Home Equity Loans

Home Equity Loans

A home equity loan is a loan for a fixed amount of money that is secured by your home. You repay the loan with equal monthly payments over a fixed term, just like your original mortgage. If you don’t repay the loan as agreed, your lender can foreclose on your home.

The amount that you can borrow usually is limited to 85 percent of the equity in your home. The actual amount of the loan also depends on your income, credit history, and the market value of your home.

Ask friends and family for recommendations of lenders. Then, shop and compare terms. Talk with banks, savings and loans, credit unions, mortgage companies, and mortgage brokers. But take note: brokers don’t lend money; they help arrange loans.

Ask all the lenders you interview to explain the loan plans available to you. If you don’t understand any loan terms and conditions, ask questions. They could mean higher costs. Knowing just the amount of the monthly payment or the interest rate is not enough. The annual percentage rate (APR) for a home equity loan takes points and financing charges into consideration. Pay close attention to fees, including the application or loan processing fee, origination or underwriting fee, lender or funding fee, appraisal fee, document preparation and recording fees, and broker fees; these may be quoted as points, origination fees, or interest rate add-on. If points and other fees are added to your loan amount, you’ll pay more to finance them.

Ask for your credit score. Credit scoring is a system creditors use to help determine whether to give you credit. Information about you and your credit experiences — like your bill-paying history, the number and type of accounts you have, late payments, collection actions, outstanding debt, and how long you’ve had your accounts — is collected from your credit application and your credit report. Creditors compare this information to the credit performance of people with similar profiles. A credit scoring system awards points for each factor that helps predict who is most likely to repay a debt. A total number of points — your credit score — helps predict how creditworthy you are, that is, how likely it is that you will repay a loan and make the payments when they’re due.

Negotiate with more than one lender. Don’t be afraid to make lenders and brokers compete for your business by letting them know that you’re shopping for the best deal. Ask each lender to lower the points, fees, or interest rate. And ask each to meet — or beat — the terms of the other lenders.

Before you sign, read the loan closing papers carefully. If the loan isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign. Either negotiate changes or walk away. You also generally have the right to cancel the deal for any reason — and without penalty — within three days after signing the loan papers.

Home Equity Lines of Credit

A home equity line of credit — also known as a HELOC — is a revolving line of credit, much like a credit card. You can borrow as much as you need, any time you need it, by writing a check or using a credit card connected to the account. You may not exceed your credit limit. Because a HELOC is a line of credit, you make payments only on the amount you actually borrow, not the full amount available. HELOCs also may give you certain tax advantages unavailable with some kinds of loans. Talk to an accountant or tax adviser for details.

Like home equity loans, HELOCs require you to use your home as collateral for the loan. This may put your home at risk if your payment is late or you can’t make your payment at all. Loans with a large balloon payment — a lump sum usually due at the end of a loan — may lead you to borrow more money to pay off this debt, or they may put your home in jeopardy if you can’t qualify for refinancing. And, if you sell your home, most plans require you to pay off your credit line at the same time.

Source: Federal Trade Commission (FTC)