Table of Contents

Should I prepay my mortgage?

As a general rule, if you are able to prepay your mortgage (and if there is no penalty for doing so) you should prepay as much as you can every month. Here are some exceptions to the general rule:

  1. You do not have an emergency fund stashed awayóthree to six monthsí worth of expenses. All extra funds should be put towards this cache. You can begin paying down your mortgage afterwards.

  2. You have a large amount of credit card debt. In such case, all of your extra funds should be used to pay down those debts.

There are a few individuals who may be better off not paying down their mortgages, since they will achieve a better return by investing that money elsewhere. Whether an investor fits into this category depends on his or her marginal tax rate, mortgage interest rate, return achievable on an investment, and long-term investment goals.

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When should I refinance my home?

Refinancing becomes worth your while if the current interest rate on your mortgage is at least 2 percentage points higher than the prevailing market rate. Talk to some lenders to determine the available rates and the costs associated with refinancing. These costs include appraisals, attorney's fees, and points.

Once you know what the costs will be, determine what your new payment would be if you refinanced. You can estimate how long it will take to recover the costs of refinancing by dividing your closing costs by the difference between your new and old payments (your monthly savings).

Be aware that the amount you ultimately save depends on many factors, including your total refinancing costs, whether you sell your home in the near future, and the effects of refinancing on your taxes.

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Should I borrow against my securities?]

Borrowing against your securities can be a low-cost way to borrow money. No deduction is allowed for the interest unless the loan is used for investment or business purposes.

Tip Tip: If your margin debt exceeds 50% of the value of your securities, you will be subject to a margin call, which means that you will have to come up with cash or sell securities. If the market is falling at the time, a margin call can cause a financial disaster. Therefore, we recommend against use of margin debt, unless the amount is kept way below 50%. We think 25% is a safe percentage.

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What is a home equity line of credit?

A home equity line is a form of revolving credit in which your home serves as collateral. Because the home is likely to be a consumer's largest asset, many homeowners use their credit lines only for major items such as education, home improvements, or medical bills--not for day-to-day expenses.

With a home equity line, you will be approved for a specific amount of creditó your credit limitómeaning the maximum amount you can borrow at any one time while you have the plan.

Many lenders set the credit limit on a home equity line by taking a percentage (say, 75 percent) of the appraised value of the home and subtracting the balance owed on the existing mortgage. For example:

Appraisal of home $100,000
Percentage x 75%
Percentage of appraised value $75,000
Less mortgage debt -40,000
Potential credit line $35,000

In determining your actual credit line, the lender will also consider your ability to repay by looking at your income, debts, and other financial obligations, as well as your credit history.

Once approved for the home equity plan, you will usually be able to borrow up to your credit limit whenever you want. Typically, you will be able to draw on your line by using special checks.

Under some plans, borrowers can use a credit card or other means to borrow money and make purchases using the line. However, there may be limitations on how you use the line. Some plans may require you to borrow a minimum amount each time you draw on the line--for example, $300--and to keep a minimum amount outstanding.

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What are the costs of obtaining a home equity line of credit?

Many of the costs in setting up a home equity line of credit are similar to those you pay when you buy a home. For example these fees may be charged:

  • A fee for a property appraisal, which estimates the value of your home

  • An application fee, which may not be refundable if you are turned down for credit

  • Up-front charges, such as one or more points (one point equals one percent of the credit limit)

  • Other closing costs, which include fees for attorneys, title search, mortgage preparation and filing, property and title insurance, as well as taxes

  • Yearly membership or maintenance fees

You also may be charged a transaction fee every time you draw on the credit line.

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What is an interest rate "lock-in"?

p align="left"> If you decide to apply for financing with a particular lender, and if you do not want to let the interest rate "float" until closing, get a written statement guaranteeing the interest rate and the number of discount points that you will pay at closing. This binding commitment or "lock-in" ensures that the lender will not raise these costs even if rates increase before you settle on the new loan. You also may consider requesting an agreement where the interest rate can decrease but not increase before closing. If you cannot get the lender to put this information in writing, you may wish to choose one who will.

Most lenders place a limit on the length of time (say, 60 days) they will guarantee the interest rate. You must sign the loan during that time or lose the benefit of that particular rate. Because many people are refinancing their mortgages, there may be a delay in processing the papers. Therefore, contact your loan officer periodically to check on the progress of your loan approval and to see if information is needed.

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What disclosures must a lender give you?

For a financing, the lender must give you a written statement of the costs and terms of the financing before you become legally obligated for the loan, as required by the Truth in Lending Act. You usually will receive the information around the time of settlement, although some lenders provide it earlier.

Tip Tip:Review this statement carefully before you sign the loan. The disclosure tells you the APR, finance charge, amount financed, payment schedule, and other important credit terms.

If you refinance with a different lender, or if you borrow beyond your unpaid balance with your current lender, you also must be given the right to rescind the loan. In these loans, you have the right to rescind or cancel the transaction within three business days following settlement, receipt of your Truth in Lending disclosures, or receipt of your cancellation notice, whichever occurs last.

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What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a type of home equity loan that allows you to convert some of the equity in your home into cash while you continue to own the home. Reverse mortgages operate like traditional mortgages, only in reverse. Rather than paying your lender each month, the lender pays you. Reverse mortgages differ from home equity loans in that most reverse mortgages do not require any repayment of principal, interest, or servicing fees as long as you live in the home.

The reverse mortgageís benefit is that it allows homeowners who are age 62 and over to keep living in their homes and to use their equity for whatever purpose they choose. A reverse mortgage might be used to cover the cost of home health care, or to pay off an existing mortgage to stop a foreclosure, or to support children or grandchildren.

Note Note: Reverse mortgages are now available in every state except Alaska, South Dakota and Texas. But willing lenders may still be scarce in some places.

When the homeowner dies or moves out, the loan is paid off by a sale of the property. Any leftover equity belongs to the homeowner or the heirs.

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What loan interest is tax-deductible?

The deductibility of interest has been limited in recent years. The following types of interest are at least partially deductible:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Business interest
  • Investment interest
  • Education related interest

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What are the limitations on deductibility of mortgage interest?

Generally, interest expense on the taxpayers primary residence and a second (but not a third) home is deductible. Interest is only deductible on the first $1,000,000 of the acquisition loan. As the loan is paid off the limit is reduced. In other words you can not refinance a loan for a higher amount than the current principal balance and increase the deduction. In addition interest on a home equity loan of up to $100,000 can be deducted.

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Is interest expense incurred for business purposes deductible?

Yes. Interest expense incurred for a trade or business is deductible against the income of that business. For example, if your are self-employed the business interest would be deducted on Schedule C.

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Is investment related interest expense deductible?

Yes. Investment interest is deductible up to the amount of investment income.

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Is interest on educational loans tax deductible?

For FAQs on deducting education loans, see Tax Strategies.

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When can you stop paying private mortgage insurance?

Generally, if you make a down payment of less than 20% when buying a home, the lender will require you to buy private mortgage insurance. You can generally drop the PMI when you have attained 20% equity in the home, or when the value of your home goes up (due to a good real estate market) so that your equity constitutes 20%.

Some lenders require you to keep the PMI forever, and others make you keep it at least five years.

To find out whether you can cancel the coverage, send a letter to your mortgage servicing company (the company to which you send your mortgage payments). This will get the process started. You may be required to pay for an appraisal, and you will need to have a good payment record.

If you are able to cancel the insurance, you will receive any prepaid premiums that are in your escrow account.

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