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Don’t Invest Borrowed Money

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Technically, it’s not borrowed money, but in this week’s column Walter Updegrave writes about how you shouldn’t “borrow” against your home’s equity and invest the money. Now, you would think that it’s not that bad of an idea because you’re not really borrowing money from someone else, you’re just selling your garage and investing the money, right? Well, the big deal is in the mechanics because in order for you to cash out that money, you will likely have to use a home equity line of credit (or you could refinance, but that’s far more expensive) that will have something in the range of 9% (6%+ considering the tax implications), so you will need to be on the better side of 6% in your investment decisions to come out ahead.

When you are investing, you typically want your decisions to buy or sell to be driven by the market itself, not outside factors. Anytime your decisions are guided by non-market related factors, you’re put into a bad position. For example, if you want to sell Ford because of their recent earnings announcement, that’s fine. However, if you don’t want to sell Ford but you have to sell Ford because you need the money to pay off a mortgage payment – you’re in a bad spot. This will apply whether the source of the funds is a loan from a bank or a “loan” from your emergency fund.

Getting back to Updegrave’s article, the pitfalls of borrowing from a HELOC has to do with the fact that it’s a variable rate (ouch!) and that you have no guarantee you’ll be on the plus side of the arbitrage play. HELOC rates are around 8%, or 6% after the tax deductibility factor of the interest payments, so you’ll have to be on the plus side of at least 6%… that’s a lot of pressure especially when you consider the goal posts are going to be moved back from time to time.

Walter finishes up the article by putting things into perspective. It’s like 0% balance transfer arbitrage plays, except nothing is for certain and you’re taking a lot of risk for not that much return. At least with the 0% balance transfer arbitrage plays, your borrowing rate is fixed and your earnings rate is relatively fixed – neither is the case with borrowing on a HELOC to invest in the stock market.

via CNN Money.

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “Don’t Invest Borrowed Money”

  1. John says:

    yes definitely I would not recommend investing borrowed money. People can get emotional enough with just regular money.

  2. kurt says:

    Actually, you need to come out well north of 6% since you have to pay taxes on the income you gain. Witness: borrow $1000 via equity line, invest for a year. Pay $90 in interest. Earn $90 in returns. Claim $90 as an itemized deduction, but your “income” is increased $90. So you actually net nothing. Did I miss something?

  3. Miller says:

    Out of curiosity, does the article specifically mention 0% BTs? That seems to be the most common form of “investing borrowed money” and it seems pretty safe (if you trust yourself). I do it myself. I recognize the risks, but my greedy little hands do it anyway. =) But I was curious if the article mentioned pro’s or con’s of 0% BTs as opposed to loans…

  4. jim says:

    It didn’t mention 0% BT’s, the article was about a guy who wanted to take out a HELOC and invest the money.

  5. Matt says:

    It should be noted that it’s extremely difficult to get outside financing for a small business unless one has borrowed substantially against one’s own house first. Investors perceive the decision not to take out a HELOC as a sign of lack of commitment.

    I’d never pull money out of the house to play the stock market. But if my business ever needs more capital than I’ve got lying around, I’m not going to hesitate to do it for that.

  6. Carnival of Investing #46

    Welcome to the 46th Carnival of Investing, hosted at My 1st Million At 33! Thanks to all the contributors to the carnival to make this another great carnival for more learning on investing your money, and thanks to Jonathan for making hosting arrangem…

  7. I realize that the post is a US view, but I would like to make a Canadian view of investing with a HELOC. In Canada, mortgage interest is NOT deductable. So, by paying down the non deductible mortgage, and investing with the increasing credit limit HELOC, you can make your mortgage interest deductible! We call it the Smith Manoeuvre. Not only that, Canadian HELOC rates vary with prime which is aroudn 6% right now. So if you are in the highest marginal tax bracket, you’re looking at around 4% interest after the tax deduction. Combine that with investing in stable Canadian dividend stocks, you have a long term plan to financial wealth.


  8. K.Miller says:

    I realize this article is quite old, but what I will tell you is that the math you are using is incorrect. First of all to add to Stingy’s comment, in Canada, if you borrow money to invest it is only tax deductible if you put in in to a NON-registered investment….if you borrow money and put it in to RRSP’s you can not deduct the interest.

    Now with that being said, let’s look at some actual numbers…..Jim, you suggest that if a HELOC has a rate of about 8% (in Canada we can get HELOCs at about 3.25%) you would need to have a rate of return of greater than 6%, let me show you why this is certainly NOT the case.

    I am going to use even worse numbers than Jim did and let’s see how this works out. Let’s assume a HELOC rate of 10% and a rate of return of just 6%….how many of you would borrow money at 10% and invest it at 6%??? ….I would! Let’s take out a nice even number of $100,000.00 and assume we are going to pay 10% over 10 years….simple math says we will pay $10k per year in interest for a total after 10 years of $100,000.00. Now, in the US if you borrowed that money out of your home and in Canada if you invest it in a non registered investment, that money is tax deductible so if we assume a conservative tax bracket of 30% our actual cost of borrowing will only be $70000.00. Now we are going to take that same money we borrowed and we are going to put it in to an investment that is going to give us 6% for the same 10 years….if you plug that in to an investment calculator you will see it grows over 10 years to about $182,000.00. So now we have to pay back our original loan to the bank $182,000.00 – $100,000.00 = $82,000.00, factor in our cost of borrowing $82,000.00 – $72,000.00 = $12,000.00!!!! I have just made $12,000.00 borrowing at 10% and investing at 6%. The difference is simple vs. compounding interest….and if it works when the numbers are this backwards, think of how much better it would work when your HELOC rate is 3-4% and you can get 8-10% on your investments long term….

    What I will say, is this is not a strategy for everyone!! I know when the markets went down in 2008 a lot of people would have lost sleep with a strategy like this and would have made an emotional decision and pulled out of the markets… I am personally using a strategy just like this and my investments were worth less than the debt I had (I put it in in 2007 so it was no shocker to me), however, after 2009 my investments are just about at par again….long term, the markets have always worked so I have no worries!

  9. Bradley says:

    It’s both risky and not wise at all to invest borrowed money – it leaves you in a bad spot. Trading with the emergency funds just because you think they are sitting idle in your account is a disastrous thing to do.

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