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Making an Offer on a Short Sale? What You Need to Know

Are you looking to buy a new home? Are you thinking that now’s a great time to find bargains? Before you make an offer, it pays to know a little about the seller’s situation.

If a home is being sold for below what the current seller owes on the property—and the seller does not have other funds to make up the difference at closing—the sale is considered a short sale. Many more home owners are finding themselves in this situation due to a number of factors, including job losses, aggressive borrowing against their home in the days of easy credit, and declining home values in a slower real estate market.

A short sale is different from a foreclosure, which is when the seller’s lender has taken title of the home and is selling it directly. Homeowners often try to accomplish a short sale in order to avoid foreclosure. But a short sale holds many potential pitfalls for buyers. Know the risks before you pursue a short-sale purchase.

You’re a good candidate for a short-sale purchase if:

  • You’re very patient. Even after you come to agreement with the seller to buy a short-sale property, the seller’s lender (or lenders, if there is more than one mortgage) has to approve the sale before you can close. When there is only one mortgage, short-sale experts say lender approval typically takes about two months. If there is more than one mortgage with different lenders, it can take four months or longer for the lenders to approve the sale.
  • Your financing is in order. Lenders like cash offers. But even if you can’t pay all cash for a short-sale property, it’s important to show you are well qualified and your financing is set. If you’re preapproved, have a large down payment, and can close at any time, your offer will be viewed more favorably than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.
  • You don’t have any contingencies. If you have a home to sell before you can close on the purchase of the short-sale property—or you need to be in your new home by a certain time—a short sale may not be for you. Lenders like no-contingency offers and flexible closing terms.

If you’re serious about purchasing a short-sale property, it’s important for you to have expert assistance. Here are some people you want to work with:

  • A qualified real estate professional.* You may have a close friend or relative in real estate, but if that person doesn’t know anything about short sales, working with him or her may hurt your chances of a successful closing. Interview a few practitioners and ask them how many buyers they’ve represented in a short sale and, of those, how many have successfully closed. A qualified real estate professional will be able to show you short-sale homes, help negotiate the purchase when you find the property you want to buy, and smooth communications with the lender. (All MLSs permit, and some now require, special notations to indicate that a listing is a short sale. There also are certain phrases you can watch for, such as “lender approval required.”)
  • Title officer. It’s a good idea to have a title officer do an initial title search on a short-sale property to see all the liens attached to the property. If there are multiple lien holders (e.g., second or third mortgage or lines of credit, real estate tax lien, mechanic’s lien, homeowners association lien, etc.), it’s much tougher to get that short sale contract to the closing table. Any of the lien holders could put a kink in the process even after you’ve waited for months for lender approval. If you don’t know a title officer, your real estate attorney or real estate professional should be able to recommend a few.

Some of the other risks faced by buyers of short-sale properties include:

  • Potential for rejection. Lenders want to minimize their losses as much as possible. If you make an offer tremendously lower than the fair market value of the home, chances are that your offer will be rejected and you’ll have wasted months. Or the lender could make a counteroffer, which will lengthen the process.
  • Bad terms. Even when a lender approves a short sale, it could require that the sellers sign a promissory note to repay the deficient amount of the loan, which may not be acceptable to some financially desperate sellers. In that case, the sellers may refuse to go through with the short sale. Lenders also can change any of the terms of the contract that you’ve already negotiated, which may not be agreeable to you.
  • No repairs or repair credits. You will most likely be asked to take the property “as is.” Lenders are already taking a loss on the property and may not agree to requests for repair credits.

The risks of a short sale are considerable. But if you have the time, patience, and iron will to see it through, a short sale can be a win-win for you and the sellers.


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Get a VA Home Loan in 5 Steps

Buying a home can seem like an intimidating process. But it really doesn’t have to be.

That’s especially true for service members and veterans using the VA home loan program. From start to finish, the VA loan process has at its heart only a handful of steps.

To be sure, there are plenty of small but important details, from credit scores and sufficient income to the condition of the property. But buying a home using your hard-earned VA loan benefits doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience.

In fact, the big-time financial benefits of VA loans help scores of veterans who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for home financing achieve the dream of homeownership.

Let’s take a closer look at the five basic steps of the VA loan process.

Prequalification

The first step is the most basic, but it’s an important place to start. Prequalification typically takes about 10 minutes or less. A lender will ask for your permission to access your credit reports and then give you a clear sense of where you stand.

VA lenders are generally looking for a credit score of at least 620, although the benchmark can vary. That’s a considerably lower score than military borrowers will need for conventional financing.

In addition to learning about your credit profile, lenders during prequalification will look to get a better feel for your homebuying goals and objectives. They’ll ask about your income and your employment and try to identify any potential red flags at the outset.

The goal is to get you moving on to the second step — VA loan preapproval.

Preapproval

Compared to prequalification, loan preapproval is more involved process. Lenders will want to get a much closer look at your financial situation and your ability to handle a mortgage payment. They’ll also start developing a paper trail.

You’ll fill out documents and paperwork, and lenders will start working to verify your income and other important information. The end result should be a preapproval letter that details how much a lender is willing to loan, provided certain conditions are met.

Preapproval letters are increasingly important in today’s housing market. Real estate agents and home sellers expect to see these letters included in an offer. In fact, some listing agents won’t accept offers on a home without a copy of your preapproval letter.

To be sure, getting preapproved for a VA loan doesn’t guarantee you’ll ultimately get it. There are still a handful of things that need to happen before you ultimately get the green light.

But VA loan preapproval is a key step in the process. Like prequalification, it’s also non-binding, which means you can seek preapproval from multiple lenders.

Getting Under Contract

Once you’ve got a preapproval letter, it’s time to start the house hunt. Finding a real estate agent who truly understands the VA loan program can make a tremendous difference for military borrowers.

VA loans are specialized loans that require specialized knowledge. The VA has its own Minimum Property Requirements that homes must meet. Real estate agents who know the program can help ensure veterans are focusing on move-in ready homes that are a good fit for this long-cherished home loan benefit.

Once you find a home you like, you’ll work with your agent to craft a purchase offer. In addition to no down payment and no mortgage insurance, VA loans also limit what borrowers can pay in closing costs. It’s common for VA borrowers to ask a seller to pay most, if not all, of their closing costs as part of the negotiation process.

The result of negotiations with a seller should result in a contract that makes sense for both parties.

Appraisal & Underwriting

As soon as you’re under contract to purchase a home, your lender will order the VA appraisal on the property. The appraisal has two main components — determining the fair market value for the home and making sure it meets the VA’s property requirements.

VA appraisals are typically completed and back to the lender in under 10 days. Your lending team will be working in the background to pull together additional documents and paperwork before getting your loan file in front of an underwriter.

The underwriter will review the loan file and alert the loan officer if there are any shortcomings or additional information needed. It’s important for borrowers to fulfill these requests as quickly as possible.

If things go well, the underwriter will review everything and issue a “clear to close,” which means you’re ready to head to closing day.

Closing

Closing day brings paperwork, a lot of signatures and finally celebration!


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Auto Insurance Myths Exposed

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

  • The color of the car affects my insurance rate. Not true. Rates are based on safety features, the cost of replacements or repairs and other factors the driver brings to the table. So paint your ride any color you like.
  • I have no-fault insurance so that means it’s not my fault. Duh! Wrong. No-fault insurance means you only deal with your insurance company, regardless of who is at fault.
  • My friend wrecked my whip, so his insurance will cover it. Nope. The policy follows the car, not the driver. Think twice before lending out yours
  • A ticket means my rates will go up. Not necessarily. If it was for something minor and it’s your first, the rates might not increase. Maybe slow down, and take a defensive driving course.
  • I already have auto insurance, so my new car is automatically covered. Seriously? A shiny new car needs a shiny new policy.

 


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8 Budgeting Tips for Military Families

From credit card debt to frequent moves, military families face financial challenges that have unusual dimensions from civilian families. Here are tips that will help your family save and budget for your daily life and your long-term goals. By tracking your spending and creating habits to contribute towards retirement, you’ll be prepared to budget like an expert and save like a boss.

Track Your Spending

Many people say that they don’t know where their money goes. Empower yourself by tracking where your money is being spent. Whether you keep track of your spending by writing down your expenditures, keeping a spreadsheet, or using a website that tracks all of your accounts, it’s important to know where your money is going. Once you know, it’ll make it a lot easier for you and your family to plan and budget for the future.

Get Rid of Your Debt

Military families are more likely than civilian ones to carry significant credit card debt, as they have unique challenges. All of those moves can definitely add up! Some military families also have student loan debt, which can affect your credit score. So what to do? Make it a regular habit to pay off a portion of your credit card debt beyond the minimum payment. If you can pay off even an additional $25 or more per month, your debt will steadily decrease.

Pay Your Savings First

Savings often come in last when you’re budgeting, after bills and expenses. Let’s turn this around. When you’re budgeting, make sure you factor in your savings as though it was a bill. After you’re paid, “pay” your savings account instead of waiting to put in what’s left over.

Build an Emergency Fund

The best thing you can do for you, your family, and your peace of mind is to build an emergency fund. That way you can roll with the rainy days when they inevitably come. As with paying your savings first, make paying your emergency fund first a priority. Most experts recommend saving at least 3-6 months worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, try to get to $1,000 first, and you’ll have a buffer.

Creating Habits with Automatic Deductions

Dealing with personal finance requires discipline. Make it easier on yourself through automatic deductions. To really get your savings and emergency fund going, set up separate accounts outside of your main checking account. Then, have regular amounts automatically deducted from your paycheck. Let’s say you automatically deduct $50 a week into a savings account. By the end of the year, you’ll have $2,600. Not bad for $50 that you probably wouldn’t even miss.

Live Off Of Last Month’s Paycheck

Once you’ve built an emergency fund of 3-6 months, you’re ready to level up to the next part, which is living off of last month’s paycheck. The way to do this is to save the equivalent of one month’s paycheck outside of the emergency fund or your savings. You don’t need to do it all at once, as building up that amount will take time. But once you do, you won’t be living paycheck to paycheck. For more information about how to make this work for you, read this article.

Contribute to the TSP

With automatic enrollment and simple choices regarding investments, the Thrift Savings Plan has been called “a model for all 401(k) plans.” Compared to civilian 401(k) programs, the costs of administering the plan are much lower since the investments are all index funds that track the market rather than being actively managed. That results in greater savings that are passed directly to you. Since all members of the armed forces can contribute, start now if you haven’t already. Even if retirement is a long ways away, the long tail of compound interest means you’ll be very grateful to your younger self for making such a sensible decision.

Take Advantage of Military Benefits

Being in the military comes with many great benefits, from free healthcare to discounts to the GI bill. Make sure you know what kind of benefits come with being in the military. Start here with our section covering benefits in depth so you and your family can start investing in your financial futures


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What Homeowners Insurance Does Not Cover

A homeowners insurance policy offers basic protection from the most common disasters. But because it’s built with the average American household in mind, your policy might not account for some risks associated with your location or cover all your possessions.

Floods

Flood insurance is mandatory when you have a mortgage on a home in a high-risk flood area. Even if you live outside a high-risk area, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll never experience a flood. In fact, nearly 20% of flood insurance claims come from areas of moderate to low risk, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. Whether it’s a flash flood or just a few inches from a storm, water can cause massive damage to your home and belongings. If you’re not financially prepared, the effects can be devastating. The National Flood Insurance Program has joined with insurers to offer flood insurance. Premiums, which vary depending on where you live, start at just $129 a year.

Earthquakes

Basic homeowners insurance policies don’t offer earthquake coverage. Fortunately, in many states, special earthquake coverage can be added to your policy.

Anyone who has seen the aftermath of an earthquake understands the devastation one can cause. The extensive shaking and cracking can demolish entire buildings, destroying your home and possessions. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, consider strengthening your policy with this coverage.

Home Businesses

Your homeowners policy provides limited coverage for business equipment. Also, you are not covered for liability related to your home business — if, for example, someone gets food poisoning through your catering business or if a student visiting your home trips and breaks an ankle while leaving a piano lesson. If you run a business from home or have expensive office equipment, you may need additional coverage.

Valuable Personal Property

Homeowners policies can offer sufficient coverage for most personal property, but there are limitations. Valuable personal property insurance can take over where homeowners policies leave off. VPP insurance can provide coverage for losses due to fire or theft. It also covers damage or if an item gets lost — say a stone falls out of a ring or the ring falls down the drain. If you own valuable items such as artwork, jewelry, musical instruments, firearms, furs or silver, consider obtaining a VPP policy.

Broader Personal Liability

Homeowners policies offer limited coverage for liability protection. Given the litigious world we live in, an umbrella insurance policy can provide additional peace of mind. An umbrella policy helps protect you and your earnings if someone, such as a baby sitter or handyman, is injured at your home. It also helps provide protection if you (or a family member) are found liable in a serious automobile accident.

This type of insurance can provide extended liability coverage beyond your home and auto policies. Consider shielding your personal financial assets with additional liability insurance.


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Use your VA loan benefit

No down payment, lower credit score – get approved anyway. Take a second look at this surprising program

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Air Force Tech Sgt. Rhonda Stockstill and her husband, Lendle, in front of the home they bought with a VA loan. (Scott Schaefer)
After a tornado ripped through Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rhonda Stockstill’s house in Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013, she and her husband began the hunt for a new home, thinking they would go through their previous lender to get another VA home loan. That lender told them they would be better off going with a conventional loan that would saddle them with a $160,000 down payment and closing costs. The mortgage company “was making us jump through hoops. We were really discouraged,” Stockstill said. After about four months of trying to work with the previous lender, Stockstill found another, Veterans United, which helped the couple secure a Veterans Affairs-backed loan within about 30 days, with a far lower down payment and a lower interest rate than what their previous lender had quoted. The VA home loan program has guaranteed more than 20 million VA loans in the 70 years since its creation. Numbers fell during the middle of the last decade, coinciding with the rise in conventional loans to people who would not be approved now. But since the subprime mortgage bubble burst and credit rules have tightened across the industry, VA loans are back on the rise. In 2013, VA guaranteed the highest number of loans in the program’s history — 629,312. Yet it’s clear that there are misperceptions about the program. Son Nguyen, who heads the nonprofit Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals, notes that there are 1.9 million active VA-guaranteed loans, but more than 1 million troops and 22 million veterans are eligible. Conventional loans may make more sense in certain circumstances, says Chris Birk, Veterans United’s director of VA loan education — like if you have excellent credit, sizable assets and plenty of cash for a 20 percent down payment. But the reality is, for many service members, the VA home loan program is the most advantageous, Birk said — a benefit that can save money for military and veteran homeowners. And its features were designed not only to put veterans in a home, but to make sure they can repay the mortgage and stay in it, said Mike Frueh, director of VA’s Loan Guaranty Service. What’s more, VA has improved the program to make its part of the loan process faster, easier and more transparent. Like the Stockstills, some veterans encounter lenders and real estate agents who try to steer them away from their VA home loan benefit, for a variety of reasons, many of which are misperceptions. Some reminders, little-known facts and tips: ■ Active-duty troops as well as veterans who have left the service qualify, regardless of whether they served in combat. About 17 percent of VA loans went to active-duty troops in 2013. ■ The benefit never expires and can be used multiple times. ■ The VA home loan is the only major type of loan that does not require a down payment as long as the sale price doesn’t exceed the appraised value; 89 percent of VA loans are made without a down payment. In essence, the VA’s guarantee takes the place of a down payment. ■ The program doesn’t require private mortgage insurance, an extra monthly expense when a borrower is not making a down payment of at least 20 percent. A down payment of 20 percent on a $200,000 loan would be $40,000. “By not spending that $40,000, veterans have money in their pockets to take care of unforeseen circumstances,” Frueh said. ■ Veterans usually can get their VA Home Loan Certificate of Eligibility within seconds at www.ebenefits.va.gov. But the lender often can do that for you. In 2013, 463,303 electronic certificates of eligibility were issued. ■ VA does not require a minimum credit score. Instead, the requirements are based on whether a borrower can repay the loan. However, lenders do impose additional requirements for credit scores. “Our minimum credit score is typically 620,” said Veterans United’s Birk. “Generally speaking, 620 is a pretty good barometer. That falls into the ‘fair’ [category], which is a step below ‘good.’ And it’s about 100 points lower than credit scores needed for a conventional loan.” “There’s great misperception that you need sterling credit to use this program. But it was created to level the playing field,” Birk said – to help veterans who may not otherwise qualify for mortgages. ■ Veterans generally pay a funding fee of 2.15 percent of the purchase price for a VA loan. For example, with no down payment for a $200,000 loan, a funding fee of 2.15 percent equals $4,300. For those who were or are in the National Guard or reserves, the funding fee is 2.4 percent. The fee is reduced for those who make down payments of 5 percent or more. ■ Some VA borrowers don’t pay the funding fee at all. They include veterans receiving VA compensation for a service-connected disability or those eligible to receive it if they weren’t receiving retirement or active-duty pay, and surviving spouses of veterans who died in service or from a service-connected disability. The VA also has limitations on what lenders can charge borrowers for a loan, to make sure the veterans don’t pay unnecessary fees, Frueh said. Conversely, the VA allows a seller to pay up to 4 percent of certain closing costs, including the paying the VA funding fee. ■ VA doesn’t lend money; it guarantees the loans made by about 1,500 commercial entities such as banks, credit unions and mortgage companies, although the top 11 lenders account for about half of all VA loans. Lenders, not VA, set interest rates, discount points and closing costs, and the rates likely vary among lenders. It’s best to shop around. But overall, average interest rates on VA loans trend even a little lower than those on conventional loans, Birk said. ■ VA home loans can be used to buy a home or a condominium unit in a VA-approved project; to build a home; to simultaneously purchase and improve a home; to buy a manufactured home and/or lot; and to make energy-efficient improvements. ■Veterans can use their VA home loan benefit multiple times. ■ The guarantee limits vary depending on the geographic area, based on the median home price. Generally, the limit is $417,000, but can range up to $1,094,625 in higher cost areas. This is not aloan limit — you can buy a more expensive house, as long as you can handle a down payment of 25 percent of the difference. For example, if the guarantee limit in your area is $417,000 and the house you want costs $500,000, it’s yours if you can pay $20,750 — which is 25 percent of the $83,000 diference – as a down payment. ■ The key is to work with real estate agents and lenders who have worked with VA loans. Tell them upfront that you’re a veteran. Ask questions about how many VA loans they’ve worked with. If the agent isn’t experienced and informed, it could cost you money and time, said Lorraine Santirosa, a real estate agent with Keller Williams SD Metro in San Diego. It could cost you time especially in finding a condominium, because condos must be VA-approved, she said, in order for the buyer to qualify for a VA loan. And if a lender doesn’t understand the rules and details of VA loans, “it could cause the deal to fall apart, or put the veteran in a loan at a higher interest rate.” ■ Do your own research at www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans, or call toll free 877-827-3702. For example, one veteran said he was told he had to have $2,000 or less in debt to qualify, but that is not a VA requirement for a home loan. Armed with knowledge, you can shop around for another lender. ■ VA allows veterans to lower their interest rate by refinancing their existing VA home loan, either through their current lender, if that lender agrees, or through any VA lender. ■ VA’s requirements help ensure that veterans have the financial ability to make their payments and stay in their homes — a major reason why VA loans have the lowest foreclosure rate among loan types, including FHA and conventional. Another reason, Frueh said, is that VA has about 150 staff members nationwide “whose sole job is to help veterans who are behind on their mortgage find a way to become current.” Last year, he noted, VA helped almost 74,000 veterans resolve their delinquencies and in most cases, keep their homes.

Financial institutions that did the most VA loans in 2013:

Lender Total loans Loan amount (billions) Average loan amount
1 Wells Fargo Bank 81,424 $16.8 $206,385
2 USAA 44,828 $10.6 $235,382
3 Quicken Loans Inc. 28,305 $5.8 $205,515
4 Freedom Mortgage Corp. 26,928 $6.3 $233,012
5 Mortgage Investors Corp. 26,614 $4.5 $169,720
6 Navy Federal Credit Union 25,991 $6.4 $246,549
7 Fifth Third Mortgage Co. 19,165 $4.4 $227,921
8 Mortgage Research Center 18,679 $3.9 $206,593
9 Bank of America 16,493 $3.3 $201,744
10 JPMorgan Chase Bank 16,445 $3.2 $195,442

Source: Veterans Affairs Department


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10 Back-to-School Deals for Military Families

As summer camps wind to a close and kids make their final splashes at the pool, parents have one thing on their minds: back-to-school shopping.

But when you add up the cost of all the items on your kids’ classroom supply lists, backpacks, clothes and shoes, back-to-school is expensive! The following is a list of discounts to help military families get the kids off to school in style while staying within your budget.

Make sure to visit the Military.com Discounts Center for more discounts and articles. And sign up for the Military Deals and Discounts Newsletter to get even more discounts and information in your inbox on how Military Families can save big.

1. Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade

Operation Homefront is partnering with Dollar Tree to collect school supplies for military children as part of their Back-to-School Brigade. Dollar Tree stores will collect supplies from July 7 to August 14, 2014 and then Operation Homefront volunteers gather and distribute them to military children during the back to school season in August and September. Click here for more information and to find programs in your area.

2. Tax-Free Shopping Days

For a few days each year, some states offer a “sales tax holiday” right around back-to-school time when shoppers can buy specified items tax-free. This is a great way to save on back-to-school necessities like clothes, shoes, and other school supplies. To see if your state participates in the sales tax holidays, click here.

3. Clothing and Accessories

By the time summer is over, the kids have either outgrown all their school clothes or worn them ragged from vacation and camp. Update their wardrobe with new clothes and accessories using military discounts at All American Clothing Co., Banana Republic, Beyond the Rack, Claires, eBags, Fresh Produce, New York and Company, Old Navy, The Buckle and thredUP.

Does your student need new glasses or contacts? NEX Optical Shops are offering an eyewear special until September 16, 2014 when using a MILITARY STAR Card. And GlassesUSA.com offers a military discount, including 30% off all frames.

4. Shoes

No back-to-school wardrobe is complete without new shoes. So take advantage of the military discounts offered by Payless, Nike, Foot Locker, Adidas, Rack Room Shoes, Shoes.com, Stride Rite and Steve Madden.

5. Classroom Supplies

Most schools now expect parents to help stock classroom supplies like pencils, crayons, notebooks, folders, scissors, glue, and binders, as well as necessities like tissues and hand sanitizer. Find these supplies and use military discounts as Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric, CVS andWalgreens.

6. Backpacks and Lunch Bags

Looking for backpacks and lunch bags? Pottery Barn Kids has an adorable collection of both, and they offer a 10% in-store military discount.

7. Tutoring and Test Prep

Does your child need a little extra help with homework and studying?Tutor.com, where expert tutors are online 24/7, offers free tutoring for military families.

Do you have older kids getting ready for college testing? eKnowledge donates their SAT and ACT College Test Preparation Programs to service members and their families. You pay only a minimal price per standard program to cover the cost of materials, processing, distribution and customer service. Click here to learn more.

8. Computers and Electronics

If you’re looking to buy a computer or other necessary electronics, check out the military discounts offered by Dell and Radio Shack.

Need tech support? Geek Squad and My Nerds offer military discounts as well.

9. Wireless Communication

AT&T Wireless, Boost Mobile, ntelos Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon all offer military discounts, so if you’re in the market for new cell phone plans to keep in touch with your active student, you have a great variety to choose from. (Some offer military discounts on devices and accessories as well.)

10. Exchange Price Match Policy

Don’t forget that the Navy Exchange (NEX), the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) and the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) all offer price matching. That means if you see a lower price for the same item at another store, bring proof to the Exchange and you can buy that item for the competitor’s price. Click here for more details.

How do you save on back-to-school items?