5 Good Reasons to Tap Your Home Equity

496065-570x225-2Lenders want you to borrow against your home equity again. The question is, should you?

Rising home values and a sluggish mortgage market mean banks are once more marketing home equity lines of credit. Last year, lenders handed out $156 billion in HELOCs, a 24% rise from a year earlier and a 138% rise from 2010.

HELOCs are typically a cheap source of credit, with current rates averaging less than 5%. (Here’s how to pick the right HELOC lender.) But borrowing against your home equity can be risky. Rates are typically variable, and payments can balloon after the initial interest-only period ends. A recent uptick in second mortgage delinquencies is being driven by an 87% jump in missed payments from loans made in 2005 that just ended their 10-year interest-only period, according to Black Knight Financial Services, which tracks mortgages.

In my latest for NerdWallet, when it makes sense to tap your home equity.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

how_to_build_an_emergency_fundToday’s top story: How two extra years in college could cost you close to $300,000. Also in the news: How a financial advisor can help with life insurance, tips for paying off student loans if you didn’t finish college, and why 66 million Americans don’t have an emergency fund.

2 Extra Years in College Could Cost You Nearly $300,000
An incentive to graduate on time.

How a Financial Advisor Can Guide Clients’ Life Insurance Decisions
Seeing the bigger picture.

Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans if You Didn’t Finish College
Strategic repayment could save you money.

66 Million Americans Have No Emergency Savings
A recipe for disaster.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

18ixgvpiu0s24jpgToday’s top story: How to save on your cellphone bill when moving. Also in the news: how to survive a job loss, why millennials aren’t in a rush to buy a home, and why you shouldn’t wait to tackle your debt.

Moving? One Simple Change Could Save You Money on Your Cell Phone Bill in a New State
Taxes and fees vary from state to state.

How to Survive a Job Loss
Getting through a financially difficult time.

Are Millennials the Renter Generation?
Not rushing to buy a home.

Don’t Wait Until Your Debt Starts Hurting to Begin Tackling It
The sooner the better.

Q&A: Pros and cons of refinancing college loans

Dear Liz: We took out parent PLUS loans to finance our two sons’ college tuition at private universities. We’ve received solicitations from a private lender offering to refinance. What are the pros and cons of doing so?

Answer: It rarely makes sense to replace federal student loans with private loans because the federal version comes with low rates, numerous repayment options, many consumer protections and the possibility of forgiveness. You lose all that when you refinance with a private loan.

Parent PLUS are a different story, however. Not only do they have higher rates (6.84% currently versus 4.29% for direct loans to undergraduates), but PLUS loans have fewer repayment options and no forgiveness.

If you have good credit and a solid employment history, you could dramatically lower your interest rate by refinancing with a private lender. Variable rates start at some lenders start under 2%, and fixed rates start under 4%. If you can’t pay the balance off within a few years, a fixed rate is probably your best option since rising interest rates could otherwise boost your payments.

A few private lenders even offer the option to have your child take over by refinancing your PLUS loan into his or her name.

You can shop for offers at Credible, a multi-lender online marketplace.

Q&A: How to start saving

Dear Liz: I have credit card debt, federal student loans and a car loan. I’m trying to save for a house, but I also know I should save for retirement. How do I figure out what to tackle first?

Answer: If you have a 401(k) with a match at work, take advantage of it first. That’s free money that typically equals an instant 50% to 100% return on your contributions. Then pay off the credit card debt. You normally don’t need to be in a rush to pay off federal student loans. Your car loan is probably OK to pay off as scheduled too, assuming you got a decent interest rate.

After the credit card debt is vanquished, beef up your savings. Eventually you’ll want a separate emergency fund, but for the moment you can earmark the money for your down payment, knowing you can raid it in an emergency.

If you don’t have a 401(k) match or even a workplace plan — about half of workers don’t — you should still save something, but your priority will be to pay off the credit cards as fast as you can. Once that’s done, you can open a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. The traditional IRA will give you a tax break, but withdrawals will be taxed and may be penalized. If you contribute to a Roth, you don’t get to deduct your contribution but you can withdraw your contributions at any time without taxes or penalties. This makes a Roth a kind of emergency fund-slash-house fund. Ideally, you would leave the money alone until retirement, but it’s good to have a Plan B until you can build up your emergency and down payment funds elsewhere.

Q&A: How long should you keep paperwork about an estate?

Dear Liz: My mother-in-law died 11 years ago and had money everywhere. Thus, I have five drawers full of paperwork. With the exception of the IRS documents, I would love to throw everything out (shredded, of course). How long do I need the paperwork?

Answer: Two of the biggest risks to a settled estate are an IRS audit and challenges from unhappy heirs or creditors.

State laws limiting such challenges differ quite a bit, so you might want to talk to the attorney who helped you handle the estate to make sure you’re out of the woods. If there’s any doubt, you can always scan documents before you shred them so that you have an electronic record.

If it has been more than seven years since the estate and final income tax returns were filed, an audit is highly unlikely. It’s not a bad idea to hang onto tax returns indefinitely, though. Again, supporting documentation can be shredded, although you may want to scan a copy first if you’re nervous about discarding anything.

All this assumes that the estate was properly settled — that your mother-in-law’s property was inventoried, creditors paid and distributions made according to her will if there was one or state law if there wasn’t. If the proper steps weren’t taken to legally close the estate, you’ll want to talk to an attorney immediately about how to set things right.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

bankruptcy_formToday’s top story: How to find a bankruptcy attorney. Also in the news: What consumers need to know about annuities, signs you need a new financial advisor, and what millennials should know about life insurance.

How to Find a Bankruptcy Attorney
Making the right selection.

What Consumers Need to Know About Annuities
Combining life insurance with investment.

7 Signs You Need a New Financial Advisor
When it’s time to go in another direction.

The First 4 Things Millennials Should Know About Life Insurance
Thinking long term.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

help-parents-manage-moneyToday’s top story: The problem with how whole life insurance is sold. Also in the news: How to save money on your commute, debt snowball vs debt avalanche, and how to stop senior citizen financial scams.

This Is What’s Wrong With How Whole Life Insurance Is Sold
Don’t get talked into pricey policies.

Save Money on Your Commute With This Often Overlooked Employee Tax Benefit
Turning your commute expenses into work expenses.

Debt Snowball Or Debt Avalanche: How To Eliminate Credit Card Debt
Which method is best for you?

5 Ways to Stop Senior Citizen Scams
Protecting your loved ones.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to determine what your car payment should be. Also in the news: Itemizing vs. standard deductions, what to do with old electronics, and quirky ways to save money this summer.

How to Decide What Your Car Payment Should Be
Determining what you can afford.

How to Decide on Itemizing vs. the Standard Deduction
Deciding which deduction works best for you.

What to Do With Old Electronics
Clearing your personal information.

17 Quirky Ways To Save Extra Money This Summer
No-money Mondays!

Why You Still Can’t Trust Your Financial Advisor

2If you haven’t already, expect to hear from your financial advisor soon about a great new investment opportunity for your IRA.

The reason: There’s a loophole in a strict new rule that requires advisors to act in their clients’ best interests when counseling them about retirement funds. That loophole allows advisors to continue lining their pockets at the expense of yours until the federal rule takes effect April 10, 2017, and even beyond.

In my latest for NerdWallet, find out why the Labor Department has had enough.