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Best Places for Freelancers

Over a third of U.S. workers, including those in the construction industry, did some kind of freelancing in the previous year, according to a 2015 report from the Freelancers Union. To identify the places where freelancers are likely to thrive in the nation’s 50 most populous cities, NerdWallet analyzed data on the local population of freelancers, income and working expenses, such as health insurance and cell phone services.

In the top 10 cities, freelancers — those who don’t run an incorporated business and who aren’t contract employees — tend to cluster by occupation.

Construction, computers, other industries

Construction jobs account for over 18% of the self-employed population in Nashville, Tennessee, and in California’s San Francisco and Long Beach, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In half of the top 10 places, 12% to 14% of the self-employed population work in professional, scientific and management services, which includes graphic and interior designers, computer programmers and consultants.

Three of the top five places on the list are in the South, and half of the top 10 places have populations under 500,000. Dallas is the only place in the top 10 with a population of over 1 million.

Top 10 best places for freelancers
  1. Austin, Texas
  2. Nashville, Tennessee
  3. Dallas
  4. Atlanta
  5. Louisville, Kentucky
  6. San Francisco
  7. Mesa, Arizona
  8. Fort Worth, Texas
  9. Sacramento, California
  10. Long Beach, California

Places that made the list were ranked based on median monthly income (after taxes) for freelancers, median rent, cost of a basic health insurance plan, costs of a cell phone plan, national and state cell phone taxes, cell phone coverage from the four major carriers and the percentage of self-employed workers in each place.

Read the full report to see additional details about the methodology.

Veronica Ramirez is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: vramirez@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @veraudrey. Daniel Tonkovich is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: dtonkovich@nerdwallet.com.

Getting Pre-Qualified for a Home Loan: What You Need to Know

By Roslyn Lash

Learn more about Roslyn on NerdWallet’s Ask An Advisor

As an accredited financial counselor, I often hear this question from so-called millennials, or young adults in their 20s and early 30s: “What do I have to do to buy a home?”

What I tell them is simple: Your first step is to get pre-qualified.

While my advice may be simple, getting pre-qualified does require sacrifice, discipline and patience. Pre-qualification by a lender will help you determine the amount of mortgage you can afford, through an analysis that considers your income, debt, credit history and savings. After that, when you actually are ready to start making offers on homes for sale, you can seek preapproval from the lender of your choice (this is important because sellers and agents will be more likely to accept an offer if a potential buyer is already preapproved).

But, as I tell my clients, first things first — get yourself pre-qualified, so that you have an estimate of how much the bank is willing to lend and how much you can afford.

Let’s look at the various elements of your finances that lenders will analyze in the pre-qualification process, which they’ll dig into in more detail during the approval process:

Income

Lenders consider the type of work you do, the length of employment and the stability of your position. They will want to make sure that your salary will allow you to make regular mortgage payments, as well as the usual living expenses (utilities, food and clothing).

Debts

Of course, salary has to be viewed in combination with how much money you owe and how much you spend to pay off your debts each month. This will include all of your recurring bills, such as credit card payments, student loans, car payments, hospital bills, alimony and any other debt that must be paid on a monthly basis. Lenders will look for your total monthly debt plus the projected cost of the mortgage to not exceed 43% of your gross monthly income.

Credit history

To lenders it is imperative that you have a stable credit history, with a track record of making payments on time, because past credit history gives an indication of future performance. It’s a good idea to find out what’s on your credit report before applying for a loan. If you have had some rough times in the past and need assistance rebuilding your credit, contact an accredited financial counselor or a nonprofit credit repair agency.

Savings

In addition to the above factors, you will be required to contribute to the purchase of the property in the form of a down payment, which means you will have to have significant money saved for your home purchase. Your down payment will generally range between 3% and 20% of the home’s purchase price, depending on the type of loan.

If you’ve maintained good credit but your income hasn’t allowed you to save, you may be a candidate for a down payment subsidy. Your local government may be able to provide assistance. Contact the housing and community development agencies of your city or county government for more information on these kinds of programs.

Buying a house is a major accomplishment, and it can be financially rewarding. If you do your homework, the American dream can become a pleasant reality.

Roslyn Lash, AFC, is a financial educator and coach at Youth Smart Financial Education Services.

7 Questions to Ask Before Switching Cell Phone Carriers

Your current cell phone carrier isn’t cutting it anymore, and you’re ready for a change. But pause before you pull the trigger. You don’t want to be surprised by hidden costs or merely trade one shoddy carrier for another.

To make sure you end up with a better deal, ask yourself these seven questions before you switch.

1. Am I under contract, and do I need to pay off my phone before switching?

If you’re on a two-year contract and you want to switch before it’s over, look into your carrier’s policy on early termination fees. You’ll usually have to pay several hundred dollars to escape. Keep an eye out, though: Sometimes your new carrier will pay your early termination fee when you switch.

If you’re not under contract but are paying for your phone on an installment plan from your carrier, you’ll need to buy it outright before you can switch.

2. Am I actually using all my data?

Before you pick a new carrier, evaluate your plan structure. How much data do you really use? Average users go through 2 to 3 gigabytes per month.

Make sure your plan fits your usage, but be careful when downsizing. Some companies, including Verizon and U.S. Cellular, still charge for data overages, which might wipe out any savings you get from having a smaller plan.

3. Can I jump on a family plan?

You can start a family plan with anyone you trust to pay their portion of the bill on time, even people who aren’t related to you. These plans can mean significant monthly savings as long as you don’t mind managing the logistics.

Set clear expectations upfront: Who will pay the bill? When is the money due? If you’re handling the bill every month, you’re on the hook for it, whether everyone’s gotten their money to you or not.

» MORE: Best family cell phone plans

4. Would a nontraditional carrier save me money?

Some carriers, such as Project Fi and Republic Wireless, route their customers’ cell usage through Wi-Fi as much as possible and fall back on cellular networks only when necessary. They also have attractive rates for people who don’t use much data. Together, those factors can add up to great savings.

These “Wi-Fi first” carriers do have some drawbacks, though. Traditional carriers are often cheaper if you’re a heavy data user, and Wi-Fi first carriers have more limited phone selections. Still, if a Wi-Fi carrier is a good fit for you, you could be looking at dirt cheap wireless service.

5. Will I get good reception?

Once you know what you want in a plan and have a carrier in mind, start considering specifics. Cost is important, but your new carrier’s prices don’t matter if you can’t make calls or surf the web in your own home. Ask around to find out which one has the best local service. Maybe even invite a friend who uses the carrier over to see if her cell phone works at your place.

6. Can I bring my own phone?

If you currently use a GSM carrier — those are AT&T, T-Mobile and the mobile virtual network operators that use their networks — your phone is probably compatible with any other GSM network. Some of Verizon’s and Sprint‘s newer phones are also GSM compatible. If you have a compatible phone, make sure it’s unlocked before switching.

If you can’t bring your own phone, ask your new carrier if you can trade it in for a credit toward another handset. Or sell it online, either through eBay or a phone reseller service. You’ll likely get more money for your phone on eBay, although eBay takes a cut and you’ll have to manage the buyer relationship and shipping. Reseller services like Gazelle and Orchard offer lower prices, but they’ll send you a box for shipping and make selling a breeze.

» MORE: How to sell your old phone

7. If I’m switching for a promotion, what will happen when it ends?

Always play the long game. Sure, you’re getting a wicked deal with that promotional price now, but what will happen to your bill when it expires? Make sure that you can live with the increased price or that you’re prepared to switch carriers again when the time comes. Don’t lock yourself into a long-term agreement if you’re planning to bounce in a year.

Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: slayton@nerdwallet.com.

Don’t Go Into Debt to Pay for These 5 Things

By Kurt Smith

Learn more about Kurt on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

In some cases, borrowing money helps build wealth. Most people need a mortgage to buy a home, for instance, and student loans allow many people get an education that leads to a career.

But in other situations, going into debt does more harm than good. When you’re paying off debt — and the interest that comes with it — you’re giving someone else money that you could be saving. In other words, debt payments are money you’re not investing in your future.

Charging that new computer or handbag might seem harmless, but if you can’t really afford it, you’re running up debt — and debt restricts you financially and ultimately limits your future.

You should especially avoid going into debt to pay for these five things:

1. Vacations

No matter how much you need a break, it isn’t worth going into debt for a vacation. Yes, you’ll return to work with enviable photos on your smartphone, but you’ll have to put in a lot of hours to pay off the trip. Even worse, making debt payments will hamper your ability to save for the unexpected. If you get laid off while you’re still making payments, you could be in a bind.

Vacations should be rewarding and rejuvenating. But going into debt for an amazing trip will just pile on the stress after your return. The memories might last, but so could the bill.

2. Gifts

People often throw financial caution to the wind during the holidays or on special occasions. It’s easy to justify spending to create magical memories — and it can be hard to admit it when you can’t afford the gifts on your family’s wish lists.

Remember that your children won’t love you any more or less because of the awesome presents you give them. They could, however, learn about sacrifice and budgeting if you set an example. Isn’t that better than any stuffed stocking in the long run?

3. Clothes, shoes and accessories

Retail therapy is a reality for many men and women. People buy things in the hope of portraying more confident, put-together versions of themselves — and sometimes it’s tough to walk away from a good sale. There’s nothing wrong with going shopping. But when you rely on objects that you can’t afford to make yourself feel good, it becomes a problem.

Avoid charging anything on a credit card that you can’t pay off right away. Looking fabulous while being buried in debt doesn’t enhance your life. It makes it more burdensome.

4. Gadgets

No one needs the newest Apple wearable or Bose noise-canceling headphones. But you might think, “That new smartphone will keep me organized,” or “The robot vacuum will mean I have to clean less.” The fact is, you accomplished those tasks before these gadgets existed, and having the newest technology won’t change your life that much. Even worse, the next greatest thing will likely hit store shelves before you’ve paid off your new gadget, .

5. Weddings

You and your partner might have dreamed about your perfect wedding day, but you shouldn’t go into debt to pull it off. A 2014 study by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta showed that couples who spent more on their weddings had shorter marriages than those who kept costs down.

This is understandable. Starting off your marriage in debt causes stress on both partners. And couples who focus on the event rather than the relationship can lose sight of why they wanted to get married in the first place.

Debt cycle

Spending money on material items or extravagant events won’t change your life in significant, lasting ways or make that depressed mood go away. Eventually the novelty will wear off or the event will end and you’ll want to buy or plan something new and exciting, starting the debt cycle all over again.

The next time you’re tempted to go into debt to buy something, remind yourself of that debt cycle and practice self-control instead. Learn to budget and save for those desirable items, getaways and events. It’s the only true path to financial stability and peace of mind.

Kurt Smith is a financial and relationship counselor at Guy Stuff Counseling and Coaching.

Mortgage Rates Today, Tuesday, Aug. 30: Slight Boost, Affordability Fears

Thirty-year and 15-year fixed rates and 5/1 ARM mortgages all rose slightly on Tuesday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Although it’s a slight increase, could it be that we’ll be seeing rates continue to rise on the heels of the Fed’s announcement that it will likely raise federal funds rates soon? Only time will tell.

Younger homebuyers fear lack of affordability most

Millennials would love to buy a home, but rising prices are giving them pause — and prompting worry — that homeownership might be out of their grasp, according to a new survey from Redfin.

More than 28% of all U.S. homebuyers said “prices are rising or are too high” when asked their biggest concern about the housing market. Even more telling is that 32.5% of millennials (homeowners 35 and younger) cited affordability as their top concern.

With 10.3% of millennial homebuyers fearing they might not have enough money in hand for a down payment, that adds another wrinkle to the already precarious issue of home affordability.

It doesn’t help that home prices rose in a vast majority of metro areas during the second quarter of 2016, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors. The median existing single-family home price increased in 83% of measured markets, with 148 out of 178 metro areas showing year-to-year gains based on closed sales in the second quarter, the report found. Only 29 areas (16%) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier.

But it’s not just home prices that factor in. There’s another key issue that could coax would-be first-time homebuyers off the fence and into a home: rising rents. The Redfin survey found that nearly half (45.4%) of all first-time homebuyers said they were prompted to buy a home because of high rent, compared to just 24.7% of respondents in 2015.

The NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index compiles annual percentage rates — lender interest rates plus fees, the most accurate way for consumers to compare rates. Here are today’s average rates for the most popular loan terms:

Mortgage Rates: Aug. 30, 2016

(Change from 8/29)

30-year fixed: 3.64% APR (+0.01)

15-year fixed: 3.06% APR (+0.01)

5/1 ARM: 3.52% APR (+0.01)

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

5 Times You Shouldn’t Use a Credit Card

A credit card used responsibly can be a great tool to build your credit score and a credit history.

If you pay off your bill in full every month and balance your budget like a pro, using a credit card for most expenses allows you to track your spending easily and take full advantage of cash-back and other rewards programs.

But if you don’t pay off the bill each month, the high interest rates on a card will cost you as your debt keeps rolling over. That’s when you should consider cheaper methods of financing.

Here are five times you may want to ditch the credit card.

1. To pay for a big expense

You may be moving to a new city, remodeling your kitchen or paying for your dream vacation.

If you don’t have the money to pay your entire bill, any unpaid balance racks up heavy interest. Using more than a third of your available credit can have a negative effect on your credit scores, too.

Obviously, saving the money you need ahead of time, paycheck by paycheck, is optimal.

If that’s not possible, a personal loan may be a cheaper option than charging your card. A personal loan typically is an unsecured loan, which means you don’t pledge any collateral and you get the loan at a fixed interest rate determined by your creditworthiness. The rate on a personal loan is often lower than the average rate on a credit card, which is typically above 15%. Since the loan payments are fixed and generally paid back over two to five years, it may be easier to work a personal loan into your monthly budget.

Some major banks offer personal loans, as well as most credit unions and online lenders.

2. To consolidate credit card debt

The average American household carries $130,922 in debt, with $15,762 of it on credit cards, according a 2015 NerdWallet study.

If you are trying to consolidate all your consumer debts into one simple payment, the best option depends on your credit scores, how much debt you have and, most importantly, your ability to pay down your obligations.

Those with excellent credit may qualify for balance transfer cards, which offer introductory annual percentage rates of 0% for a certain period and typically charge a balance transfer fee. If you can pay the balance before the 0% rate expires, it’s your cheapest option.

But if your credit is average, you can tap your home equity or take a loan against your retirement account or life insurance policy, among other options. Use caution, however: The consequences for defaulting when you borrow against your home or retirement account are severe. An unsecured personal loan may be more expensive but less risky.

Those with bad credit should resist consolidating debt to stay afloat; you may just be delaying the inevitable. Most experts say debt management plans or even bankruptcy are better options, despite the pain involved, if you can’t reasonably pay off your consumer debts in five years.

3. To fund emergencies

A credit card shouldn’t be your first option in an emergency situation, especially if you don’t have the money to pay your bill in full later on.

Today is the best day to start building your emergency fund, so you don’t have to use your credit card for that busted car part or trip to the emergency room. You don’t need much to make a difference. A recent study by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, showed that as little as $250 was usually enough keep a family from facing eviction, missing a utility payment or receiving public benefits.

4. To pay for your wedding

Many couples use credit cards to help finance a wedding, but that brings with it the temptation to overshoot the wedding budget.

It’s not a great idea to start your married life in debt, but in some instances, a wedding loan for a portion of the expenses could help you stick to your budget. Loans come with fixed interest rates, which can help you easily factor your monthly payments into your budget.

Saving for the event or keeping it simple are even better ways to have a wedding within your means.

5. To pay your taxes

You can pay your taxes by credit or debit card, but the vendors that the IRS authorizes to accept card payments charge a convenience fee of 1.87% to 2.25% of the amount you owe. E-filing software companies charge even higher rates for card payments.

It’s better to tap into your savings or make use of the IRS installment plan option to avoid paying a fee on top of your tax bill. If you have excellent credit, you may qualify for a balance-transfer credit card to make your payment, but make sure you can pay off your bill before the 0% APR period ends.

Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Why the Fiduciary Rule Is Good for Investors

By Brian McCann

To learn more about Brian, visit NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

The Department of Labor recently issued a new rule regarding financial professionals who advise clients on retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs. Although the rule is complex and comes with some caveats, it can be boiled down to this: Effective April 2017, retirement advisors must put their clients’ best interests first. This is called the fiduciary standard.

The new rule won’t necessarily eradicate bad investment advice, but it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s a good thing for investors.

The ‘suitability’ standard

The fiduciary rule may seem simple and logical, but it’s causing a major upheaval in the financial industry. Currently, the vast majority of brokers are held to the “suitability” standard, meaning they can recommend any product to a client that is reasonable. In other words, it doesn’t have to be the best product for the client, it just has to be suitable.

The new rule is long overdue. The fact that the standard for a broker giving advice is essentially, “You are not allowed to rip off your clients — too much,” is an embarrassment to the industry. This allows for all kinds of questionable practices such as selling clients high-fee or potentially inappropriate products like variable annuities, unit investment trusts and expensive mutual funds. These products often do more to benefit the issuing company and the advisor than the client. It’s like if your doctor prescribed you the most expensive drug available when aspirin would be appropriate, just because he or she would receive a commission for prescribing it.

Expensive funds

Here’s an example among mutual funds: the Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), from one of the largest mutual fund companies, is a popular growth fund found in many retirement accounts. More than $109 billion is invested in the fund, and it’s rated as a four-star fund (out of five) by research and ranking firm Morningstar. The total expense ratio of the fund is 0.7%, meaning that you pay $7 in administrative fees for every $1,000 invested in the fund.

Of course, this may well be reasonable if the performance of the fund were good compared with other large-capitalization growth funds. However, a similar four-star-rated fund called the Vanguard Growth Index ETF (VUG) outperformed the Contrafund over the last one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods:

 One-yearThree-yearFive-year10-year Fidelity Contrafund13.0%11.3%14.5%8.8% Vanguard Growth Index ETF15.1%12.5%15.6%9.2% Data from Morningstar.com as of 8/25/16.

The main reason for this outperformance is lower fees. The Vanguard ETF is a passive product, meaning it merely tries to track a predetermined stock index and is less expensive. It has a 0.08% expense ratio, or about one-ninth of what Fidelity charges on the Contrafund.

In my opinion, it would be hard for advisors to come up with well-reasoned, data-supported arguments as to why such higher-fee products are in their clients’ best interest.

Client interests first

Though all retirement advisors will soon have to adhere to the fiduciary standard, I still recommend that investors choose independent registered investment advisor (RIA) firms, which have always been held to the fiduciary standard. To me, the fiduciary model — putting the investor first — is the only long-term advice model that makes sense for both the advisor and the client. It reduces potential conflicts of interest by mandating that clients’ interests are put first, making the relationship simpler and more straightforward.

Of course, there are good and bad actors in every industry and every type of business model. Many brokers and advisors put their clients’ interests first and always have, while a few try to profit primarily for themselves. This regulation won’t change the fundamental behavior of advisors who are looking to profit at the expense of their clients. But at least it makes it easier to understand and identify what these bad actors might be doing, and I can’t help but think that is a good thing.

Brian McCann, CFP, is a financial advisor and the founder of Bootstrap Capital LLC in San Jose, California.

This article also appears on Nasdaq.

Short on Existing-Home Options? 4 Reasons to Buy New

Buying a home in some markets is like being in a gladiator ring. Multiple rounds of showings and getting into — and losing — bidding wars can leave you feeling defeated.

If you’re growing weary of wading through an increasingly shrinking inventory of resales, there’s another possibility worth considering: buying new construction.

Although the pace of new construction has lagged demand in recent years, total housing starts are projected to increase by 6.1% in 2016 compared with 2015, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders. Much of that gain is likely to come from the single-family sector, which is expected to grow 11.3%. Also, new single-family home sales are forecast to rise 13.6% this year to 571,000, Melman says.

Tired of sitting on the sidelines when it comes to buying a home? Here are four smart reasons to invest in new construction:

1. You get to customize your home

Not all of us are blessed with an interior designer’s touch. With a new home, you pick from expert-selected features, floor plan, housing lot, community and more, so you don’t have to agonize over an extensive remodel to get the house of your dreams.

Margaret Garry and her husband, Stephen Hawkins, recently built a new home on Austin’s bustling east side. They decided the upfront investment made more sense than spending excess time and money to constantly fix an older home, Garry says. To stay within budget, though, they avoided unnecessary upgrades that would have added thousands to their final price tag.

“When we tried to determine what options to include in our house, we started off by listing everything we wanted, and we came in about $20,000 over budget,” Garry says. To save money, they ultimately pared down extras that they didn’t need, such as an optional living room fireplace and a utility sink in the laundry room.

2. You might get builder incentives

Believe it or not, there’s a bit of flexibility in the negotiation process with a builder. Although some things won’t change, such as lot premiums or the price of adding certain designer upgrades, builders will sweeten the deal with money-saving incentives to close a sale, Melman says. For instance, some builders offer to pay closing costs or loan fees, absorb financing points, or provide options or upgrades for free or reduced cost, he says. If you don’t see incentives advertised, ask about them. Don’t assume that they’re not available.

3. You likely will get a builder warranty

Most new homes typically come with a builder warranty to cover common post-construction issues that the builder is responsible for correcting, so you don’t have to pay out of your pocket for those fixes, says Craig LeMessurier, senior director of corporate communications at KB Home, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.

“Resales don’t come with a warranty,” says LeMessurier, whose company offers a 10-year building warranty on new homes. When you talk to sales associates at new-home communities, ask what that builder’s warranty does and doesn’t cover so there are no surprises later, LeMessurier says.

4. You can finance through the builder — or any lender you choose

Some builders provide a one-stop shop for you to build and finance through them directly or via a preferred lender. For instance, Garry and her husband chose the latter route because the affiliated lender offered them significant closing-cost assistance that other lenders couldn’t match.

A few things to keep in mind about new-construction financing: Some lenders offering new-home loans might also require higher down payments, an excellent credit score and consistent payment history. Additionally, if you get outside financing, your lender will check your builder’s credit and background to assess its level of risk in case the builder bails on the contract.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Redfin.

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Aug. 26: Small Changes, Fed Eyes Higher Rates

Thirty-year fixed mortgages inched up, 15-year fixed mortgages remained unchanged, while 5/1 ARM home loan rates dropped minimally on Friday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

In fact, rates have remained largely unchanged in the past month, giving potential homebuyers and homeowners a prime opportunity to get an affordable loan. As we enter the traditionally slower home-selling months, though, it’s more likely that home sales might continue to drop as they did in July.

Will Fed hike rates?

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Friday said that positive movement in the economy might lead to federal funds rate increases soon.

“In light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” Yellen said in a prepared speech at the Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Yellen made a case for the Fed’s ability to head off future economic downturns by using the financial policies in its toolkit, but she also acknowledged that economic growth has been tepid.

“Smoothing through the monthly ups and downs, job gains averaged 190,000 per month over the past three months,” Yellen said. “Although the unemployment rate has remained fairly steady this year, near 5%, broader measures of labor utilization have improved. Inflation has continued to run below the [Federal Open Market Committee’s] objective of 2 percent, reflecting in part the transitory effects of earlier declines in energy and import prices.”

As we’ve seen when the Fed hiked rates last December, the immediate impact on mortgage rates will likely be minimal.

The NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index compiles annual percentage rates — lender interest rates plus fees, the most accurate way for consumers to compare rates. Here are today’s average rates for the most popular loan terms:

Mortgage Rates: Aug. 26, 2016

(Change from 8/25)

30-year fixed: 3.62% APR (+0.02)

15-year fixed: 3.05% APR (NC)

5/1 ARM: 3.5% APR (-0.01)

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

HARP Loan Extended Through September 2017

U.S. homeowners who are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments have more time to take advantage of a government refinance program. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has extended the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP loan, through Sept. 30, 2017.

The FHFA estimates that over 300,000 U.S. homeowners whose mortgages are underwater — they owe more than their home is worth — could still refinance through HARP to lower their monthly payments and avoid foreclosure.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer a new refinance program for borrowers with high loan-to-value ratios beginning October 2017, according to the FHFA. Meanwhile, the HARP loan, which was set to expire at the end of 2016, will “create a bridge” to the new refinance program, the agency said in a news release.

The FHFA says that “the new refinance offering will provide much-needed liquidity for borrowers who are current on their mortgage, but are unable to refinance through traditional programs.”

Over 3.4 million homeowners have used HARP to refinance their mortgages since 2009, when the program was launched in response to the housing crisis, according to the FHFA.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

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