Home Equity Loans

Today I received an email from one of my clients regarding home equity loans, also known as a HELOC.  Here’s part of their question:

"We keep getting info regarding a home equity loan. We want to know what a home equity loan is and if that is something for us?"

Home equity loans can be an excellent financial tool when used properly.   They can also be dangerous if not managed correctly.   Typically, home equity loans feature interest only payment which are on the balance used on the loan.   The rate is based on current prime and has a lifetime cap of 18%.  A home equity loan will adjust whenever the prime rate adjust (unless the rate has been fixed).  They operate very similar to a credit card. 

The rate may vary based on loan to value (equity), credit score, the level of documentation (full doc or low doc) and occupancy (owner vs. rental).    The rate is prime plus or minus what ever factor is determined based on the above criteria (margin).  For example, it could be prime plus 0, or prime plus 1, prime minus 1, etc.   Prime is currently 8.25%.   There is a draw period and when that time is up (typically 10 or 15 years) the balance at that time is due in full.

Situations where home equity loans are best used are when you’re not using them.  For example, if you have a home equity loan attached to your home and you do not intend on using it.   It’s there in case of an emergency, such as loss of employment or medical need.   They are also great if you’re anticipating having cash to pay it down (and you’re not planning on investing the cash or using it elsewhere) since your mortgage payment is based on the balance.  We used a home equity loan for the purchase of our current home.  We are paying it off in chunks and intend to keep it open even once it is paid.   Home equity loans creates liquidity and provides flexibility with you equity and cash flow.  I prefer the home equity loans where  you have the option of fixing your rate (however, if you’re in a market where the rates are going down, you may not want to fix it).

When home owners use home equity loans like a maxed out credit card and tap out significant amounts of their equity and it’s a pattern to pay off debt; a  home equity loan can be a recipe for trouble.   A home equity loan, with the wrong plan or with borrowers who cannot resist relying on it, can quickly gobble up your equity.

Fixed rate second mortgages are other possible mortgage options to the home equity loan.  The advantage to the fixed rate is that…the rate is fixed.  And, you know what your payment will be month to month.   However, if you are planning on making a lump mortgage payment, unless the lender is willing to re-amortize the mortgage, you’re stuck with your existing mortgage payment.

A refinance of your first mortgage may also be worth considering depending how long you plan on retaining the mortgage and what your blended rate would be with having two mortgages.

When the prime rate was lower, HELOCs were very popular.  And, once prime began to climb, many borrowers refinanced out after realizing what their rates were climbing too and how quickly it can happen.

With so many options available, this is why it’s important to work with a professional Mortgage Planner who will consider your options and financial goals.


  1. Rhonda,

    I wonder if we are related somewhere back in time.

    Anyway, I stopped by your blog today and enjoyed my visit. Nice job!

    Please come on over to my blog house for a cup of coffee too!

  2. Thanks, David! I will stop by for sure. Porter is my married name. Maybe you’re related to my husband? 😉

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