessing volunteering opportunities is through work.  Charities.org conducted a study that revealed 82% of businesses say that they’re employees would like to volunteer with their work colleagues through an employer sponsored volunteer program.  Yet only 21% of businesses offer paid time off for volunteering according to OneOC, a nonprofit consultancy.  Meanwhile, 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer matching donation programs.   

So it’s clear that giving is more accessible than volunteering.  And that’s a shame, because according to UnitedHealthcare (UnitedHealth Group 2017 Doing Good is Good for You Study), volunteering yields significant physical, mental, and emotional benefits.  75% of Americans over 18 feel physically healthier, which they attribute to volunteering.  More impactfully, 93% report a better mood, 79% feel less stress, and 88% have more self-esteem when donating their time.  And now that you have more time, consider volunteering as a way to spend it. 

As you contemplate what to do, be mindful that volunteering is not going to be like the career from which you just retired.  Non-profits are a wholly different animal from for-profits.  While you may not have been blown away by your department’s funding in the past, it was likely far higher than the shoe-string budget that most non-profits deal with.  Staffs are comprised of people from varied backgrounds with different skill sets, so there will always be holes to fill.  And doing so won’t necessarily be your call, so if you’re used to driving the car, you may need to be willing to take a back seat and let someone else learn to drive while you learn the road.  All this is a long way of saying to carefully set your expectations; volunteering is likely different from your previous experiences, so give it some time.

And that’s a good thing.  Because some people want to use their retirement to learn new things, meet new people, and grow new skill sets.  While they may initially feel out of place, these volunteers thrill at the draw of the unknown and eventually grow comfortable.  If initial comfort is what you crave, then try volunteering where you know you can make an immediate impact.  If you’re a lawyer, provide pro bono services.  If you’re a teacher, provide education services.  Avoid burn out (after all, you did just retire from doing what you’re best at) by being selective with your work and limiting your hours.

Volunteering is good for the soul.  Thomas Jefferson said it best – “I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another”.  SmartRE can help.  Our service liquidates the cash frozen in your home equity – without debt, without interest, and without vacating your home.  You can use that cash to help fund your retirement, and volunteer to your soul’s content without worrying about paying your bills.  To learn more, go to our Volunteering section to see more articles, like “Ready to Volunteer – Here Are Some Great Ideas”.

Sep, 11, 2019 Topic: Debt, Retirement

Debt & Retirement

Everyone is familiar with debt. It is the cost associated with taking the next step to reach goals like getting an education, buying a car, or purchasing a house. Debt sticks with people even after those goals have been reached. It’s not uncommon to have debt when you enter retirement. The question is, what do you do about it? Here’s an overview of what to know about having debt in retirement and how to address it.

The Retiree Debt Trend

Debt often feels isolating. But in reality, debt among retirees is not uncommon. Between 2003 and 2017, the amount of debt has gone up 87 percent among those ages 55 to 80. Credit card debt, mortgage payments, student loans, and car payments help contribute to this. Other financial factors like the availability of credit, lower interest rates, and wealth generated by the housing and equity markets contribute too.

The average debt among people 55 to 64 is $108,000. Those ages 65 to 74 have $66,000 in debt. Because of these high average debts, people in these age groups opt to delay retirement and keep working.

The Unknown Factor

Not retiring may help pay down debts. But it offers no protection against unforeseen situations like high tax bills, unexpected health challenges, or a family member in need of financial help. People commonly turn to credit cards for unexpected expenses or other high-interest options. This often puts retirees already saddled with debt into more even debt than they can handle. One way to address this debt is to start making a plan to get out of it.

Planning to Tackle Debt

Making a list of debts and include the amount owed, the terms of repayment, and the interest rates is a good place to start. From this list, put the debts that cost the most at the top and plan to pay those off first. But before thinking how to pay them off, ask how these debts came about, to begin with. Understanding the source of debt and creating a budget or a financial plan will help prevent the same debt problems at a later time.

Financial Options

Lack of financial resources often contributes to current debt problems as well as recurring ones. This is why financial experts frequently advise retirees not to rush into any particular financial option to address debt. Instead, consider assets that already exist. A home is usually the largest asset that a retiree has. Refinancing the home or taking out a reverse mortgage are two popular options that people take advantage of. But both of them come with risks.

Refinancing a mortgage lowers payments and can provide cash out in the immediate. However, it can strain the budget over the long term. People who continue to work after reaching retirement age cannot work forever. Therefore, the new mortgage payment has to be comfortable to pay when income is less.

Since reverse mortgages do not require a payment, this may seem like an option for most older Americans looking to pay off debt. But reverse mortgages are very complex transactions and they are problematic due to maintenance requirements and for homeowners that have other people living with them. The overall cost of a reverse mortgage loan is also a factor to consider.

Options for Accessing Home Equity

Accessing home equity is a solution for retirees that have debt. But if a refinance payment is too high and a reverse mortgage is too complicated or doesn’t work for the situation at hand, what is the alternative for accessing equity?

Consider a home ownership program like SmartRE. SmartRE allows homeowners to access their home’s equity by selling a portion of the home’s value to an investor. The homeowner can use the proceeds from the sale to pay off debts without extending the term of an existing mortgage or putting their home at risk with a complicated reverse mortgage.

In states like California where the cost of real estate continues to rise, drawing down on home equity benefits both the homeowner and the investor. The homeowner will continue to benefit from the equity in the home and have an affordable way to repay the investment.

Entering retirement with debt is a challenge that causes stress and anxiety for many people. That doesn’t have to be the case. Creating a financial plan and considering the best way to utilize existing assets is one way to eliminate debt for good.

To learn more about the smart way to leverage home equity, visit SmartRE today.

Sep, 11, 2019 Topic: Equity

What is Equity?

What is Home Equity

Home equity is a term associated with real estate. Over time, homeowners often wonder if there’s anything they can do to leverage the equity that they’ve gained while owning the home. Understanding what home equity is and how to use it is key to making smart decisions about the way to use it when you need it.

Defining Home Equity

Put simply, home equity is the actual part of the home that you own after subtracting any mortgages or other money owed against the home. For example, if you bought a home for $800,000 and owe $600,000 on your mortgage you own $200,000 of it, not including any down payment you made. So who owns the rest? You own the entire house, but it’s used as the collateral for the repayment of the loan.

Because the house is considered collateral, the lender can secure its interest in the home through a lien. And that lien is the loan that gives you the money to buy your house or refinance it as the case may be. Many home loans equally apply payments to your principal and your interest. As the loan is paid down, your equity in the home rises over time.

Ways to Use Home Equity

Home equity is important because you can borrow against it for home expenses and other expenses through transactions such as refinances, home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, and reverse mortgages. People often utilize their home equity to get cash for expenses. This is due to mortgage interest usually being tax-deductible and when that is factored in with the interest rate, home equity transactions are a better alternative to credit cards or personal loans.

Home improvements are one of the most common expenses homeowners use home equity for. Kitchen and bathroom renovations top the list of improvements. But others like improving or building a deck and replacing a garage door or entry door are just as important.

Using your home equity to pay off other debts or set up emergency funds is another way to leverage home equity within reason. Before going through the process to use home equity to pay off expenses, consider how the funds will be used and make sure that the terms of repayment are clear. This is very important because leveraging home equity for personal use could raise debt payments later on.

Leveraging Home Equity with Caution

Home equity is a smart way to take care of expenses. But not all of the methods of leveraging home equity are created equally. So it’s essential to know what some of the cons of these options are. Reverse mortgages don’t require any payments to be made and the amount owed never exceeds the value of the house. But reverse mortgages are very complex transactions and they have high closing costs on top of the interest that accrues on the loan amount.

Home equity loans offer more flexibility in terms of the costs associated with them. But home equity loans and lines of credit require regular payments, along with payments on any existing mortgages on the property. The interest rate may go up over time if it’s a variable one and the payments you make can go up after the draw period closes. Borrowing more than the home is worth can also be a risk since the house value can go up or down over time. The risks of refinancing are similar to home equity lines. A refinance provides cash right away but it extends an existing mortgage and increases any existing payment which may make it a burden later on if there’s a decrease in income.

Leveraging a Piece of Home Equity

The main issue with traditional methods of accessing home equity is they put your home at risk due to terms of conditions of taking the loan like what happens if you default along with interest rates, fees, and closing costs. So why not consider leveraging a piece of your home rather than putting the whole property at risk? SmartRE does just that. It allows homeowners to sell their home in fractions starting at $100,000 with a defined fee. The homeowner can purchase the amount of equity sold back at any time with no set time limit.

If you’re interested in learning how SmartRE can help you leverage your home equity while maintaining ownership of your home, contact SmartRE today!

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