Tax Reform and Home Equity Loans

photo by Kalmia

MortgageLoan.com quoted me in Tax Reform Just Made Home Equity Loans A Lot Less Attractive. It reads, in part,

Home equity loans have long been attractive ways for homeowners to borrow money to pay for everything from major home improvements to a child’s college education. But these loans just lost a major benefit: When filing their income taxes, homeowners can no longer deduct the interest they pay on home equity loans each year.

This might make these loans less popular. The loss of the interest deduction might persuade homeowners to look for other ways to tap the money in their homes.

“From what I see, there are very limited times that home equity loans would still come in as a benefit,” said Tristan Ahumada, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Westlake Village, California.

A rush to pay off home equity loans?

And she’s not alone. Donald Daly, managing partner of REIS Group LLC in New York City and a licensed real estate appraiser, said that since January 1 he has seen a higher level of requests for appraisals from homeowners seeking to refinance their existing mortgage loans. Many of these owners are doing this as a way of paying off their Home Equity Lines of Credit, a form of home equity loan.

The reason? These lines of credit, better known as HELOCs, are not nearly as attractive to homeowners when they don’t come with the bonus of a tax deduction.

“We fully expect this trend to grow over the next weeks and months as more and more homeowners learn of the effect these changes will have on their personal finances,” Daly said.

Goodbye, deduction

In the past, homeowners who took out home equity loans or HELOCs could deduct the interest they paid on up to $100,000 of these loans. If you took out a home equity loan for $50,000, then, you could deduct all the interest you paid during the year on that loan. If you took out a home equity loan for $150,000, you could deduct the interest you paid on the first $100,000 of that loan.

When Congress in December of last year signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law, this all changed. The big tax reform legislation eliminates the home equity loan deduction starting in 2018. You can still claim your tax deduction when you file your income taxes in April of this year. That’s because you’re paying taxes from 2017.

But you won’t be able to claim the home equity loan deduction when you file on your 2018 taxes and beyond. Most of the tax cuts impacting taxpayers, including the home equity deduction rules, are scheduled to expire after 2025. No one knows, though, whether Congress will vote to continue them past that date once that year rolls around.

Existing loans aren’t grandfathered in, either. If you took out a home equity loan in 2016 and you’re still paying it off this year, you won’t be able to deduct any interest you pay on it in 2018, even if you’ve already deducted interest payments in the past.

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Home equity loans can still work, though

Just because the tax benefits of home equity loans are disappearing, though, doesn’t mean that these loans are no longer a viable option for all homeowners.

The deduction was a benefit, but the biggest advantage of home equity loans is that they are a relatively cheap way to borrow money. The mortgage rates attached to home equity loans tend to be low. That isn’t changing.

So if you do have equity in your home and you want money to help pay, say, for your children’s college tuition, a home equity loan or HELOC might still be a smart move.

“While tax deductions are important, they are not the only reason we take out home equity loans,” said David Reiss, professor law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York.

Reiss said that when considering whether a home equity loan or HELOC is right for them, homeowners need to ask several important questions.

First, why do they want to take out the loan? If it’s for home improvements or to reduce high-interest-rate debt, the loan might still be worthwhile, even with the tax changes.

Next, homeowners need to look at their monthly budgets to determine if they can afford the payments that come with these loans. Finally, homeowners should consider whether they can borrow money cheaper somewhere else, taking the loss of the deduction into consideration.

“If you are comfortable with your answers, there is no reason not to consider a home equity loan as a financing option,” Reiss said.

Prepaying Your Mortgage

photo by www.aag.com

Newsday quoted me in Paying off Your Mortgage Early Might not Make Sense (behind paywall). It opens,

There are few greater feelings than making that last mortgage payment. Some people feel better still if they pay it off early. But sometimes it doesn’t make sense to pay off your mortgage early.

First things first: Be sure you have adequate emergency savings before you put extra money into paying off the mortgage early. Then consider what’s the best use of any extra money you have.

While taking a shorter-term mortgage or prepaying principal saves you tons in interest, remember that mortgage interest is typically tax deductible.

Warren Goldberg, founder of Mortgage Wealth Advisors in Melville, offers an example. If you had a 5 percent interest rate on your 30-year fixed mortgage, depending on your tax bracket, your equivalent, after-tax interest rate might only be 3.3 percent. Even in today’s tumultuous market, it’s not difficult to earn a return greater than 3.3 percent after taxes.

“By paying the minimum on your mortgage and investing the balance, your money can be working for you. Your investments can be earning more than the interest you are paying,” says Goldberg.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School specializing in real estate, agrees: “If you have not maxed out your retirement savings, it might make sense to direct your extra funds to tax-advantaged retirement accounts. You could end up being better off overall as those accounts grow tax-free over time.”

Deductible Up, Premium Down

 

photo by Stewart Black

InsuranceQuotes.com quoted me in Homeowners Insurance: Higher Deductibles Lower Premiums, But Can You Afford to Take the Risk? It opens,

Raising the deductible on your home insurance policy is one proven way to save money on your premiums, but it’s not the best financial decision for every homeowner.

Before you reach for the phone to bump up your deductible there are two important factors to consider: Do you have enough money saved to cover higher out-of-pocket claim costs, and have you discussed potential savings and ramifications with an insurance agent?

“The bottom line is that you want to make sure you are comfortable with the deductible amount you’ve selected,” says Stacy Molinari, personal lines and claims manager of Insurance Marketing Agencies, Inc. “And that means you need to make sure you have enough of a financial cushion to cover the deductible. Otherwise it could cost you more in the long run.”

So, just how much savings are out there when switching to a higher deductible? Let’s break it down by looking at a report commissioned by insuranceQuotes.com.

The 2016 Quadrant Information Services study examined the average economic impact of increasing a home insurance deductible (i.e. how much you pay out of pocket for a claim before your insurance coverage kicks in). Using a hypothetical two-story, single-family home covered for $140,000, the study looked at how much an annual U.S. home insurance premium can decrease after increasing the deductible.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the average home insurance premiums is $1,034, and the study examined three different percentage increases and their respective premium savings:

  • Increase from $500 to $1,000: 7 percent savings.
  • Increase from $500 to $2,000: 16 percent savings.
  • Increase from $500 to $5,000: 28 percent savings.

What makes home insurance deductibles so significant?

In short, a home insurance deducible is one of many gauges an insurance company uses to determine how much risk the consumer is willing to accept. A higher deductible means more risk being taken on by the homeowner, and that additional risk makes it cheaper to insure the policyholder.

“A higher deductible is a signal to the insurance company that the homeowner is less likely to file claims because they are agreeing to a higher threshold for doing so,” says David Reiss, law professor and research director at Brooklyn Law School’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. “And the less likely you are to make a claim, the lower your premium is going to be.”

Saving On Homeowners Insurance

Insurance Policy

Trulia quoted me in 5 Ways To Save On Homeowners Insurance. It opens,

Some basic decisions in life shouldn’t demand much debate in your mind. Behind car and life insurance, homeowners insurance is one of the biggest no-brainers. When golf ball–sized hail rips your Boca Raton, FL, roof to shreds, your dog bites a clueless runner, or someone breaks in and steals your vintage Larry Bird jersey and Grandmother’s pearl earrings, a basic homeowners insurance policy should have you covered. But as with any other form of shopping, it’s always best to look around, sniff out a good deal, and compare home insurance options. Luckily, deep discounts can be found. Here are five ways to save on your policy.

1. Shop around, then enlist help

Finding the biggest discount isn’t just for cars and airline tickets. In fact, a few phone calls and internet searches can land you some serious deals on homeowners insurance. “Start by looking to see if there are any companies that offer discounts,” says Cory Gagnon, associate financial adviser, The Beacon Group at Assante Wealth Management Ltd. in Calgary, Canada. “An insurance broker or financial planner can be very helpful in these situations as they have access to databases that allow them to source a wide variety of companies.”Then think about memberships you have — are you a veteran or AARP member? If you’ve used membership discounts for say, buying a car or booking a vacation, see if the association has discounts for homeowners insurance. Think hard about groups you’re part of: Check if your college alumni association offers discounts, or even the wholesale club you belong to (like Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club).

2. Improve your home

Sometimes, Gagnon adds, little changes and improvements to your home can lead to lower premiums. “Some insurance companies offer lower rates for a variety of factors having to do with the structure and build of your home, including the type of wiring, plumbing, and structure material,” he says. “If you are in an older home, making an investment in upgrades to some of these core elements will make your home safer — for example, less threat of pipe bursts, electrical fires — and thus lower your insurance premiums with certain companies, saving you money in the long run.”

3. Know the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value

Homeowners insurance comes with options, and the best way to navigate those options is to know what they are. “One of the most important things that a homeowner should know about when shopping for [a] new or existing homeowners policy is the difference between replacement cost versus actual cash value [ACV],” explains Craig Ciotti, an insurance agent/broker with Fidishun Insurance & Financial Inc. in Yardley, PA. “Replacement cost will insure you for the cost that it would take to replace your home and all of the other personal property in it,” he says. “The other option is actual cash value. ACV is the actual value of your home and does not take into consideration zoning permits or removal of damaged property. ACV is more often used by investors and not homeowners.” If, for instance, a laptop you bought for $1,000 is stolen, with replacement cost insurance, you will get $1,000 for a new laptop. With ACV, you’ll get the current market value for the laptop — which will most likely be far less, since it has probably depreciated over time. ACV premiums generally cost less, but you’ll likely pay more out of pocket after a loss.

4. Agree to a higher deductible

As with other forms of insurance (ahem, car), you can save big on your policy if you simply increase your deductible. “This can shave a significant amount off of your annual premium, which is the good thing,” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “The bad thing about it is, if you have a casualty, you will be responsible for it until it reaches the higher deductible limit. Thus, you should be able to handle that additional amount before agreeing to the higher deductible. Given that your premium typically goes up when you make a claim, a silver lining of the higher deductible is that you will file fewer claims.”

Using Homeowners Insurance

Republic_Fire_Insurance_Company_certificate

Univision quoted me in When to Use Your Home Insurance Policy (Cuándo Usar la Póliza de Seguro del Hogar). It opens,

It is not advisable to use your homeowners insurance every time something breaks. Find out why and learn when it’s the best time to file a claim and when to avoid it.

As explained by David Reiss, Professor and Research Director at Brooklyn Law School’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, it is important to think carefully about the consequences of making a claim for a small loss.

We leave you with several issues you should consider when deciding whether to file a claim.

Is the payment worth the effort?

Generally, the homeowner will be responsible for the first part of the loss in an amount equal to the deductible of the policy. “So if the policy has a $1,000 deductible, and there was a $1,500 loss, only $500 at most would be paid by the insurance company,” said the expert.

Many claims, canceled policy!

After a homeowner files multiple claims, many insurance companies may cancel a policy.  Reiss recommends that you determine how this would work beforehand.

Thanks to Ana Puello for assistance with the translation.

Saving on Home Insurance (en Español y Ingles)

Woman with alarm system

Univision quoted me in 5 Ways to Save on Your Home Insurance (the article is in Spanish). It opens,

The cost of homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars depending on various factors. If you are looking to obtain a discount keep in mind these five tips when you purchase a policy.

1. Increase your deductible. Even though it is common for homeowners to have a deductible of $500 in their insurance policy, raising it to $1,000 could represent a significant reduction in the premium, says David Reiss, Professor of Law at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Extra tip:  You should have an emergency fund to cover any additional expenses which may be incurred. Use this fund instead of putting in a claim to your insurance, since this can increase your rate.