5 Myths Busted About Home Equity Lines of Credit

by Kathy Passman 17. November 2016

5 Myths Busted About Home Equity Lines of CreditIt’s funny how sometimes a myth can be taken as fact if it’s repeated often enough. It can even gain “conventional wisdom” status.                         

Sometimes it doesn’t matter much. It’s pretty harmless to think a tooth will dissolve overnight in a glass of Coca-Cola, and it may do some good if it keeps you away from the sugary drinks. But believing banking myths can hurt your personal finances – and there’s nothing good about that.

For example, a number of myths swirl around home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), and many of these misrepresent what is actually a safe and secure way to borrow money. With a HELOC, you can access a line of low-interest credit secured by your home’s equity – much like you would with a credit card, only the interest payments are tax-deductible and the interest rate is much lower. You should consult a tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest and charges under the plan.

So today we want to take a few minutes to bust a few HELOC myths – and let you know the truth… 

Myth No. 1: You Can Only Use a HELOC to Pay for Home Improvements

It’s true that HELOCs were initially created with home improvements in mind. However, the fact is that you are allowed to use your HELOC to pay for just about anything – from debt consolidation to your children’s college tuition. That said, most advisors think homeowners should use their HELOCs for expenses that add value to your finances. For a list of our own suggestions, click here.

Myth No. 2: A HELOC and a Home Equity Loan Are the Same Thing

With a home equity loan, your lender will provide you with a one-time lump sum. You pay that fixed-interest loan off over time, month by month. With a HELOC, however, the bank extends to you a line of credit that you can draw upon whenever and as often as you like, within your draw period. While the interest rate is generally low (much lower than that of a credit card), it fluctuates along with the prevailing rate.

Myth No. 3: A HELOC Will Hurt Your Credit Score

On its own, a HELOC won’t do anything to your credit score. It shows up to credit scorers no differently than a credit card. But just as with any other debt you incur, late payments on your loan or maxing out your HELOC may affect your credit score. It’s wise to ensure that you do not advance your line over the approved credit limit as this also would reflect on your credit report.

Myth No. 4: You Can Pay Off Your HELOC by Making Minimum Monthly Payments

With most HELOCs, if you make only the minimum payment each month, you’ll only cover the interest. Once the “draw period” – the five- to 10-year stretch of time when you can use your HELOC – ends, the principal starts becoming due. Depending on how much you’ve used, that can be a lot of money. So the best strategy, much like with a traditional credit card, is to make much more than the minimum payment each month.

Myth No. 5: HELOCs Are Difficult to Get

Taking out a HELOC is not risk-free. But if you use your HELOC conservatively and pay more than the minimum due each month, it is among the best loan options out there.

If you’re ready to apply for a HELOC, or for more information, please contact us.

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How to Pay for It: Home Equity Line of Credit vs Other Options

by Kathy Passman 12. October 2016

How to Pay for It: Home Equity Line of Credit vs Other OptionsWe’ve all heard the stories about people, before the 2008-’09 financial crisis, using their homes as “ATMs.” I’m talking about homeowners using the equity in their homes to pay for luxuries – jewelry, vacations, even cosmetic surgery.                          

We were talking recently about his relationship with his bank. And when I asked him what questions he asks whenever he’s vetting a new bank, his answer intrigued me.

That’s poor financial management, and a lot of those folks got themselves in real trouble.

Today, most homeowners seem to have learned that lesson. I rarely hear about abuse of home equity lines of credits (HELOCs) or home equity loans anymore. Instead, when homeowners do take out a HELOC, too many of them use it solely as an emergency fund.  
 
But this approach many not be the wisest choice for your money, either. There is, in fact, a middle ground between abusing the credit your home equity affords you and using it wisely.

What Is a HELOC?

A HELOC is different from a home equity loan, in which you get a lump sum amount, then pay it back according to a schedule. A HELOC makes a percentage of your home’s value available for five to 10 years, and its interest rate adjusts with the market (meaning they’re usually very low). When it expires, you only pay for what you’ve used – then it disappears with no additional expenses.

But, like a home equity loan, any interest you pay on a HELOC is treated like mortgage interest, which means it’s tax-deductible. Remember to consult your tax advisor when it comes to tax-deductibility.

Any loan or line of credit carries some risk, and a HELOC, for which you use your home as collateral, is no different. But if you are savvy and conservative, a HELOC is a safe and secure way to pay for a number of life’s major expenses. Let’s take a look at a few of them…                               

College Tuition

Because the interest rates are usually lower than those on student loans, using a HELOC to pay parts of your child’s college tuition could be a good option. Compare interest rates and closing costs to see if a student loan or a HELOC is cheaper for you.

Home Improvements

HELOCs were designed to be used for home repairs and renovations. And that’s still the primary reason homeowners take them out. However, we recommend you use a HELOC primarily on improvements that increase a home’s value. That way, any interest you pay will return to you when you sell your home.

A HELOC is also good for financing essential repairs that may not raise the value of your home but will upgrade its safety and/or structural integrity. In this case, I’m talking about fixing a leaking roof or replacing faulty wiring. 

For other home improvements, such as interior design and landscaping, tap your cash savings (though not your emergency fund). Or, put it on your credit card and pay it off at the end of the month. That way you can insure the equipment you buy — and pick up some points. 

Emergency Fund

Everyone should keep an emergency fund to cover unexpected health bills, car repairs, and home repairs. Where you keep that emergency fund depends on your situation and financial philosophy. Some people believe that any money that isn’t “working for them” is useless. They keep their emergency fund in an easily accessible interest-paying savings account.

However, the interest rates on savings accounts are pretty measly these days. And so, you might be better off piling most of your cash into a stock market index fund. It’s not very sexy, but it earns more than a savings account. Then, use your HELOC as your emergency fund.

Consolidating Debt

Besides what you pay off at the end of every month, do you have any credit card debt? If so, get rid of it. Use your cash to pay off what you can, and then pay down as much as you can of the rest using a HELOC. Home equity lines of credit charge much less interest than credit cards, so you’ll be saving money. Plus, unpaid credit cards hurt your credit score and, therefore, your chances of getting loans in the future.

If you consolidate debt using a HELOC, you’ll get out of debt faster thanks to those lower interest rates. Plus, you’ll essentially be paying yourself rather than Visa or MasterCard.

If you’re ready to apply for a HELOC, or to talk more about the best ways to use a HELOC you already have, please contact us.



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