Meet Jane.

Jane is a thirty-something homeowner with two young kids. She walks into her local bank one day to talk to someone about taking out a loan to replace her outdated furnace. She wanted to put it on her credit card, but she got herself into trouble with credit cards when she was younger, so she wants to look at other options. After talking with her a while, her personal banker, Joe, suggests a home equity line of credit, to which Jane replies, "A what?"

I met many customers like Jane during my time as a personal banker. Many people simply don't know what or how home equity lines of credit work.

A HELOC (home equity line of credit) isn't for everyone, but it often can be the perfect solution for many. First off, you have to be a homeowner and have equity in your home.

What is home equity?

The equity in your home is what you truly own, debt-free. Let's say Jane's house is valued at 200k and she has a mortgage balance of 60k. This would mean that Jane's home equity value is 140k. Over time, the more you pay off any lines against your house (mortgages), the higher your equity value goes. Home improvements that increase the value of your home also raise equity.

A home equity line of credit works much differently than a mortgage or home equity loan. I find it best to view it as working similarly to a credit card. You may draw funds out of the line of credit only as needed. Therefore, technically you can take out a HELOC without ever actually touching the money and having to pay it back.

How much do I qualify for?

Typically, most banks will let you borrow anywhere from 75% to 90% of the equity in your home. To figure this out yourself, take the value of your home, subtract any loans against your home, and multiply that number by the percent the bank will let you borrow. Jane's banker tells her she is able to borrow up to 80% of the equity in her home. You would multiply 140k by .80, coming to a figure of 112k being the maximum amount Jane can borrow. It's important to note that you do not need to borrow the max available. Keep in mind that your debt to income ratio and credit score can also affect how much you qualify for.

How much should I take out a line of credit for?

This is the number one question that was asked to me by customers looking to take out a line of credit. And really, there is no right or wrong answer. You can always take the max available, but you don't have to. There are things you need to consider when deciding how much to borrow. If you are a person who is easily tempted to use that money, even when it's not needed, it probably isn't best to request the max amount unless you know that you will be able to afford the monthly payments.

On the other hand, I also tell people it can be a good idea to take more than you need right now, so you have it as a "cushion." One of my customers came to me to request a HELOC to update her kitchen. Although she qualified for a much higher line, she insisted on only taking what she needed at that time. Not even a year later she came back to me. She had used up the entire amount available on the line of credit and now needed more to fix her roof. She had to go through the entire application process again to do a HELOC increase, and she wasn't happy that it wasn't as simple as saying "I need more money" and having the money readily available. This is the reason I tell people to have a cushion. That cushion can be a lifesaver in emergencies.

What can I use my HELOC to pay?

Most people assume HELOCs can only be used for home renovations, but, in reality, you can use the money for anything. A HELOC can be a great tool to consolidate credit card debt. According to the federal reserve, the average credit card rate was around 15% in 2019, and that rate is often higher for people without excellent credit standings. In contrast, the average HELOC interest rate, according to Bankrate, is around 6%.

What's the application and fee process?

Before heading to the bank, make sure you have the following documents:

  • W2s / 1099 forms
  • Last 2 years federal tax returns
  • Recent pay stubs
  • Proof of any other income

The application process usually takes anywhere from a few days to sometimes weeks, depending on how much information the underwriters may need. The bank typically does an appraisal of the house. In some instances, they may need access to the inside for appraisal, although this is typically not necessary.

After the HELOC is approved, the bank will schedule a closing date and time for you to come in and sign the mountain of paperwork. It can seem like a lot, but you will receive copies of everything, and you have three business days to look it over and cancel if you want.

Common fees associated with HELOCs are lender fees, annual fees, and cancelation fees. Do yourself a favor and research lender options before applying, as there are plenty of banks that do not charge most of these fees. When I worked at M&T Bank, the only fee applicable to a HELOC was a cancelation fee, and that only applied if the line was closed entirely within the first three months.

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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.