Borrow to invest?

Question: My husband and I are both 50+, with two children of college age. Our house is paid off and we are without debt. He wants to take out a mortgage for 1/2 of the appraised value of our home, betting that inflation is inevitable and invest it in higher interest CDs.

Safe bet or stupid investment? Thanks Mary, Towson, MD

Answer: I get variations of this question all the time and my answer is always the same: I don't like it. I wouldn't do it. It's an extremely risky investment strategy. I don't even consider it an investment. It's a speculative bet.

Right now, millions and millions of Americans are envious of your financial situation. You have no debt. You own your house free and clear. You have a great deal of financial security. Why gamble away your security?

If you borrow half the value of your home to invest in CDs you'll have to make those interest and principal payments no matter what. The interest payments on the debt will be higher than what you can earn on a short-term CD at the moment. You'll pay a steep "fee" while you wait to profit from your strategy.

Of course, there is a school of Wall Street thought that believes high and rising inflation lies in our future. A number of economists worry we could suffer through a reprise of the 1970s inflation rates following the extraordinary actions the Federal Reserve has taken to bail out the banking system and avoid a depression. It could happen. It's a real risk. Thing is, it might not happen. Inflation could stay tame.

Instead of borrowing I would buy shelter from the potential inflation storm by investing in safe, high-quality securities that offer a hedge against inflation. Treasury bills, for example, hold their value even during inflationary times because you can reinvest the money at higher interest rates if inflation does stir. The same holds for a mix of savings accounts, short-term CDs, I-bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities.

Best of all, you'll still be debt free and own your home.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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