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Build savings or pay off debt?

Feb 17, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

Dear Liz: We have about $800 extra each month after paying bills, but we aren’t sure we’re doing the right thing with it. Should we pay down our adjustable-rate, maxed-out home equity line of credit? Or do we put it toward our savings, which has only $5,000 right now?
Answer: Before doing either, make sure you’re saving adequately for retirement. You may be tempted to cut back in this uncertain market, but the costs of retirement are so great that you need to start saving early and not stop if you want to have a sufficient nest egg. Your human resources department at work probably has tools to help you.
If you’re convinced you’re on track there and you don’t have any credit card debt, the next step normally would be paying down that home equity line. In today’s environment, however, you might find your lender lowering your limit as soon as you start to reduce your balance. Rather than freeing up credit that you could use again in an emergency, paying down your HELOC may actually reduce your overall financial flexibility.
This might not be an issue if you have tons of equity. If your current mortgage balance and your line of credit total less than 60% of your home’s current value, you may not need to worry about your lender reducing your credit limit.
If your loans total more than 60%, however, or if housing values are falling fast in your area, consider instead building up your savings.

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