more than ever: Start saving!
Lenders like to tell us to "cash out the equity in your home." What
they really offer is a loan that must be paid back in full, with
interest. The only true way to access the equity in a home is to
sell it. People might be more careful with debt if they looked at
it this way. Comments?
Your letter came with perfect timing. I wanted to address the savings
rate issue that has been in the news lately and your observation
about home equity borrowing fits in nicely.
The Commerce Department reported
recently that the personal savings rate for Americans was minus
0.5 percent in 2005. The savings rate has been declining since the
1980s and still shows no signs of leveling off now, even though
it has officially gone under water. So what does this mean to my
average reader? Is it the beginning of the end, a milestone on the
road to financial ruin, or just another outdated indicator that
is being hyped to sell advertising on the evening news?
What if I told you that the savings rate is really
6 percent? Would that make you feel better? Well, it is among working
Americans, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The EBRI says that when you add in the retirees who are drawing
down their savings at a rate of about minus 12 percent to minus
14 percent a year, that's what tilts us into a negative savings
rate. More retirees will mean more negative savings rates to come.
So, while not a great thing from a personal finance perspective,
it's not a catastrophe.
Economists are divided -- what a surprise -- on the economic effect
of negative savings, and I'm not sure I'd believe them even if they
all agreed. What it may portend is higher interest rates to encourage
more savings and less borrowing.
But are YOU saving? If the answer is "no"
or "I can't afford to save" or "I will soon,"
you are in trouble. The housing market bubble that has been swelling
net worth is beginning to deflate. Speculators and the overleveraged
will have a severe dampening effect on prices in 2006. Interest
rates are up, minimum credit card payments are up and raises are
small. Without adequate savings, a layoff, illness or any other
of life's little surprises can knock you for a loop. A fat savings
account is the only padding between you and a very hard landing.
I cannot overstate the importance of having an emergency
savings cushion of three to six months of living expenses. The money
put aside in savings can mean a real difference in a financial crisis.
Not to mention saving marriages, friendships and even lives.
Now to actually answer your question: You are absolutely
right that "cashing in" on your home equity with a loan
or line of credit is exactly as you describe it: a loan that you
must pay back with interest. It is also a loan that is secured by
your home, which is put in jeopardy if you are unable to pay back
the loan. One of the greatest advantages workers have in the job
market is the ability to move to a new location to take advantage
of changes or opportunities. If, because of declining home values,
you find yourself owing more on your home than it is worth, you
won't be able to move unless you come up with the difference in
cash -- that is, savings.
So, my comment is this. Having home equity in the 2005 real estate
market is not savings nor is it a retirement plan. If you are saving,
keep it up. If you aren't, start today. Start small to build a savings
habit. Stop borrowing without a repayment plan! Learn to live on
your current income, including an amount for savings. You will not
regret it. I promise.
The Debt Adviser, Steve Bucci, is the president
of Money Management International Financial Education Foundation
and the author of Credit
Repair Kit for Dummies. Visit MMI
for additional debt advice or click
here to ask a debt question.