Are You Ready to Go From Renting to Buying?

Making the leap from “renter” to “homeowner” status is a big deal, for obvious reasons. If you’ve been renting for a while, the thought of homeownership may have crossed your mind once or twice. But are you ready to take the plunge?

If you meet all of the following criteria, then you might be ready to make the move from renting to buying.

You Plan to Live in the Area For the Long Haul

For some who prefer a transient lifestyle, renting is a more attractive option. If you like the idea of being able to move from one city to another without all the expenses and red tape associated with buying and selling, then renting may be a better alternative.

But if you’ve come to a point in your life where you love the area you’re living in and have plans to stick around for years to come, then perhaps homeownership may be in the cards.

Selling a home is not as simple as terminating a month-to-month lease and packing your bags. It’s a big undertaking and isn’t something that you want to do every couple of years. If you’re considering buying, it’s important that you choose an area that you can see yourself living in over the next few years. 

When you find a neighborhood that you love and have a stable job close by, purchasing a house might make sense.

You’ve Got Enough For a Down Payment

Although rent comes with some upfront expenses, they typically pale in comparison to the costs you’ll need to cover when you first buy a home. More specifically, your down payment will be a major upfront expense that you’ll need to deal with when buying a home.

A minimum down payment for a conventional mortgage is 5%, though 20% is typically recommended in order to avoid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). If you have decent credit, you may be able to pay as little as 3.5% for an FHA loan. Either way, 3.5% or 5% on a purchase that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars is a lot of money.

That said, if you’ve spent the last few years saving up for a down payment and have more than enough to cover this big cost, homeownership may be closer to becoming reality. Just make sure that you’ve got leftover savings to cover additional costs that come with buying a home, which we’ll take about next.

You Have Money Saved For Closing Costs

In addition to the down payment, there are also miscellaneous closing costs that are associated with buying a home. Here are just a few of the expenses that can be included in these additional costs:

  • Appraisal fees
  • Lender fees
  • Title insurance
  • Lawyer fees (if applicable)
  • Survey fees
  • Home inspection
  • Transfer taxes (if the seller doesn’t cover them)
  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • New furniture

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere between 2% to 5% of the purchase price of the home in closing costs. If you’ve got enough money – and then some – to cover these costs, you may be ready to make a purchase.

Your Income is Sufficient Enough to Handle Surprise Expenses

Homeownership comes with a number of expenses that you may not be responsible for when renting. Things such as maintenance, utilities, and property taxes are additional expenses you’ll need to cover. There are will also be some last-minute repairs that you’ll be responsible for handling when they creep up, all of which require readily accessible funds to deal with.

From replacing the roof to repairing the siding, to fixing the air conditioner, these are all expenses that you’ll need to pay for when such issues arise. As such, your income will need to be strong enough to be able to deal with such costs when they come up.

You’re Settled in Your Job

Earning a decent income is a crucial factor when it comes to buying a home, for obvious reasons. You certainly want to earn enough to pay your mortgage on time every month while still having plenty left over to cover all other expenses.

But the stability of your job also plays a key role in your ability to handle a mortgage. If you plan to buy a home sometime soon, having strong job security and being happy to stay where you are career-wise is important.

Your Credit Score is Strong

Having a good credit score is important for getting approved for a mortgage. If you’re planning to buy some time soon, be sure to pull your credit report to see where your score is at. If it could use some improvement, you may want to take a few months to bring your credit score back up to par before applying for a mortgage.

Your Current Debt is Manageable

Taking out a mortgage when you buy a home will add debt to the books. Ideally, your current debt should be low enough to allow for an additional bill.

Your lender will want to assess your current debt to make sure you’re eligible for mortgage approval. If your debt is at a manageable level and your income is sufficient enough to handle another payment, then perhaps you’re ready to buy.

Mortgage Payments Are at Par With Rent in Your Area

In some areas, it may actually be more economical to buy rather than rent. In communities where rent is sky-high, mortgage payments may be at par – or even lower – than rent. If that’s the case in your area, maybe buying might make more financial sense for you. Plus, every mortgage payment you make will go towards building your own equity.

You’re Emotionally and Psychologically Ready to Be a Homeowner

You could be in a strong financial position to make a purchase, but at the end of the day, you need to be emotionally and psychologically ready to buy. Before you make a move, it’s essential that you take the time to assess your feelings about committing to a home. If you’re confident that you’re ready to make a purchase, perhaps now is the time to do so.

The Bottom Line

While there may be some benefits to renting, there are also plenty of perks to buying. But before you make that move, it’s important that you take the time to carefully assess your situation to make sure you’re ready for the transition. If the above situations apply to you, you may be ready for homeownership. Just be sure to team up with a seasoned real estate agent to help you make the transition a seamless one.

THIS WEEKEND IN CHICAGO – Closing Out Another Year!

Not only is it the last weekend of December but it’s also the last one of 2018!  And here in Chicago, we’ll be closing out another year in grand style with a variety of festivities!!

It began in 1942 with a single tree at the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.) in the Hyde Park neighborhood.  Today, Christmas Around the World features a 45-foot Grand Christmas Tree surrounded by a forest of more than 50 smaller trees representing holiday traditions from cultures around the globe.  Also snow falls from the rotunda approximately every 30 minutes while live holiday performances fill the room on weekends!  And there’s even more to explore while you’re there: Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, the Henry Crown Space Center, ToyMaker 3000: An Adventure in Automation, and much more!!  It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that brings a whole world of joy under one roof!

For those who were unable to partake in the pre-holiday festivities around town, you’re in luck!  ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, The Polar Express at Union Station, and Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo are all available through the end of the year for you to complete your holiday fun!!

As part of the lead up to the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins on New Year’s Day, the NHL is hosting a three-day fan festival, the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Park at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) in The Loop.  From December 29-31, fans will be treated to family-friendly interactions and experiences, autograph sessions with former Blackhawks and Boston Bruins greats, giveaways, food, live music from three Chicago-based bands, and an appearance by the Stanley Cup!

Meet People Chicago is hosting the only Saturday night (8:00 p.m.) Pre-NYE Masquerade Party at Chicago Lincoln Park’s newest and most intriguing bar, King of Cups (2238 N. Lincoln Ave.).  Come dressed to impress as prizes will be awarded for best male and female masque.  Admission includes entry, a complimentary drink, drink specials, and plenty of socializing!

Not a big fan of celebrating on New Year’s Eve?  Well how about celebrating on one of Anita Dee Yacht Charters’ Eve of the Eve Cruises on Sunday from DuSable Harbor (200 N. Breakwater Access) in The Loop.  Enjoy skyline views as well as live DJs and cocktails available for purchase!  Cruises are from 6:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m. (boarding 5:45 p.m.) and from 10:30 p.m.-2:00 a.m. (boarding 9:45 p.m.).  There’s even a cruise on Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.!

For families who wish to close out the year with their kids, here’s a link to Kids’ New Year’s Eve in Chicago!

And for adults who wish to ring in 2019 at a hot party, here’s a link to Chicago’s 2018 New Year’s Eve Party Guide!

2018 – The End!!

Mortgage Versus Rent: What’s the Real Difference?

Whether you rent or own, you still have monthly expenses to pay in exchange for a place to live. That said, there are clear differences between paying a mortgage versus paying rent every month. But while rent may often be the more affordable and easier option for paying for a home, mortgages can sometimes be the better route to take.

There are definitely perks to each, and one may be better than the other for different people. The decision between one and the other comes down to a number of factors, such as your financial situation, your lifestyle, and the market where you live.

If you’re currently trying to decide whether to rent or buy, consider the following differences between a mortgage and rent.

Ability to Remain on Site For the Long Haul

If you’re paying a mortgage, you’re in charge. You own the place, and as such, it’s completely up to you whether or not you decide to stay put for the long term or choose to sell and move at your discretion.

If you rent, however, you’re always at the mercy of your landlord. Of course, your lease is a legal document that does not permit your landlord to force you to move out with little notice before the expiry date arrives, unless you have breached the contract.

But once your 12 months are over, your landlord has the right to request that you move out if they follow the landlord-tenant rules in your jurisdiction. That means you could find yourself looking for a new place to live, even though you may have enjoyed where you were living.

Freedom to Move at Will

On the flip side to what was just discussed, renting provides you with much more freedom and flexibility when it comes to moving. While you still have to honor the 12-month lease stipulation (unless you have a valid reason to move out sooner), vacating a rental unit and moving to another is a lot easier and filled with less red tape compared to having to sell a home and buy a new one.

If your lifestyle is rather transient or you’re simply not the type to be tied down to any particular place, then renting might be a better option. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t sell whenever you’d like to. But renting certainly makes these transitions much easier.

Tax Deductions

While part of each mortgage payment goes towards paying down the principal portion of the mortgage, a big chunk also goes towards interest. That can add up to a lot of money being dished out to the lender by the time the loan is fully paid off.

But as frustrating as it can be to pay interest every month, homeowners can take advantage of certain tax breaks that come with homeownership, and one of these perks is deducting the interest portion of their mortgage payments. This can help to reduce the overall cost at the end of the year. In the majority of cases, rent is not tax deductible, which means you could owe a lot more in taxes compared to having a mortgage.

Credit Boost

Having a mortgage – and being responsible with it – can help to improve your credit score and keep it up there. As long as you make your mortgage payments on time every month, your credit score will be affected positively. Lenders report mortgage payments to the major credit bureaus that will then note your activity on your credit report.

While paying rent on time every month could potentially help with your credit score, this will only be the case if your landlord reports your activity to the credit bureaus, which they’re not obligated to do.

Upfront Expenses

There are very few up-front costs to renting, aside from providing first and last months’ rent and buying a few pieces of furniture. But buying a home requires a lot more in out-of-pocket expenses in comparison.

Taking out a mortgage typically requires any of the following:

  • Down payment
  • Appraisal fees
  • Underwriting fees
  • Lender fees
  • Title insurance
  • Home inspection
  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI)

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere between 2% to 5% of the purchase price of your home when you buy. These are costs you won’t have to worry about with rent.

Increase in Monthly Payments

Both renting and paying a mortgage can come with the risk of an increase in monthly payments. If you rent, your landlord can increase the rent every year, as long as they follow the protocol for rent increases in your jurisdiction.

But mortgages can also increase. If you take out an adjustable-rate mortgage, your payments can fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate. That said, if you have a fixed-rate mortgage, the payments will remain the same until the mortgage is renewed.

Additional Costs

In addition to mortgage payments, there are a number of other costs associated with owning that you wouldn’t have to worry about with renting. For instance, maintenance, repairs, property insurance, and property taxes are costs that you have to deal with that renters typically don’t pay.

Equity Accumulation

A mortgage payment gives you the opportunity to build equity in your home. Equity is the difference between the value of the home and what you owe on the mortgage. With each payment you make, the equity in the home builds, as long as the property doesn’t depreciate in value. You can then use that equity (once a certain amount is built up) to be used to cover the cost of home improvements, consolidate debt, or for other major expenses.

Rent does not provide such an opportunity. You need to keep on paying rent month after month without seeing any fruits of your labor. On the plus side, however, you can use whatever money you save from not having to pay for ongoing costs associated with homeownership to invest in other vehicles that can help you build wealth over time.

The Bottom Line

While mortgage payments or rent payments are necessary to cover the cost of living, they’re certainly not the same. Both come with their own benefits and drawbacks, and the decision you make between paying rent versus a mortgage will depend on a number of things, including your financial position and your desire from freedom versus stability.

CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park, Chicago Loop, Andersonville, Portage Park

Lakeview: Haven’t solidified your New Year’s Eve plans yet? Ring in 2019 at ComedySportz Theatre! There are 3 shows- at 5 pm, 7 pm, and 10 pm. General admission tickets are $35. Tickets include the 90-minute show, a countdown to midnight (for London at the 5 pm show, Reykjavik at the 7 pm show, and Chicago at the 10 pm show), a champagne toast, a fabulous photo booth, and candy! To purchase tickets in advance, click here.

Lincoln Park: Join Chicago-based singer, songwriter, and preschool music teacher Jeanie B for sing and dance along FUN! “Sing-Along with Jeanie B” is at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum this Saturday, December 29 from 11 to 11:45 am. Jeanie’s musical styles range from rock and folk to classic country, blues, bluegrass, and Bossa Nova/jazz- sure to get you and your kiddos singing and dancing! The sing-along is free with admission to the museum. Museum tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children’s ages 3-12, and free for children under 3. Members are free every day. For more information, check out the museum’s event page.

Bucktown and Wicker Park: Spoil yourself for the end of 2018! Join Violet Hour for Cocktails 101: End of Year Splurge Edition! On Sunday, December 30 from 1-3:15 pm, Violet Hour is celebrating the end of a year of cocktail classes in style by dressing up their classic Cocktail 101 class. This class has something to offer for both novice cocktail-makers and those who may have already taken a 101 class. Enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon with one of VH’s professional mixologists as you sip and dive deeper into these delicious selections. For more information, click here.

Chicago Loop: Get your kids ready for some magic with The Wizard School Scavenger Hunt! Families with kids 10 and up will go in search of art echoing characters, places, and enchanted objects from the Harry Potter books and movies at the Art Institute of Chicago. On Saturday December 29 from 1-3 pm, be prepared to track down flying owls, Hagrid-like giants, centaurs and unicorns akin to those from the Forbidden Forest, dragons seemingly straight out of the Triwizard Tournament, and eerie figures similar to Death Eaters and Dementors. Adult tickets are $26 and children tickets are $18 (both include museum admission). For more information and to purchase your tickets, click here.

Andersonville: Want to get a little crafty this weekend? Mark your calendars for the Handcrafted Beginners Jewelry Making Class with Gemology + Color Theory. This Saturday, December 29 from 2:30 to 4:30 pm, you’ll learn the basics of jewelry making; including how to use jewelry tools, some gemology facts, the meaning of color, and tips on color combination. The class is open to anyone 15 years of age and up. Tools and materials are provided. The session is $45. To book your tickets now, click here.

Portage Park: Is Winter Break starting to drag? Bring your kiddos to the Austin-Irving Branch of the Chicago Public Library on Thursday January 3 from 1-2 pm for LEGO Builders Club! All Legos are provided- just bring your kiddos and their imaginations for an afternoon of building! This event is recommended for ages 5 and up. Click here for more information.


Restaurant Review – Pasta Al Gusto

This week took me to the most charming lunch spot, Pasta Al Gusto. Located at 3737 N Southport Avenue, this gem is tucked right next to the popular Music Box Theatre. We came in at about 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon for a late lunch. They have an awesome lunch special- just $8.99 for your choice of a salad, panini, or pasta dish. After perusing the menu, I decided to go with the Italian Meatball Panini lunch special: three giant homemade meatballs with sweet green peppers and fontina cheese on a fresh Italian roll, served with a side of tomato marinara sauce. This was fantastic! The roll was marvelous, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. They weren’t kidding when they said the meatballs were gigantic! The sandwich was absolutely huge, I definitely could have split with another person. The flavor of the meatballs was delicious and I loved the combination of the hot, melted cheese and sweet green peppers. My best friend ordered the Maccaroni al Formaggio: macaroni and cheese made with asparagus, onion, and sun-dried tomatoes, garnished with toasted bread crumbs. This was wonderful as well! It was so cheesy, but the fresh vegetables gave it more crunch and body. My other friend ordered the Rotini al Gusto: rotini pasta with grilled chicken, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, basil, and pecorino cheese topped with a cream sauce. It’s hard to choose, but this may have been my favorite dish I tried! I loved the grilled chicken and the cream sauce was fantastic. I will definitely be back to try more things here!

Pasta Al Gusto is closed on Mondays. They are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 am to 11 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 10 pm. They deliver and provide catering services. For more information, check out their website.


Kathy’s Home & Garden Tips – Change Your Life in this New Year

New Year’s Eve is coming next week. Everyone will be in a rush to decide what their “New Year’s Resolutions” will be. For many people, that means getting a gym membership. But they usually give up before January ends. Salad bar business and veggie sales skyrocket. Steps are counted on the Christmas Fitbits. It doesn’t really matter if it’s weight loss or getting up earlier to get a jump on your day, usually these resolutions end before the month is out. What you need is a concrete plan for your goals.

First, stop calling them resolutions. They are goals and it can take the entire year to accomplish them. You are looking at making a life change. Always make goals that are achievable yet challenging. Saying you want to lose fifty pounds by spring is not doable and you will get frustrated quickly. However, about pound a week is the safest way to lose weight. Plan both business goals and personal ones. Business goals can range from starting earlier in the day to taking classes to go for a promotion. Personal goals can be financial like paying your bills on time or planning a date night with your significant other.

After your goals are set, you need a roadmap. What can you start to do to achieve your goals? Even small changes will make a difference. Add five thousand steps a day; it’s easier than you think. Not used to exercise? Walk for ten minutes, then increase by a few minutes a day. Buying expensive coffee every day? Make it at home, then treat yourself to a coffee out once a week. Decide what milestones you want to meet every month or every quarter. Check your goal path weekly to make sure you are on track. Sometimes we need to reevaluate our goals or adjust them as life happens.

It’s fun to include the family in your goals, but don’t expect everyone to be on board. You can do what you need to do without company, but it is surely helpful to have support while working to improve yourself. But you are working on yourself- so look for support elsewhere if it’s not coming from home. Find a partner with similar goals or support groups online.

A word on “dieting” with children in the house, especially girls. Girls are concerned with body image at an increasingly young age. A poll showed the vast majority of 7 year-old girls would rather get hit by a bus than be called fat. The word diet should not be used around kids. The goal is getting healthy. If some weight is lost too, that’s great! A young girl with a parent claiming they’re always on a diet can give young kids an unhealthy attitude about food.

So make a plan, get going on those goals, and look forward to the new year!


9 Surprising Things That Can Affect Your Credit Score

Thinking of applying for a mortgage any time soon? If so, you’d be well-advised to get your finances in order, and that includes ensuring that your credit score is up to par.

You certainly don’t want to be missing any debt payments, which is an obvious way to pull your credit score down. But there are plenty of not-so-obvious ways that could negatively impact your credit score without you even realizing it. Here are a few surprising things that can put in a ding in your credit score.

1. Having No Loans

This might sound counter-intuitive, right? After all, isn’t the goal to be completely debt-free? While you certainly don’t want to be drowning in debt, having no debt at all might actually not be such a positive thing for your credit score. That’s because your credit score is based on your financial activity, including your ability to keep up with debt payments. But if you have no debt to pay off, the credit bureaus will have nothing to go on in terms of calculating your credit score.

Credit scoring systems tend to boost credit scores for consumers who have a diversified portfolio of debt. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should go out and apply for a bunch of loans, as this can have a negative impact on your credit score. That said, having a few debts on the books can be a good thing for your credit score if you’re keeping up with your payments.

2. Unpaid Child Support

If you are responsible for paying child support, make sure not to miss a payment. Any unpaid child support can be reported to the credit bureaus. If that happens, your credit score will certainly suffer. 

3. Unpaid Utility Bills

If you have a habit of missing payments to the gas or electric company, you could suffer a lot more than just having your lights shut off. If the credit bureaus get wind of your missed payments, your credit score could take a dip.

4. Only Spending Cash

There’s nothing wrong with spending cash, especially if you want to keep your credit card utilization down (more on this later). It’s also a great way to avoid increasing your debt. But spending cash exclusively might not actually be a good thing for your credit score.

After a few months of not using a credit card, your credit card issuer could stop reporting your activity to the credit bureaus, which can lower your score. You can effectively prevent this from happening by using your credit card once in a while just to show your credit card company that you’re still active with your credit and are responsible with your payments.

5. Unpaid Parking Tickets

Finding a parking ticket on your dashboard can be incredibly frustrating, but you still have to pay it. If you neglect to pay it or wait too long to deal with it, the municipality in which the ticket was issued will likely get collections after you.

If this happens, you run the risk of such a situation being noted on your credit report, which can then have a negative effect on your credit score. Not only that, but collections accounts can stay on your credit report for years before being dropped off.

6. Closing Old Accounts

Paying off a high credit card balance is a commendable feat, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily close that account after you’ve reached that goal. Although paying down debt can be a good thing, closing an account might not be. In fact, closing old accounts can reduce your credit history, which is a bad thing for your credit score.

Instead, keep your accounts open, even if you’ve paid them off. And if you think that you’ve got too many accounts, consider closing the newer accounts and leave the older ones open.

7. Requesting a Change on Your Credit Card Terms

Whether you ask your credit card issuer to reduce your interest rate or increase your credit limit, such changes could impact your credit score. That’s because your credit card provider will likely pull your credit report to make sure that such changes are justified according to your credit health. Every time a lender or creditor pulls your credit report, a “hard inquiry” will be noted, which can pull down your credit score.

It should be noted that asking for a credit limit increase can be a good thing. That’s because it can reduce your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of revolving credit that you currently use divided by the credit you have available to you. A low credit utilization ratio is typically a good thing for your credit score, but just be wary that such a request can temporarily affect it in a negative way.

8. Not Paying Library Fines

A few dollars owed in library fines might not sound like a big deal, but if the library decides that you’ve waited too long to pay, they could call a collections agency to get on you to pay up. If that happens, it could be reported on your credit report and your score can be pulled down.

9. Being Late on Rent Payments

Like any other bill, your rent needs to be paid on time every month. If not, you could suffer a reduction in your credit score if your landlord decides to call a collections agency to come after you. This delinquency can the stay on your credit report for a few years, which can not only affect your credit score, but it can also make it harder for you to land another rental in the future.

The Bottom Line

The best way to keep your credit score healthy is to understand exactly what things can give your score a boost and what can drag it down. Once you know what can affect your score – both positively and negatively – you can be more prudent about maintaining a healthy score in order to boost your odds of securing a mortgage with rates and terms you can be comfortable with.


All set in Chicago – bring on Christmas!  Well, most of us are set.  But for those who aren’t and need to do their holiday shopping this last weekend before Christmas – good luck!!  The rest of us will kick back and enjoy some holiday entertainment!!!

For families looking for a fun outing that captures the spirit of the season, then Miracle on 34th Street: A Radio Play is just the ticket.  It’s the story of an overworked Macy’s Department Store public relations executive and the young daughter she raises to be “too realistic” to believe in Santa Claus.  However, this story is delivered as an old-time radio play complete with onstage sound effects by The Artistic Home (1376 W Grand Ave) on the Near West Side this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.!

Another family-friendly outing is The Annoyance Christmas Pageant this Saturday (7:00 p.m.) and Sunday (3:00 p.m.) at The Annoyance Theatre (851 W. Belmont Ave.) in the Lakeview neighborhood.  This annual Christmas Pageant features a retelling of two classic holiday stories:  A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!  The all-new cast gives these classic holiday T.V. specials a hilarious spin appropriate for little ones’ eyes and ears!!

Chicago’s favorite holiday tradition returns for another magical season to the Goodman Theatre (170 N. Dearborn St.) in The Loop with A Christmas Carol starring Larry Yando as Scrooge!  Performances are Saturday (2:00 p.m./8:00 p.m.) and Sunday (6:30 p.m.).  It’s an iconic tale of a greedy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by four ghosts who take him on a spectacular adventure through his past, present, and future, helping him…. well, if you want to know what happens, go make lasting holiday memories with family & friends at A Christmas Carol!

Waltzing Mechanics is thrilled to be back “decking the halls” of The Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Lincoln Ave.) in the Lincoln Park neighborhood this Saturday (3:00 p.m./8:00 p.m.) with their special holiday edition of EL Stories: Holiday Train.  Featuring true stories of CTA experiences and Yuletide cheer, EL Stories is a tradition celebrating one of the Chicago Transit Authority’s most beloved institutions!  Not only will you have a great time at this critically acclaimed hit but it’s sure to spread some holiday cheer!!

Laugh along with The Second City (1616 N. Wells St.) in the Old Town neighborhood as comedy’s best and brightest roast the chestnuts out of all the things we lovingly loathe about the holiday season in The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly Sweater!  Performances are Saturday (4:00 p.m./8:00 p.m./11:00 p.m.) and Sunday (4:00 p.m./7:00 p.m.).  It’s enough merriment and music to get you jolly for the holiday season!!

For mature elves only, the Santaland Diaries is brimming with the wicked humor of Sedaris this Saturday (4:00 p.m./8:00 p.m.) and Sunday (2:00 p.m./7:00 p.m.) at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theater (170 N. Dearborn St.) in The Loop.  An actor, who is strapped for cash at holiday time, takes a job as “Crumpet the Elf” at Macy’s Santaland with his hilarious observations that are more naughty than nice!!

And finally, for those of you who are on Santa’s Naughty List this year, join Bub City (435 N. Clark St.) in the River North neighborhood this Saturday (9:00 p.m.-3:00 a.m.) for its annual Bad Santa Christmas Party!  Besides $5 Old Fashioned drinks, spiked cider, and boozy hot cocoa, there will be live music, giveaways, and photos with Santa himself!


7 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score Before Buying a Home

When it comes to buying a house and getting a mortgage, you need to be in healthy financial shape. And part of being financially sound is having a strong credit score. Your credit score says a lot about you, at least as far as how strong your financial history is.

Without a decent credit score, getting approved for a mortgage will prove to be a challenge. Lenders use your credit score to assess how risky you would be as a borrower. A score on the lower end of the spectrum will tell lenders that you’ve got a less-than-perfect financial past that may be littered with missed payments, too many opened credit accounts, and potentially a judgment.

But just because your credit score might be a little on the lower end doesn’t mean you’re completely out of the running for a mortgage. What you need to do is take some steps to improve your score so that lenders will look more favorably on you.

If you have a little bit of time to spare when it comes to buying a home, consider hunkering down and making an effort to inch your credit score back to where it can be. This will make securing a mortgage much easier.

Here are a few ways to improve your credit score before making a home purchase.

1. Check Your Credit Report For Errors

One of the first things you should do to improve your credit score is pull your credit report and look for any mistakes. You can obtain a copy of your report for free every 12 months from one of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Knowing what’s on your credit report is important to ensure accuracy.

It’s not uncommon for there to be errors on credit reports, many of which can pull your credit score down. Many of these mistakes can be serious enough to flag identity theft.

By law under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus have an obligation to investigate any potential mistakes. They must also drop off certain negative information – such as bankruptcy or other judgments – after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

If you find any mistakes, be sure to have them reported and fixed. This step alone can help your score improve.

2. Pay All Your Bills on Time

One of the biggest reasons why consumers suffer from a low credit score is because of missed payments. Debt payments that are 30 to 60 days late get reported to the major credit bureaus. Any notes about late or missed debt payments on your report weigh heavily on credit scores and can cause them to drop significantly.

From here on out, it’s crucial that you remain diligent about making debt payments on time every month if you’re trying to improve your credit score. Just as powerful as missing payments may be to your credit score, so is making timely payments. So make sure you pay all your bills on time and in full each billing cycle to help give your credit score a boost.

3. Only Buy What You Can Afford

This goes without saying, but keeping your expenditures to well within what your finances can comfortably handle is of paramount importance. Credit cards might be handy tools, but spending more than you can afford can land you in hot water if you’re unable to pay your bills because of your lavish spending habits.

Try to avoid making large purchases shortly before trying to get approved for a mortgage and buying a house, and don’t spend any more than you have to. At least until you’ve been approved for a mortgage, try to keep your spending under control. Doing so will help ensure you’ve got the funds available to pay all bills on time every month.

4. Pay Down High-Interest Debt First

If you’ve got high outstanding loan amounts that are being charged high-interest rates, consider focusing on these debts and make every effort to pay them down. Every month, you’re wasting a lot of money paying interest on outstanding debt. Paying down your debt should be part of your game plan, and paying down high-interest debt first should be your main focus.

Credit cards tend to be among the highest-interest debt that consumers have to deal with, which typically come with interest as high as 25% and higher. Paying a few hundred dollars towards a credit card bill that’s being charged 20% interest will have a more significant effect than putting that same money towards a debt load that’s being charged 5%. 

5. Keep Your Credit Card Debt Down

Every credit card holder is given a specific credit limit that they can spend up to. But just because you’re technically allowed to spend up to your limit doesn’t mean you should. The amount you spend relative to your credit limit is what’s known as your “credit utilization” and plays a big role in your credit score.

If your credit utilization ratio is high, your credit score can suffer. Ideally, you should be spending no more than 30% of your credit limit, though less is certainly better. If your credit card debt is high, focus on paying it down to lower your credit utilization ratio and improve your credit score.

6. Don’t Close Out Old Credit Accounts

You might think that closing out unused debt accounts is a good thing for your credit score. But you could be wrong. Sure, negative items are no good for your credit score, but they’ll typically be dropped off your report after an average of seven years. But working to get old accounts off of your credit report because they’re paid off might not necessarily be a good thing.

Any old debt that you’ve already paid off can be considered good debt, especially as it ages. A long history of good debt is good for your credit score. So leave the old debt on your report as long as possible.

7. Don’t Take Out New Loans

Taking out more loans that you should only adds to your debt load, which is never a good thing right before applying for a mortgage. Not only will you be making it more difficult to add another debt payment into the mix in the form of a mortgage, but you’ll also potentially be causing your credit score to dip.

Every time you apply for a loan, the lender will want to check your credit score. When this happens, your credit report will have a “hard inquiry” noted on it. Hard inquiries can pull your credit score down, so to avoid this from happening to you, don’t apply for any new loans so close to applying for a mortgage.

The Bottom Line

Your credit score is a very important little number that plays a critical role in your ability to secure a mortgage. If it’s not as high as it could be, now’s the time to get serious about making the necessary improvements. Not only will a better credit score increase your odds of mortgage approval, but it will also help you get a lower interest rate and better terms that will make paying your mortgage a lot easier.

CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Lincoln Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park, Lakeview, River North, Lincoln Square, Oak Park

Lincoln Park: Celebrate your New Year’s in style at the J. Parker rooftop! Enjoy panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the downtown Chicago skyline. This year’s theme is Purple Rain- so get ready to party like it’s 1999! Tickets are $125 and include a premium open bar from 9 pm to 1 am, passed appetizers, desserts, late night snacks, a midnight champagne toast, and 80s and 90s jams spun by DJ Kareem! Purchase your tickets here now.

Bucktown and Wicker Park: Ring in your New Year’s with a Black Tie Bash at The Violet Hour! This party will be elegant, delicious, luxurious, and fun. There are two seating options available! The first is for the Early Birds from 6 to 8 pm for $15. Skip the line and guarantee your seat with purchase of this ticket! In addition to guaranteed seating, this ticket comes with a New Year’s punch or a champagne cocktail slushy. Cocktails from Violet Hour’s curated New Year’s Eve menu of favorites (both past and present) are available for purchase a la carte. The second seating is from 9 pm to 1 am and tickets are $150. Guests can select their own seats from a floor plan and drink unlimited cocktails from the special New Year’s Eve menu. Complimentary food will also be available with the second seating. For more information, check out Violet Hour’s event page.

Lakeview: Need another kid friendly way to celebrate the New Year? How about with the Blue Man Group?? There will be four performances on Monday, December 31. The kid-friendly performances are at 1 and 4 pm. The festivities include pre-show face painting, hats, and noisemakers for the audience, and a special performance of “Auld Lang Syne” by the Blue Men. The 7 pm show offers festive party hats and a champagne toast. After the 10 pm show, there will be a midnight champagne toast, confetti drop, and another performance of “Auld Lang Syne”. Tickets are available online.

River North: Ring in the New Year at River North’s trendiest location- Spin Chicago! This subterranean ping pong warehouse boasts music, art, and culture- with enough space to show off your dance moves and your serve. Your NYE package includes a four-hour premium drink package, upscale appetizer stations, complimentary ping pong, a live DJ, interactive photo opportunities, and a champagne toast at midnight. Doors open at 8 pm, the party package begins at 9 pm and ends at 1 am, and the venue closes at 2 am. Find more information and buy your tickets here.

Lincoln Square: Tired of the same old New Year’s Eve parties? If you’re looking for something different this New Year’s, try Brew Year’s Eve! This is a craft beer centric New Year’s Eve party at the Architectural Artifacts building on Ravenswood, just steps away from the Montrose brown line. Your Brew Year’s Eve ticket includes access to ten Chicagoland breweries serving 25 different craft beers. There will be live music, passed appetizers, and many unique photo opportunities! There will also be 5 signature cocktail drinks and a wine bar. Tickets are $135 and are available for purchase here.

Oak Park: Every year, Wonder Works Children’s Museum hosts the largest family New Year’s Eve party in Oak Park! And this year is no exception— it’s going to be bigger and better than ever! There will be special games, crafts, noisemakers, parades, singing, food, and so much more. Admission is just $2 per person for Wonder Works members and $10 per person for non-members. The party is on Monday, December 31 from 12 noon to 5 pm. Keep up to date on the event’s Facebook page.