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Home Equity

A home equity line is a form of revolving credit in which your home serves as collateral. Because the home is likely to be a consumer's largest asset, many homeowners use their credit lines only for major items such as education, home improvements, or medical bills and not for day-to-day expenses.

With a home equity line, you will be approved for a specific amount of credit-your credit limit-meaning the maximum amount you can borrow at any one time while you have the plan.

Many lenders set the credit limit on a home equity line by taking a percentage (say, 75 percent) of the appraised value of the home and subtracting the balance owed on the existing mortgage. For example:

Appraisal of home$100,000
Percentagex75%
Percentage of appraised value$75,000
Less mortgage debt-$40,000
Potential credit line$35,000

In determining your actual credit line, the lender also will consider your ability to repay, by looking at your income, debts, and other financial obligations, as well as your credit history.

Home equity plans often set a fixed time during which you can borrow money, such as 10 years. When this period is up, the plan may allow you to renew the credit line. But in a plan that does not allow renewals, you will not be able to borrow additional money once the time has expired. Some plans may call for payment in full of any outstanding balance. Others may permit you to repay over a fixed time, for example 10 years.

Once approved for the home equity plan, usually you will be able to borrow up to your credit limit whenever you want. Typically, you will be able to draw on your line by using special checks.

Under some plans, borrowers can use a credit card or other means to borrow money and make purchases using the line. However, there may be limitations on how you use the line. Some plans may require you to borrow a minimum amount each time you draw on the line (for example, $300) and to keep a minimum amount outstanding. Some lenders also may require that you take an initial advance when you first set up the line.

Costs to Obtain a Home Equity Line

Many of the costs in setting up a home equity line of credit are similar to those you pay when you buy a home. For example:
  • A fee for a property appraisal, which estimates the value of your home.
  • An application fee, which may not be refundable if you are turned down for credit.
  • Up-front charges, such as one or more points (one point equals one percent of the credit limit).
  • Other closing costs, which include fees for attorneys, title search, mortgage preparation and filing, property and title insurance, as well as taxes.
  • Certain fees during the plan. For example, some plans impose yearly membership or maintenance fees.
  • You also may be charged a transaction fee every time you draw on the credit line.

Comparing a line of credit and a traditional second mortgage loan

If you are thinking about a home equity line of credit you also might want to consider a more traditional second mortgage loan. This type of loan provides you with a fixed amount of money repayable over a fixed period. Usually the payment schedule calls for equal payments that will pay off the entire loan within that time. You might consider a traditional second mortgage loan instead of a home equity line if, for example, you need a set amount for a specific purpose, such as an addition to your home.

In deciding which type of loan best suits your needs, consider the costs under the two alternatives. Look at the APR and other charges. You cannot, however, simply compare the APR for a traditional mortgage loan with the APR for a home equity line because the APRs are figured differently.
  • The APR for a traditional mortgage takes into account the interest rate charged plus points and other finance charges..
  • The APR for a home equity line is based on the periodic interest rate alone. It does not include points or other charges.


 
   
 
 
 
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