6 Times It's Actually Okay to Be Underwater on Your Home


In the last decade or so, it's become quite common for people to find themselves underwater on their home loans. When real estate values plummeted around 2008, millions of people ended up owing more than what their properties were worth. This led to mass foreclosures and big financial problems throughout the country.

Being underwater on your home is rarely a good thing, but there are some cases when homeowners can get through unaffected as long as they are responsible and otherwise in good financial shape.

Here's a look at some cases when owing more than you own is not the worst thing in the world:

1. If You Have No Immediate Plans to Sell

The best advice for anyone who is underwater on their home is to stay put. It's obviously hard to predict what life may throw at you, but if you've purchased a home with the intention of staying in it for a long time, being underwater on your mortgage doesn't matter too much. This is especially true if you have a fixed-rate mortgage and are making the monthly payments without trouble. Someone who continues to live in a home really doesn't need to worry about its value. If you keep making payments, you'll eventually own the home free and clear, no matter what happens to real estate values.

2. If You're Working to Make Your House More Valuable

You might find yourself underwater, but if it's because you've spent money to boost the overall value of the home, it's probably okay. Maybe you renovated the entire kitchen or even added a family room or bedroom. Maybe you spent money to finish the basement. This money should be viewed as an investment that will pay off down the road. Just make sure you continue making payments on the mortgage in the meantime, as you wait for the value of the home to shoot up.

3. If the Home Is Generating Healthy Rental Income

If you're renting out the home and have tenants with good credit, being underwater is okay. If you're lucky, the rental income will meet or even exceed the mortgage payments. Be sure to have a plan if the rental income goes away, however.

4. If You Want to Offset Capital Gains

Generally speaking, selling a house for less than you paid for it isn't a good thing. But if the house is not your primary residence, there may be ways to save on your taxes by selling at a loss. If you own a rental property for more than a year, you may be able to sell it at a loss and have this count as a reduction of your income. This is called a section 1231 loss, according to the IRS. You can also use a capital loss to offset a capital gain, if you made a profit on another property. Note that this only works for investment properties, not for properties serving as your primary residence.

5. When Your Property Taxes Will Be Reduced

One of the silver linings about seeing a house decline in value is that you might pay less in property tax. If you're paying 1.25% annually in property tax, and your house has declined in assessed value by $50,000, that's a $675 savings. If your plan is to stay in the house for a long time, then you should be pleased to pocket a little bit of extra savings. Note that in these cases, there may be a difference between the home's market value versus the local government's assessed value for tax purposes, so check with your municipality.

6. If You Are Getting a Good Return on Your Money Elsewhere

These days, interest rates are so low that there's less of an incentive to make extra mortgage payments. You may feel tempted to boost your payments to ensure that your equity is more than what you owe, but if you have no plans to sell immediately, you may be better off placing that money in the stock market or other investments. As long as you continue making payments on the house, you may find that earning a 9% return from an index fund is a better deal than pumping the mortgage.

Have you ever been underwater on a home? How did you deal with the situation?

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