Soaring real estate values mean many homeowners are awash in equity — the difference between what they owe and what their homes are worth. The average-priced home is up 42% since the start of the pandemic, and the average homeowner with a mortgage can now tap over $207,000 in equity, according to Black Knight Inc., a mortgage and real estate data analysis company.
Spending that wealth can be tempting. Proceeds from home equity loans or lines of credit can fund home improvements, college tuition, debt consolidation, new cars, vacations — whatever the borrower wants.
But just because something can be done, of course, doesn’t mean it should be done. One risk of such borrowing should be pretty obvious: You’re putting your home at risk. If you can’t make the payments, the lender could foreclose and force you out of your house.
Also, as we learned during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, housing prices can go down as well as up. Borrowers who tapped their home equity were more likely to be “underwater” — or owe more on their houses than they were worth — than those who didn’t have home equity loans or lines of credit, according to a 2011 report by CoreLogic, a real estate data company.
Other risks are less obvious but worth considering.
You may need your equity later
Many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and may need to use their home equity to avoid a sharp drop in their standard of living. Some will do that by selling their homes and downsizing, freeing up money to invest or supplement other retirement income.
Other retirees may turn to reverse mortgages. The most common type of reverse mortgage allows homeowners 62 and up to convert home equity into a lump of cash, a series of monthly payments or a line of credit they can use as needed. The borrower doesn’t have to pay the loan back as long as they live in the home, but the balance must be repaid when the borrower dies, sells or moves out.
Another potential use for home equity is to pay for a nursing home or other long-term care. A semi-private room in a nursing home cost a median $7,908 per month in 2021, according to Genworth, which provides long-term care insurance. Some people who don’t have long-term care insurance instead plan to borrow against their home equity to pay those bills.
Clearly, the more you owe on your home, the less equity you’ll have for other uses. In fact, a big mortgage could preclude you from getting a reverse mortgage at all. To qualify, you either need to own your home outright or have a substantial amount of equity — at least 50% and perhaps more.
You’re deeply in debt
Using your home equity to pay off much higher-rate debt, such as credit cards, can seem like a smart move. After all, home equity loans and lines of credit tend to have much lower interest rates.
If you end up filing for bankruptcy, though, your unsecured debts — such as credit cards, personal loans and medical bills — typically would be erased. Debt that’s secured by your home, such as mortgage and home equity borrowing, typically isn’t.
Before you use home equity to consolidate other debts, consider talking to a nonprofit credit counseling agency and to a bankruptcy attorney about your options.
What you’re buying won’t outlive the debt
It’s rarely, if ever, a good idea to borrow money for pure consumption, such as vacations or electronics. Ideally, we should only borrow money for purchases that will increase our wealth: a mortgage to buy a home that will appreciate, for example, or a student loan that results in higher lifetime earnings.
If you’re planning to borrow home equity to pay for something that won’t increase in value, at least ensure that you aren’t making payments long after its useful life is over. If you’re using home equity to buy a vehicle, consider limiting the loan term to five years so that you’re not facing big repair bills while still paying down the loan.
Home equity loans typically have fixed interest rates and a fixed repayment term of anywhere from five to 30 years. The typical home equity line of credit, meanwhile, has variable rates and a 30-year term: a 10-year “draw” period, where you can borrow money, followed by a 20-year payback period. You typically are required to pay only interest on your debt during the draw period, which means your payments could jump substantially at the 10-year mark when you start repaying the principal.
This leads to a final piece of advice: With interest rates on the rise, consider using a home equity loan or line of credit only if you can repay the balance fairly quickly. If you need a few years to pay back what you borrow, getting a fixed interest rate with a home equity loan may be the better way to tap equity now.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
Can You Refinance a Car Loan More Than Once?
You can refinance your car as often as you can find a lender willing to approve a new loan, but finding a lender to refinance again and again could be difficult.
When you refinance, you’re replacing your current car loan with a new one — almost always with a different lender. Since most lenders won’t refinance their own loans, you’d likely need to get approval from a new lender each time.
Also, the most common reasons for refinancing a car loan are to save money, lower the monthly payment or pay off the loan sooner. Once you’ve refinanced to meet one or more of these goals, it may not be easy finding another loan that provides any additional benefit.
Reasons to refinance a car loan more than once
Throughout the life of your auto loan, you may experience different situations when refinancing makes sense — leading you to refinance more than once. Here are some examples:
To replace a dealer’s high interest rate. Maybe you financed your car at a dealership and realized the next day that you could qualify for a lower rate. If you have solid credit, you likely can find a lender to refinance your loan to a lower rate right away, or as soon as they can obtain the vehicle’s title.
To take advantage of your improved credit. If your car loan has a high interest rate because of previous credit problems or no credit history, and you’ve made on-time loan payments for six to 12 months, you might now be able to qualify for an auto refinance loan with a lower rate.
Because you need a lower monthly car payment. If your financial situation has worsened — for example, you changed jobs and took a cut in pay — you might need to refinance to a longer loan term for a lower payment that you can afford.
Why refinancing a car over and over can be a bad idea
Before you refinance your car multiple times, be aware of some potential disadvantages.
Paying more than you save. Refinancing is applying for a new loan, which can come with loan origination fees, lender processing fees and title transfer fees. Occasionally, you could have prepayment penalties for your current loan. And if you extend the loan term, you’ll likely increase the amount of interest you pay overall. So before you refinance, consider whether the benefits outweigh your total cost.
Lowering your credit score. Each time you get approved for a new auto refinance loan, the lender runs a hard inquiry on your credit report, which causes a slight, temporary drop in your credit score. In most cases, your score rebounds in a few months, but it’s still something to consider if you plan to apply for any other types of loans during that time.
Owing more than your car is worth. If you keep refinancing your car to a longer term, you can become upside down on your car loan. While you’re taking extra time to pay off your car, it’s most likely depreciating in value, and at some point, you may owe more than you could get for the car if you decide to sell it or if it’s totaled in an accident.
Also, most lenders have vehicle age and mileage limits for refinancing, so if you keep extending the loan on an older car, it could become ineligible for refinancing.
Finding a lender to refinance again
Many lenders are hesitant to refinance a car that has already been refinanced many times. They perceive repeated refinancing as a sign that a borrower may be struggling to repay the loan or having other financial issues — especially if they’ve used cash-back auto refinancing more than once. Even if a lender approves another loan for refinancing, the loan may be considered high risk and come with a much higher interest rate.
Whole Life Insurance Definition
Whole life insurance is a popular type of permanent coverage. It can last your entire life, has a guaranteed death benefit and provides guaranteed cash value growth. Whole life is more expensive than term life insurance, which covers you for a fixed number of years only and doesn’t build cash value.
Definition of whole life insurance
Whole life is a type of permanent life insurance. It pays out regardless of when you die and includes cash value — an investment component. When the policy has built enough cash value, you can withdraw or borrow against the funds while you’re still alive. Unlike other types of permanent coverage, the cash value in a whole-life policy is guaranteed to grow at a set rate.
Whole life insurance premiums stay the same throughout the length of the policy and the death benefit is guaranteed. If there are no outstanding cash value loans or withdrawals when you die, your life insurance beneficiaries receive the full death benefit.
If you want permanent insurance without the bells and whistles, whole life may be a good fit. However, due to its guarantees, the cost of whole life insurance is typically higher than that of other permanent policies.
Whole-life policy features: Definitions
Guaranteed death benefit: The death benefit for whole life insurance is guaranteed; it won’t decrease or change over time as long as you pay your premium. Though whole-life policies are considered lifelong, many mature upon the insured person reaching a certain age, such as 100. When the policy matures, the death benefit is paid to the policyholder or coverage can be extended until the insured’s death. Therefore, even if you outlive the policy’s maturity date, the death benefit is guaranteed to pay out.
Guaranteed cash value: The cash value in a whole life insurance policy is guaranteed to grow at a fixed rate set by the insurance company. A portion of your insurance premium funds the policy’s cash value, which grows over time. You can withdraw or borrow against the funds while you’re still alive. But keep in mind that withdrawing or borrowing against the policy’s cash value without paying it back can reduce the death benefit — the amount your beneficiaries receive when you die.
Fixed premiums: Whole-life premiums are typically fixed, which means they remain level throughout the length of the policy. If you miss a premium payment, your coverage can lapse. In some cases, funds from the cash value can be used to cover the missed premium. But this perk may not apply to all policies.
Dividends: When you buy a whole life insurance policy from a mutual company — one owned by its policyholders — you may receive dividends if the company performs well. Dividends typically aren’t taxed as income. Depending on the terms of your policy, you may be able to use the dividends to increase the death benefit or pay your premiums.
More about whole life insurance
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Compare life insurance
When shopping for life insurance quotes, make sure to:
Compare quotes from various insurers to get the best price possible.
Select life insurance policies with the same level of coverage to get the most accurate comparison.
Check the features of each life insurance policy you compare. Some policies may include free life insurance riders that provide additional features, while others may have to be added at a cost.
When you’re assessing life insurance companies, look at these three factors:
Financial strength ratings. These determine an insurer’s ability to pay out claims in the future. You can check out insurers’ financial strength through ratings agencies such as AM Best or Standard & Poor’s. NerdWallet recommends choosing insurers with an AM Best rating of B+ or higher, if possible.
Complaint ratios. Ideally, you want to choose a company with a strong track record for customer service. NerdWallet’s life insurance rating methodology favors companies that have fewer complaints to state regulators.
Policy options. Not all companies sell the same types of policies, and some focus on specific products, such as life insurance policies for children. Narrow your choices by reading life insurance reviews and knowing the type of coverage you want before you begin comparing life insurance quotes.
How to apply for a life insurance policy
When you’ve found the right life insurance policy, it’s time to apply. Collect the information you need before you start the life insurance application process. You’ll likely need to provide details about your current and past health conditions, as well as your family’s health history. The insurer may need your consent to get medical records and ask you to take a life insurance medical exam. Insurers also check other sources, such as MIB Group, which collects data on medical conditions, your driving record and hazardous hobbies.
When you choose life insurance beneficiaries — the people who will receive the payout when you die — be sure you have their Social Security numbers and dates of birth. You may also have to answer questions about criminal convictions and driving violations, such as a suspended driver’s license or DUI, particularly if they happened within the past few years.