While cash-strapped homeowners sometimes struggle to make ends meet, our real estate has seemingly morphed into the local bank. We can tap into our home equity for everything from cars to vacations to college funds. Though tapping into your home’s value is one of the smartest ways to borrow money, there are still drawbacks.Drawing on your home’s equity is often suggested by financial advisers who show that the tax-free interest you pay on a home loan is much lower than what you’d pay on mounting credit card or consumer debt. However, it’s possible to overdo it.While there’s no law that says you have to pay off your mortgage before your retirement, it’s not always pleasant being left with home equity debt once you’ve stopped working. On the other hand, if you retire with a healthy nest egg and lots of home equity, you’ll limit your major expenses and have cash to fall back on.The best way to access home loan financing while still retaining your retirement savings is to time the loan appropriately. Basically, you want to tailor the loan’s end date to coincide with your expected retirement. You can shorten a loan’s length significantly simply by adding $100 or $200 to your monthly payments.Extra payments can also mean major returns. For example, let’s say you take out a home equity loan with a 7 percent interest rate and you’re in the 27 percent income-tax bracket. After you figure in your mortgage-tax deduction, you’ll still bring in a 5.11 percent return just by making extra principal payments.On top of added returns and despite rising interest rates and retirement risks, home equity loans are still more advantageous than other forms of credit. They offer quick access to funds at a cost that’s at least 5 percent less than a traditional low-interest credit card. In addition, that interest is often tax-deductible.Before you commit to a home equity loan, you ideally want to have owned your home long enough to build up equity, not be planning to move soon, have a stable employment situation and actually need the money that a home equity loan can give you. If you’re using the funds to pay off credit card debt, don’t let your consumer debt run back up during the ten or so years it will take you to pay back your equity loan.Finally, make sure you can afford the monthly payments. Any borrowing, especially on a home, needs to be part of a total household plan and worked within your family’s budget.
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