Expert Q&A

Is selling our house to pay off card debt a good idea?


Losing hard-earned equity in your home to pay off card debt usually isn’t the best option.

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Dear To Her Credit,

My husband and I have bad credit scores due to the loss of job a couple of years ago. We were forced to leverage ourselves to keep afloat. In late 2016, we were not able to keep up on a lot of the payments and ultimately let most of them go to collections.

My two-part question is this: We have about $110,000 in equity in our home, and we now have a steady income. Should we sell our house and get rid of our $25,000 worth of debt? And if we do that, what comes into play with our credit score and purchasing another home? Are we looking at having to wait it out awhile? – Rylee

Dear Rylee,
It’s good to hear you have a steady job now, and that you’re looking for a way to pay down your $25,000 credit card debt.

Based on just the information you have provided, however, selling your home is probably not your best solution. Unless you have other reasons for selling your home, I strongly urge you to keep it.

Why it’s not cost-effective to sell your home

  • It costs too much to sell. If you think the interest expenses on a $25,000 credit card debt are high, wait until you see what it costs to sell a house. Say your house is worth $400,000. By the time you pay real estate commissions, closing costs (sellers are often expected to pay even some of the buyer’s closing costs these days) and real estate sales tax, if applicable, you can end up losing 8 to 10 percent of the sales price. It could cost you $40,000 to sell your house, so you can pay off $25,000 in debt. This doesn’t include any fix-up costs getting your house ready to sell or repairs you may be required to make after the inspection.
  • It takes a lot of time and money to buy another house. It can easily take three months or more to pack up, find another house and get somewhat situated again. You and your husband might be better off spending that time putting in extra hours or getting a second job to pay down your debts. In addition, when you buy another house, you’ll pay loan origination fees and other loan expenses, appraisal costs and closing costs. These expenses can easily add up to 5 percent of the cost of your new home. For a $400,000 home, that would be $20,000. Tack on some moving and miscellaneous expenses for getting settled, and selling your house can be one very expensive way to pay off a $25,000 debt.
  • Your equity takes a huge hit. For many people, their home is their biggest and most important investment. By the time they get to retirement or beyond, it is sometimes their only significant investment. The fact that it’s not easy to get equity out of your home can be a plus, if it means you leave it alone. Keep paying the mortgage down and letting the price go up, and you have one huge asset going for you as you get older.

What are some other options?

So, if you don’t sell your home, how do you deal with this debt? You won’t want to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy over $25,000, especially with a steady income. If you are completely overwhelmed, you might consider Chapter 13 bankruptcy, in which you pay off part or all of your debt under a court-approved plan. Better yet, you can find a way to resolve your debt without the cost and trouble of going through the courts.

To get a jumpstart on paying off debts, you might consider selling something and using the proceeds to get a jumpstart on your debt, or using lump-sum proceeds as a bargaining tool for negotiating down your debts. If you’re looking for something to sell, other than your house, the first place I’d look is your driveway. If you have two or more cars, especially if you’re making payments on any of them, living as a one-car family for a time may make the difference. You can also use the amount you’re not spending on car payments to continue to pay down your balances.

If you have questions or need more help, please visit a credit counselor. You may be eligible to enter into a debt management plan where the credit counseling agency helps you create a debt repayment strategy that stops collection calls, reduces fees and helps you pay off the debt in a manageable way. I recommend finding a nonprofit agency affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. They can look at your options with you and help you solve your debt crisis, without giving up your home to do so.

See related: HELOC vs. cash-out refinance for card debt repayment

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