If you own your home it is likely to be your greatest single asset. Before putting that valuable asset on the line in exchange for a loan, think carefully and do your research on where the loan is coming from, and at what cost. By agreeing to a loan that’s based on the equity you have in your home, you may be putting your most valuable asset at risk. “If you are depending on a home equity loan that is suddenly taken away, it could cause you to lose your home,” said Cindy Marcus, RE/MAX Santa Barbara, CA.
A third or less of home-equity borrowing is used for anything that could be considered an investment, such as home improvements or education. The rest goes for debt consolidation, vacations or purchases of assets that quickly depreciate, such as cars. According to Eric Tyson, a personal finance counselor and author of several real estate “Dummies” guides, urges homeowners to keep in mind that their home equity should not be thought of as collateral for frivolous expenditures.
If you’re thinking of literally betting your house with a home-equity loan or line of credit, you should clearly understand how these loans work, when to use them and how to get the best deals.
There are two types of home equity lending- 1) loans and 2) lines of credit. By definition, a home equity loan is a type of loan in which the borrower uses the equity in his home as collateral.
1) Closed-end home equity loans, where the borrower receives a lump sum at the time of the closing and cannot borrow further. The maximum amount of money that can be borrowed is determined by various variables, including credit history, income, and the appraised value of the collateral, among others. It is common to be able to borrow up to 100% of the appraised value of the home, less any liens, although there are lenders that will go above 100% when doing over-equity loans.
2) An open-end home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC) is more like a credit card, meaning that it is a revolving credit loan where the borrower can choose when and how often to borrow against the equity in the property. Like the closed end loan, it may be possible to borrow up to 100% of the value of a home, less any liens. These lines of credit are available up to 30 years and have variable interest rates that are typically tied to the prime rate, which is currently at 8.00. The minimum monthly payment can be as low as only the interest that is due. Unlike credit cards, however, home-equity lines of credit usually aren’t indefinite. For the first 10 years or so, you can draw as much as you want from your credit limit, and you only need to pay the interest charges. In the next stage, however, the “draw” period ends and whatever debt you have left is “amortized,” which means you need to start paying principal and interest to retire your debt.
It is very important to know which kind of loan to use and when. A home-equity loan is generally the best choice when you know exactly how much your purchase is likely to cost and you need several years to pay it off. You also might consider a loan, rather than a line of credit, when you want to lock in a low interest rate in a rising-rate environment.
A line of credit may be a better option for shorter-term borrowing, or when you want to be able to tap your home equity to cover emergencies.
In the end, however, consider the risk you are taking by putting your home on the line. You should try to keep a cushion of at least 20% equity in your home. If your combined mortgage and home-equity borrowing exceeds that amount, you’ll pay higher interest rates. You’re also cutting yourself off from an important source of funds in an emergency.