Home equity loans have become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years as home values have soared and home equity has rapidily and seemingly effortlessly accumulated. It has become common place for home owners to pull substantial equity out of their homes by using a home equity loan.
Perhaps it has become a bit too easy. Folks who use the equity in their homes to boost their living standards may well be setting themselves up for an eventual unpleasant day of reckoning.
If due to some unforeseen family economic disaster there is a loss of income and the family can’t manage their loan payments there is the risk of losing what is probably their most valuable asset — their home sweet home.
There are times when the use of a home equity loan is justifed and prudent. Perhaps you need the funds to put your children through college. The home equity loan may be the lowest cost funds available.
Perhaps you want to start your own business. The profit potential looks to be exceptional. You feel very confident that your proposed busines will be a success.
There are times when one has to go for it. If the equity in your home can provide the required capital at the lowest cost, well, get on with it.
Generally, the worst use for the additional funds provided by a home equity loan would be to purchase consumer goods that lose a big percentage of their value as soon as they arrive at your home. Forget about buying that new expensive flat screen TV or new big boat if you have to take money from your home to make the purchase.
Another real danger is to use a loan to live well beyond your means. You can burn up a lot of money by taking great vacations to exotic locations around the world and by going out to eat expensive dinners at classy restaurants a few times a week. But once you have consumed your equity you are going to have to go through a painful readjustment process.
It is important to remember that a home equity loan is like any other loan. The lender fully expects you to pay it back with interest. Frequently a lot of interest. As you reach retirement age the equity you took out of your home may well be money that you wish you had left intact.
For most folks, saving money is not nearly as much fun as spending. Using your home equity to go on a spending spree can be tempting. But paying off your home mortgage over time while letting equity accumulate rather than frequently tapping into your home equity like an ATM machine will let you live a lot more comfortably in your retirement years.
This is especially true if like most Americans you haven’t been able to stash away very much cash over your working years.
There are always exceptions to any general rule (Rule: retaining equity in your home is best) and some uses of a home equity loan may well be sound. As long as you don’t get too carried away with your new found “wealth” represented by your increasing home equity and manage to live within your income means you can afford to be flexible in the use of home equity loan funds when an important acceptable use is at hand.
Generally “an acceptable important use” would be to use your home equity to further increase your income with a high degree of certainly that you will achieve a favorable investment outcome, or to take care of a true emergency where life, or the quality of life, is more important than money.
I would recommend forgetting about tapping into your home equity to take that cruise around the world. The cruise would soon be over but your loan will remain. Counting on an ever increasing home value to replace the equity you consumed by taking the cruise may no longer be wise.
Every boom eventually comes to an end and you should ask yourself how you would cope with a flat or declining real estate market.
Yes, contrary to popular believe, it is possible for real estate prices to decline over long periods of time and they occasionally do. A good cushion of equity in your home provides a lot of comfort in a declining market so treat the acceptance, closing, and drawdown of a home equity loan as an important financial decision.