Many of us would love to own a vacation home, but the added expense is not always doable. Because we can’t all own multiple properties, vacation timeshares continue to be a popular choice for solo travelers, couples, and families who want more space, amenities, and “a place to call home” at their locale of choice.
We’ll give you an honest rundown of how timeshares work, their pros and cons, and a few financing options.
What Is a Timeshare?
A timeshare is a way for multiple unrelated purchasers to acquire a fractional share of a vacation property, which they take turns using. They share costs, which can make timeshares far cheaper than buying a vacation home of one’s own.
Timeshares are a popular way to vacation. In fact, 9.9 million U.S. households own at least one timeshare, according to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). The average price of a weekly timeshare is $24,140. This figure can vary widely depending on the location, size, and quality of the property, the length of stay, time of year, and the rules of the contract.
How Do Timeshares Work?
If you’ve ever been lured to a sales presentation by the promise of a free hotel stay, spa treatment, or gift card, it was probably for a vacation timeshare. As long as you sit through the sales pitch, you get your freebie. Some invitees go on to make a purchase. You can also buy a timeshare on the secondary market, taking over from a previous owner.
What you’re getting is access to a property for a set amount of time per year (usually one to two weeks) in a desirable resort location. Timeshares may be located near the beach, ski resorts, or amusement parks. You can trade weeks with other owners and sometimes even try out other properties around the country — or around the world — in a trade.
In addition to the upfront cost of the timeshare, owners pay annual maintenance fees based on the size of the property — about $1,000 on average — whether or not you use your timeshare that year. These fees, which cover the cost of upkeep and cleaning, often increase over time with the cost of living. Timeshare owners may also have to pay service charges, such as fees due at booking.
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Types of Timeshares
There are two broad categories of timeshare ownership: deeded and non-deeded. In addition, you’ll find four types of timeshare use periods: fixed week, floating week, fractional ownership, and points system.
It’s important to understand all of these terms before you commit.
With a deeded structure, each party owns a piece of the property, which is tied to the amount of time they can spend there. The partial owner receives a deed for the property that tells them when they are allowed to use it. For example, a property that sells timeshares in one-week increments will have 52 deeds, one for each week of the year.
Non-deeded timeshares work on a leasing system, where the developer remains the owner of the property. You can lease a property for a set period during the year, or a floating period that allows you greater flexibility. Your lease expires after a predetermined period.
Timeshares offer one of a handful of options for use periods. Fixed-week means you can use the property during the same set week each year.
Floating-week agreements allow you to choose when you use the property depending on availability.
Most timeshare owners have access to the property for one or two weeks a year. Fractional timeshares are available for five weeks per year or more. In this ownership structure, there are fewer buyers involved, usually six to 12. Each party holds an equal share of the title, and the cost of maintenance and taxes are split.
Finally, you may be able to purchase “points” that you can use in different timeshare locations at various times of the year.
Is a Timeshare a Good Investment?
Getting out of a timeshare can be difficult. Selling sometimes involves a financial loss, which means they are not necessarily a good investment. However, if you purchase a timeshare in a place that your family will want to return to for a long time — and can easily get to — you may end up spending less than you would if you were to purchase a vacation home.
Benefits of Timeshare Loans
The timeshare developer will likely offer you financing as part of their sales pitch. The main benefit of a timeshare loan is convenience. And if you’re happy to return to the same vacation spot year after year, you may save money compared to staying in hotels. Plus, for many people, it may be the only way they can afford getting a vacation home.
Drawbacks of Timeshare Loans
Developer financing offers often come with very high interest rates, especially for buyers with lower credit scores: up to 20%. And if you eventually decide to sell, you will probably lose money. That’s because timeshares tend not to gain value over time. Finally, if you’re not careful about running the numbers before you commit, you can end up paying more in annual fees than you expect.
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Financing a Timeshare
Developer financing is often proposed as the only timeshare financing option, especially if you buy while you’re on vacation. However, with a little advance planning, there are alternative options for financing timeshares. If developer financing is taken as an initial timeshare financing option, some timeshare owners may want to consider timeshare refinance in the future.
Home Equity Loan
If you have equity built up in your primary home, it may be possible for you to obtain a home equity loan from a private lender to purchase a timeshare. Home equity loans are typically used for expenses or investments that will improve the resale value of your primary residence, but they can be used for timeshare financing as well.
Home equity loans are “secured” loans, meaning they use your house as collateral. As a result, lenders will give you a lower interest rate compared to the rate on an unsecured timeshare loan offered at a developer pitch. You can learn more about the differences in our guide to secured vs. unsecured loans.
Additionally, the interest you pay on a home equity loan for a timeshare purchase may be tax-deductible as long as the timeshare meets IRS requirements, in addition to other factors. Before using a home equity loan as timeshare financing, or even to refinance timeshares, be aware of the risk you are taking on. If you fail to pay back your loan, your lender may seize your house to recoup their losses.
Another option to consider for timeshare financing is obtaining a personal loan from a bank or an online lender. While interest rates for personal loans can be higher than rates for home equity loans, you’ll likely find a loan with a lower rate than those offered by the timeshare sales agent.
Additionally, with an unsecured personal loan as an option for timeshare financing, your primary residence is not at risk in the event of default.
Getting approved for a personal loan is generally a simpler process than qualifying for a home equity loan. Online lenders, in particular, offer competitive rates for personal loans and are streamlining the process as much as possible.
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Timeshares offer one way to secure a place to stay in your favorite vacation destination each year — without having to buy a second home. And timeshares may save you money over time compared to the cost of a high-end hotel. However, beware of timeshare financing offered by developers. Interest rates can be as high as 20%. There are other ways to finance a timeshare that can be more affordable, including home equity loans and personal loans.
SoFi personal loans offer lower fixed rates to qualified applicants. And there are no fees ever. Find out your interest rate online with no impact to your credit1 and no commitment.
Can I rent my timeshare to someone else?
Whether or not you can rent your timeshare out to others will depend on your timeshare agreement. But in many cases your timeshare resort will allow you to rent out your allotted time at the property.
Can I sell my timeshare?
Your timeshare agreement will give you details about when and how you can sell your timeshare. In most cases, you should be able to sell, but it may be hard to do so, and you may take a financial loss.
Can I transfer ownership of my timeshare or leave it to my heirs?
You can leave ownership of a timeshare to your heirs when you die and even transfer ownership as a gift while you’re living. Once again, refer to your timeshare agreement for rules about what is possible and how to carry out a transfer.
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