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The only time I recommend borrowing against your home is to make repairs that, if not done, will harm the house's value. I'm talking about a badly leaking roof or rotting beams, not a deck, extra bathroom, or a kitchen makeover. Elective projects should come out of savings, even if you think they'll increase the house's worth. (Statistics show that few improvements make back every dollar when you sell.) Using savings for renovations also tends to make people spend less and more wisely.

Today, many homeowners owe more on their house than its market value because they ignored basic wisdom. If you're tempted to use your home as a piggy bank, remember: If it were truly your money, you wouldn't have to borrow it.


Michelle Singletary is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

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