Is a customer better off to use home equity to buy an automobile? Or is dealer-financing a better option? Let's explore.

Home equity loans became popular after a 1986 law phased out tax deducting consumer interest for installment loans and credit cards. They did, however, leave the deduction available for a second mortgage or home equity loan. The idea was that the deduction would be used for improvements to the household, therefore, improving the value of the property.

Unfortunately, it wasn't foreseen that this opportunity would be misused, mostly for automobile purchases. The use of a person's equity towards a car loan has created a financial burden to many people.

Here's how:

A customer purchases a new vehicle for $25,000. Instead of taking out a car loan, they'll use the equity in their home. At the time of purchase, they receive a free and clear title and a low monthly payment because home equity loans are typically set up with a minimum monthly payment like a credit card, or longer term.

Three years later, the customer decides to purchase another car. Now their car is worth about $12,500, but since they are paying a low monthly payment, they still owe $18,000 or more on their home equity loan. They buy a new car for $30,000 minus their free and clear trade of $12,500 and they now have to finance $17,500 while still owing $18,000 on the previous loan. This is where the vicious cycle begins.

Here's advice from the Federal Reserve Board Consumer handbook on what you should know about home equity lines of credit:

“If you are in the market for credit, a home equity plan may be right for you or perhaps another form of credit would be better. Before making this decision, you should weigh carefully the costs of a home equity line against the benefits. Shop for the credit terms that best meet your borrowing needs without posing undue financial risk. And, remember, failure to repay the line could mean the loss of your home.”

In other words, home equity loans might not always be the best form of financing for the customer.

But remember, people buy for their reasons, not ours. Pointing out the problems with their choice might not always be the best option. I prefer to take the road that gives us the best opportunity to retain their financing, and not run down their choice and potentially cause customer dissatisfaction.

My home equity conversion begins like this:

“Mr. and Mrs. Doyle now that you have purchased this automobile, is getting the best possible financing important to you?” They answer that they are getting a home equity loan.

I don't then try to talk them out of it. I'll suggest such loans can be a good option, and ask them if they were quoted an interest rate? And was it fixed or variable? I then go directly to my service contract presentation. The customer will be much more cooperative when they see I am trying to serve their needs, and not trying to manipulate the decisions they make.

After I have sold them the service contract, and right before I tear off a copy of their purchase order (when they have dropped all their sales resistance) I ask them the question, “Why do you choose to use your home equity to purchase your automobile, is it that your payment is lower or is it the tax deduction you'll receive?” (It is typically one or the other.)

If it is a lower monthly payment, you need to ask them how low is it. If it is significantly lower, I suggest you exit the conversation. The last thing you want to do is talk them out of buying the vehicle. If the payment is comparable to what you could get through your conventional automobile financing ask them this question:

“Would you consider a competitive program that keeps available your line of credit and eliminates you having to take a second mortgage for your vehicle?”

Now you can point out the features and benefits to dealer financing. Make sure you point out your competitive fixed rate, since it's likely they have a variable rate.

The other reason people will give you for using home equity to purchase their automobile is the tax deduction for the interest they pay. If that is the case ask them:

“Have you weighed the interest deduction to the costs associated with a second mortgage, such as, fees, points, appraisal fee, credit report fee, and the fluctuation in variable rates?”

Ask them, “Do you think over the next five years rates are likely to go up or down? Can they go any lower?

“Mr. and Mrs. Doyle it really is a very simple process. I just need a few lines of information and I will get you the best automobile financing possible.”

Remember, take the high road. Don't tear the customer down. Build them up! Sell the value of your offer with enthusiasm. Value is what customers want.

Ron Martin is the author of the book, “The Vision of Finance and Insurance” and a national sales trainer and consultant for automotive dealers. To learn more about his company, The Vision of F&I, Inc., his book or audio training program, visit or call 1-800-413-9902.