Real Estate Equity – Investment Capital, Debt Consolidation or a Retirement Nest Egg?

There is a significant interrelationship between personal investment planning, credit purchasing and real estate ownership. On the face of it that may seem obvious, but the complexity of the interrelationship bears some scrutiny.

During the last quarter of the 20th century there was an amazing proliferation of the use of credit card purchasing. Credit card purchasing continues to gain use as a means for medium term financing for larger household needs, as well as, a means to spread over time individual fluctuations of income and other changes in the economy. Unfortunately, many Americans caught up in the economic prosperity of the several past decades have used credit cards to amass debt beyond or challenging their ability to repay.

It has been over two decades since Congress removed from the federal income tax code the ability to deduct interest payments on most credit/debt instruments “except” home mortgages. This Congressional enactment immediately catapulted the home mortgage market to the forefront. Suddenly, 2nd home mortgages and complete home refinancing became an attractive tax-incentivized debt consolidation tool. Of course, the financial sense of using a home mortgage for debt consolidation depends on several key factors. Among them is the rate of interest in the home mortgage marketplace, personal circumstances and a willingness to trade short-term debt for long-term debt on the prospect of real estate appreciation.

There continues to be substantial debate regarding the financial sense of maintaining equity in a home. In the simplest terms the two sides of the issue are:

Equity in a home can be put to better use. Essentially this means home equity that could be turned into cash should be invested in financial instruments that will outpace appreciation in the value of the home. This assumes that home equity cash can be put to more effective financial use. Second home or investment property purchases, tuition for education and high interest credit card debt are the more common uses of cash out refinancing or second mortgage financing and can all be considered a more effective application of equity depending upon circumstances.

* Conversely, as the home loan is paid down and home value appreciation develops the equity that builds eventually becomes a retirement nest egg. A debt free home is can represent utopia for those entering their retirement years.

As the debate goes on, the truth of the matter is that the best approach depends on factors such as economic climate, personal timing, property value appreciation and personal investment discipline.

Then there are the tax issues that play into nearly all financial decisions. As previously noted, home mortgages and second mortgages are tax deductible. This factor can be a significant decision point. The interest paid to the lender, as part of a mortgage payment, is deductible from federal and most state income taxes. Lenders provide notification of the amount of interest paid on a home mortgage during the tax year, and that amount may be itemized as a “qualified residence interest” deduction on federal, state and local income tax returns. The interest deduction is applicable to debt assumed for home ownership up to $ 1 million. The deduction applies to first and second mortgages, as well as, other debt instruments used to finance a primary residence.

Debt that is assumed for any purpose, but financed through a home loan, is also deductible so long as the amount of indebtedness does not exceed the lesser of $100,000 or the fair market value of the home.

Refinancing an existing mortgage to release equity without the additional benefit of an interest rate reduction may not be the most frugal approach. As with any mortgage there are specific closing costs associated with the transaction that is mostly based upon the amount of the loan. Conversely, a second mortgage for the purpose of extracting equity would normally create a much smaller loan and consequently lower closing cost.

When considering a second mortgage there are two distinct structures that normally come into play. The “Home Equity Line of Credit” generally offers a low interest initial interest rate and only requires the payment of the accumulated interest each month. The advantage of this structure is that it is a line of credit with a limit and the consumer only pays interest on the amount actually used. The risk factor is that it is a floating interest rate adjusted to a particular financial index such as “prime” or “cost of funds”. The option less adventurous borrowers elect is the standard fixed rate second mortgage amortized over 15, 20, or 30 years.

Regardless of the structure of the loan current lending criteria will likely restrict the amount of the mortgage to 80% “combined” loan to value (CLTV). This means that the maximum amount borrowed including the existing first mortgage cannot exceed 80% of the value of the property as determined by the lender’s evaluation.