The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Equity Loans

Let your home put up the cash for its own improvements (but not for that new sports car).

Shutterstock ID 179975591;

Shutterstock ID 179975591;

With home values rising, homeowners who have equity, a much-valued resource, might be tempted to tap some of that wealth and use it for other purposes. But depending on your personal situation and how you’d like to use the equity, it may not necessarily be the right thing to do.

Here’s when a home equity loan, which allows you to use the equity of your home as collateral, makes sense — and when it doesn’t.

DON’T: Fund a lifestyle

Remember a decade ago when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes as if they were bottomless piggy banks to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations, and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.

Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! A home equity loan should be looked at as an “investment,” and not as “extra cash” when making spending decisions.

DO: Make home improvements

The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (for example, you need a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.

Need access to money over a period of time to fund ongoing home improvement projects? Then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go, and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.

DON’T: Pay for basic expenses/bills

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities, and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.

If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.

DO: Consolidate debt

Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers — who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?

Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again, and end up in even worse shape.

DON’T: Finance college

This may seem like an attractive use of home equity for those with college-age children. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.

Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes you longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement, or put you even deeper in debt. Furthermore, as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan. Don’t jeopardize your financial security.

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