Volunteering with the Warriors at Golden Gate Park

On April 9, volunteers from Esurance, the Golden State Warriors, and the Bay Area community teamed up to beautify San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. And if our sore muscles and dirt-encrusted fingernails were any indicator, the event was a huge success.

300+ volunteers came out to weed, plant, paint, and refresh trails throughout the park. That’s equivalent to more than 1,200 hours of work! Thirty-seven associates from Esurance gave their time as did Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, who got his hands dirty painting park benches.

An afternoon of working up a sweat in bucolic Golden Gate Park was invigorating and due to the sheer number of volunteers, we accomplished a lot. My crew helped with weeding and trail maintenance (I, personally, logged about 4 miles wheeling wood chips down the trail). Have a look!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We G.I.V.E.

The Golden Gate Park event capped off a tremendous season of volunteering with the Warriors. Through the WE G.I.V.E. program, Esurance teamed up with Warriors players, staff, and fans to Guide, Inspire, Volunteer, and Educate within the Bay Area community. During the 2013 – 2014 season, we worked with the San Francisco Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity in addition to San Francisco Recreation and Parks.

Esurance in the community

With 18 offices around the country, we think it’s important to give back to the communities where we live and work. In 2013, our associates donated nearly $110,000 to various causes, which Esurance matched dollar for dollar. Additionally, through the Esurance Grant Program, each year associates vote for local organizations to receive a donation and volunteer support from Esurance.

If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, check out VolunteerMatch to see what opportunities are available near you.

Related link

Cereal, Carrots, and CEOs: Volunteers at Work

 

Esurance Launches New Insurance Products in 3 States: Colorado, Indiana, and West Virginia

We’re very excited to announce that we now offer homeowners insurance in Colorado, motorcycle insurance in Indiana, and renters coverage in West Virginia!

While we’re best known for our modern approach to car insurance (now available in 42 states!), Esurance began offering other great products in 2012. We started with renters coverage, which policyholders can add on to their car insurance for just $10 a month on average.*

Renters coverage

Today our renters is available in 18 states: Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Learn more about renters coverage and how it can help protect all your stuff.

Motorcycle insurance

We also began offering motorcycle insurance last year. We started in Wisconsin, but quickly expanded to California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Our launch in Indiana this month brings us to 8 states total with 3 more planned for this year.

Find out what types of bikes (and other rides) are typically covered by motorcycle insurance.

Homeowners insurance

In addition to your wheels, Esurance can now protect your home as well. Last year we rolled out homeowners insurance in Arizona, Oregon, and Wisconsin. This year, we’ve added Colorado and Missouri to the growing number of states where we offer our unique product and we plan to launch in a whopping 10 more states before the end of the year.

Learn all about homeowners insurance and how it can protect your biggest investment.

If we don’t offer insurance in your state yet, keep checking back. We’re growing by leaps and bounds!

*Average monthly cost and annual premium figures based on Esurance renters coverage purchased between 8/25/2012 and 7/31/2013. 

First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide: Shopping for Mortgage Rates

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial step you’ll take. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. And unless you happen to have a few hundred grand sitting pretty in your bank account, it’s something you’ll need to finance.

For first-time buyers (like myself), shopping for mortgage rates can seem overwhelmingly daunting. Where do you start? Who can you trust? And how can you secure the best interest rate out there?

I’m no financial expert, but having gone through the whole process recently, I can shed some first-hand insight. Here’s what I learned.

Know your credit score (and improve it if you can)

When you apply for a loan, the first thing a lender will do is pull your credit file and check out your credit score from all 3 credit reporting companies.

They’ll use your credit score to help them determine whether you qualify for a loan and what kind of interest rate you get — which is why you want to know this magic number before you shop.

Lenders typically view high credit scores as an indication that you won’t default on your loan or be late with your payments. So, if you have excellent credit (say, anything above 740), they’ll compete for your business and give you the most competitive rates.

If you have less-than-stellar credit, knowing your score beforehand can give you time to work on raising it.

Research your loan options

Conventional, 30-year fixed, 5-year adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) — these are just a few of the loan types out there. Which one is right for you depends on, among other things:

  • How much money you have in the bank
  • Whether your family can help out with the down payment (some loans limit how much of the down payment money can be gifted — for instance, VA loans that go above $417K don’t allow any gifts)
  • Your credit profile
  • How long you plan on living in your home

Generally, FHA loans come with higher interest rates but require a lower down payment and are easier to qualify for if you don’t have perfect credit. Traditional loans are more competitive, but you’ll need anywhere from 10 to 20 percent down. Adjustable rate mortgages will give you the lowest percentage on the market, but could spike significantly after the term ends. And VA loans (the one we got since my husband is a vet) offer the best deal out there, but are only available to eligible vets and come with a number of stipulations.

When you speak with prospective lenders, they can help you choose the right one for your situation.

Get all your paperwork ready

Before you really start to shop, it’s smart to have all of the documentation you’ll need for a pre-approval on hand:

  • Your W2s for the last 2 years
  • Your bank statements for the last 2 months
  • Your last 2 paystubs
  • Documentation for any other sources of income (disability benefits, alimony, etc.)

Some lenders might ask for additional items, but this is generally a good place to start.

Get full estimates from at least 3 lenders

You can start by inputting your info into a mortgage aggregator site or calling different banks. I went with the former, and within minutes, I was bombarded with phone calls and lenders prospecting for my business. (So get ready if you choose that route.)

While it’s time-consuming, it’s best to talk to at least 3 different lenders and pinpoint the following:

1. The APR, not just the interest rate

To get a clear idea of how much your loan will really cost, don’t just look at the interest rate. Some lenders lure you in with really low rates, but have high closing costs, lender fees, etc.

Instead, focus on the annual percentage rate (APR), which factors in interest, mortgage insurance, lender fees, points, and closing costs. It’s the true cost of your loan.

2. An itemized list of the estimated closing cost

The closing cost is how much you’ll have to shell out once all is said and done. Depending on your loan type and lender, it can include the following fees:

  • Loan origination — the cost of handling your loan
  • Appraisal — charged by an inspector to determine the true value of the property you want to buy
  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI) — if you have less than 20 percent down, your lender will require PMI to protect itself in case you default
  • Discount points — an upfront amount paid at closing to lower the interest rate (typically, one point equals one percent of the loan amount)
  • And much more

Some lenders will charge nil for writing the loan, while others will charge thousands of dollars. Seeing these costs on paper can help you decide who offers the best deal.

3. An estimate of your monthly payment

How much you pay per month will vary depending on the amount you’re thinking of borrowing, the type of loan, your APR, property taxes, and insurance.

While lenders won’t be able to give you an exact amount until you close the deal (since rates vary each day), they can generally give you ballpark figures for different loan types and amounts.

In my case, I wanted to see how much home I could buy without being broke every month. I asked my lender to break down my monthly payment based on a range of loan amounts. Knowing that estimate helped me set my budget and saved me from considering homes I couldn’t realistically afford.

Be choosy

Just because you’ve gotten estimates or even pre-approvals from different lenders doesn’t mean you have to stick with one.

Your loan isn’t finalized until you find a home and close your loan. So, if you can get a better deal with another reputable lender, go for it. (With that said, watch out for bait-and-switch tactics. Make sure you get everything in writing.)

Breathe

Shopping for a mortgage can be stressful, and it’s easy to get caught up in the vortex of interest rates and closing costs. Remember to give yourself a break and a nice, big bowl of ice cream once you’ve secured the loan that works best for you.

Good luck! And be sure to keep an eye out for Part 3 of our series, when we offer tips on what to do once your home offer is accepted.

P.S. Once you’ve found your first home, Esurance may be able to help you insure it. Get a free homeowners insurance quote* to see if you can benefit from great coverage and save with our New Home discount, which rewards you for insuring your home soon after buying it.

*Only available in AZ, CO, MO, OR, and WI.

Related links

First-time homebuyer’s guide: coming up with a down payment
Tips for buying a foreclosure
10 things to look for when buying a house

First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide: Coming Up with a Down Payment

Unless you win the lottery or find Captain Kidd’s treasure, getting money for a down payment on a home can be difficult. Between rent, groceries, and monthly bills, it can seem downright impossible to save enough cash for even a 3.5 percent down payment (the minimum amount needed to qualify for a loan).

But, with a little creativity and patience, you could raise a sufficient amount to get you on your way. Here’s how.

Tap your IRA

The IRS doesn’t make it easy for you to take money from your retirement account before you reach 59½. And if you do it, there’s a 10 percent tax on the distribution and penalty fees.

But there’s a loophole. You can withdraw up to $10,000 from your IRA without penalty to finance your first home. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to use the money within 120 days of getting it and you might have to pay taxes on any interest accrued.

Get with a down payment assistance program

Get ready to be blown away: you could get FREE (or almost free) money for a down payment! Most cities and counties have down payment assistance programs designed to help first-time homebuyers overcome the down-payment hurdle.

In San Francisco (where I live), if you earn a modest income, are a first-time homebuyer, don’t have a ton of cash on hand (less than $200,000 to be exact), and meet certain other criteria, you are eligible for a “silent second loan that requires no payments for 40 years” from the city.

That means you can borrow up to $200,000 to buy a place of your own. And here’s the beautiful part: you don’t have to make monthly payments or pay interest until the term ends or you sell the property. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you decide to sell or the time’s up, you’ll have to repay the loan plus a share of any appreciation. (Which shouldn’t be a problem because you’ll have built up equity and hopefully made money on your purchase.)

So, do a bit of research and see what’s out there. If your city doesn’t offer a plan that works for you, the Federal Housing Administration might have a down payment grant that does.

Make a budget

Now, I’m not saying you should take extreme austerity measures (like living off ramen and using candlelight for heat) to save money. But there’s something to be said about making a budget and trimming the fat where you can.

In fact, there are free apps that can help you do that. (If you have any you’d recommend, let us know.) In my case, I realized that I spent a lot of money each month on dining out and frivolous shopping. By paring my budget of these luxuries, I was able save a bit each month and whole a lot over the year.

With a budget, you can see exactly how much money’s coming in and how much is going out. Are you buying an expensive cable package when you barely watch TV (like I did)? Are you paying fees because you forgot to pay bills on time? Do you buy your lunch every day?

All of these small expenditures add up. If you can cut them without feeling the pinch, you could save a lot over time.

A note on financial gifts from your family

If you’re lucky enough to have a generous family, Uncle Sam makes it easy for relatives to help you finance your dream of homeownership. In 2014, parents, grandparents, and other charitable relatives can each give you up to $14,000 without paying the gift tax required by the IRS.*

So, let’s say Mom and Dad want to help out with your down payment and they’d like to give you the max allowable. Since each parent can give you $14,000 tax-free, that means you’d have $28,000 at your disposal.

Of course, when it comes to gifting a down payment, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

Here’s how to do it without raising some eyebrows.

Write a gift letter

For most lenders, large amounts suddenly appearing in your bank account signal a red flag. In other words, your parents shouldn’t just deposit the money into your account without a proper paper trail.

Typically, lenders will want proof that the funds you’re receiving for the down payment are legit, which usually comes in the form of a gift letter. (Don’t worry, most lenders will provide this during the loan process.) Other paperwork, like bank statements, might also be necessary.

If you’ll be using gifted money, check with prospective lenders for the specifics.

Where to keep your down payment

Once you have a decent amount for a down payment, it’s smart to keep it in one savings or money market account. This makes it easier for lenders to verify your assets and easier to liquidate when the time comes.

In general, you want to steer clear of any savings option that ties your money down for a set period of time. For example, I chose a certificate of deposit that gave me a modest interest but allowed me to withdraw the money penalty-free before the term ended. This allowed me the option of keeping my money both accessible and out of reach (to avoid the temptation of spending it).

And hey, if I can come up with a down payment for a home (okay, shoebox) in San Francisco, anyone can do it.

Good luck! And be sure to check back on Friday for advice on shopping for mortgage rates.

Related posts

What to look for when buying a home
Understanding foreclosure: tips for potential buyers

*The financial gifts information provided herein is not intended to constitute tax advice. Please consult with your tax advisors about your specific circumstance.

Esurance Gives Away a Custom Warriors Motorcycle

The NBA playoffs are approaching. The Golden State Warriors are on fire. Could Warriors basketball get any more exciting?

It could (and did) recently for Richard W. of Napa, when he won the final round of the Warriors’ Enter the Madness contest and received a brand-new custom motorcycle, courtesy of Esurance. Richard earned his bike through his on-court skills and coolness under pressure, beating out 7 other Warriors fans in a series of single-elimination challenges over 6 home games.

After the first quarter of Sunday night’s game, Richard and fellow semifinalist Joy stood ready on the court as fans passed 2 basketballs down to them through the stands. Once they had the ball, they had to run it through a set of orange cones and sink a basket.

Richard scored first and was presented with his 2-wheeled, super sweet, custom prize at half court by Esurance CEO Gary Tolman. A motorcycle rider for more than 20 years and a big Warriors fan, Richard was thrilled to own a one-of-a-kind bike in Warriors colors. We were thrilled that we could help make it happen, and proud as always to be sponsors of Warriors basketball.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like the Warriors, Esurance is all about coverage. And now that we offer motorcycle insurance in select states (including the Golden State), giving away a motorcycle seemed like a natural fit. If you love to ride, find out if we offer coverage where you live.

Go Warriors!