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Is home equity worth using now? Here's what experts think

A home equity loan could be valuable if used for appropriate reasons, experts say. Getty Images/iStockphoto

July saw inflation rise once again, and interest rates are still rising. In fact, the average rate on credit cards is now nearly 21%, up from just 15% a little over a year ago. With these economic headwinds, you might find yourself in need of extra funds — to repair your home, to cover unexpected costs, or maybe just as a financial safety net.

Either way, if you're a homeowner, you may think about tapping your home equity. Home equity loans and HELOCs both allow you to turn your equity into cash, which you can then use however you wish.

Is now a good time to do that, though? And what should you consider before tapping your home equity in today's market? We asked experts for their opinion to help you decide.

Start by exploring your home equity loan options here to learn more.

Is home equity worth using now? Here's what experts think

Thinking of using your home equity today? Here's how the experts we spoke to recommend homeowners proceed.

Know what you'll use it for

Tapping your home equity means putting your home at risk, so having a clear idea of what you need the money for is key before making a decision. 

"Why do you need the money? Is it really necessary? Are you investing in your future or in something that strays away from your financial goals?" asks Jim Black, executive director of lender strategy at mortgage lender Calque. "Some things, like vacations, might not be the best reason."

In short: Make sure the risk is worth it. Fixing the roof on your house or putting money into your business likely fall within that category. But pulling out equity to pay for new clothes or buy a new couch may not. 

Using your home equity might also be smart if you're eyeing a new home but currently have an ultra-low mortgage rate. In this scenario, selling your house and buying a new one would mean trading up for today's 7%-plus rates. You might consider leveraging your equity and improving your existing house instead.

"Homeowners have the unique opportunity right now to tap into an incredible amount of home equity that's built up over the past few years," says Bill Banfield, executive vice president of capital markets at Rocket Mortgage. "They can use this cash to do home renovations and make their space better fit their life — without having to pick up and move to a new house."

Get started with a home equity loan here now.

Weigh it against other options

You'll also want to weigh all your options before turning to home equity. Depending on what you're looking to pay for, you may be able to use a credit card, personal loan, student loan or one of many other financial products.

Typically, home equity loans and HELOCs are going to have lower rates than credit cards and personal loans, but they're higher than rates you'd see on first mortgages and refinances. Because of this, it's important to get quotes for several different products (and from different lenders) to ensure a home equity product is the most affordable path forward.

"Do you have other options?" Black asks. "Look at different ways to get the financing you want and compare them."

If you do opt to tap your home equity, you should also compare your options within that realm. Home equity loans and HELOCs are the most commonly used products, but depending on your age, you may also consider a reverse mortgage (these are only for seniors). Home equity investments — which give you an upfront payment in exchange for part of your home's future value — are an option, too.

"These provide funds upfront with no monthly payments or debt accrual, but in exchange for the some future value of your home — or its appreciation over time — or both," says Sarah Dekin, president of Hometap, a home equity investment platform. "The potential disadvantage here, of course, is that you may miss out on some part of the future value of your home down the line when you settle."

Think long term

Finally, think about your long-term financial picture before you tap your equity. Calculate the total cost of tapping your equity — the interest, closing costs, or lost appreciation you could see — and make sure those costs are worth it.

As Black puts it, "Banks are in the business of making interest, and this means you need to see the worst-case amount of equity you will be losing by borrowing. You also need to evaluate the cost of attaining the additional debt."

Consider your employment and income prospects, too. Is your job stable? Do you expect your income to be the same or higher 10 years down the road? You want to be sure you can afford your payments not just now, but throughout your entire loan term (and some home equity loans are as long as 30 years). 

Keep in mind that if you use a HELOC or another product with a variable rate, your payments could rise over time, too, so make sure you'll have the capability to make those higher payments should they come about. If not, you could lose your home to foreclosure. 

"The most important consideration is affordability," says Adam Boyd, executive vice president of home equity, credit cards, and unsecured lending at Citizens Bank. "Since the borrower is using the home as collateral, it is critical they ensure they can afford the loan. If there's any concern that rising rates will impact your ability to afford the loan in the future, it may not be the best option."

Learn more about your home equity options here now.

Other home equity benefits to know

Home equity products can be smart tools when used in the right scenarios. They may be able to save you on interest compared to other loans and financing options, and they allow you to spread your costs out over many years. You may even get a tax deduction, depending on how you use the funds.

Just remember: Using your equity means putting your home on the line as collateral. If you're not sure this is the right move for your finances — or you want help evaluating your full range of options — consider talking to a financial professional first. They can point you in the right direction.

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