Home equity credit line recommended as safety net

By Robert J. Bruss
My husband and I owe about $57,000 on our home mortgage at 6.75 percent interest. We have that amount in a money market account, which only earns around 4 percent interest. I think we should take that money to pay off our home loan and never have to worry about mortgage payments again. I am 58 and my husband is 56. He took an early retirement buy-out from his employer, but I still work as a legal secretary because I enjoy getting out of the house each day. Do you think we should pay off our mortgage now? --Marilyn H.

DEAR MARILYN: If paying off your mortgage will deplete your liquid reserves, I suggest you do not rush to pay off your home loan. However, if you have lots of idle cash sitting around the house, and you are 100 percent certain you will never need the $57,000 again, go ahead and prepay your mortgage.

Although that 6.75 percent interest rate might seem high, it really isn't when you consider its after-tax cost. Presuming you itemize tax deductions, your after-tax cost of that mortgage is around 4.75 percent.
The big problem most folks don't think about when prepaying a home mortgage is that they might need that money again in the future. If that happens, especially when they are retired, sick or unemployed, they are often unable to borrow on their home except at loan-shark interest rates and terms.
If you decide to prepay your home loan, before you do so, I highly recommend you obtain a home equity credit line (HELOC) now while you are still working and have adequate income to qualify. That HELOC won't cost anything, except a $50 annual fee, but it will bring peace of mind knowing it is available by just writing a check in case of an emergency.

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