What to Avoid when Getting a Home Equity Loan

The following information on the What to Avoid when Getting a Home Equity Loan is provided by MSN Money. The article below is by Terry Savage. This is great information and can be accessed directly at


What looks like a great deal, but could turn out to be the most devastating financial decision of your life?

It's when you consolidate credit-card debt by taking out home-equity loans for more than the value of your house, sometimes for up to 125% of the home's value. Unlike traditional home-equity loans that rely on the equity you've built up in your home, these loans aren't tax deductible and usually carry higher interest rates.

By television, direct mail and now by e-mail, lenders are pushing you to consolidate your credit-card debt by borrowing on your home. Here's the text of an actual e-mail I received recently:

Consolidate Debt, Refinance Your Home or Put Cash In Your Pocket! We Have Special Programs with rates starting as low as 2.5% APR 7.22% Special Programs for Self-Employed Borrowers Previous Bankruptcies or Foreclosures OK!! Debt Consolidation - pay off high-interest debts and get the cash you need Second Mortgages - get 125% of your home's value.

The television commercials make it look easy and enticing. A top athlete, like quarterback Dan Marino, offers you the chance to cut your monthly payments, pay off your credit cards and take out extra cash to remodel your kitchen or go on a vacation. But think twice. It's important to understand the risks, as well as the attraction, of those lower monthly payments.

For some, this is the way to go
For many people, a home-equity loan is indeed the smart way to borrow. The interest rate is typically lower, and the interest is tax deductible. Plus, home-equity loans are amortized over about 15 years vs. about four years for credit cards. That means the monthly payment on a home-equity loan is far lower than a minimum required credit-card payment.

For example, if you owe $10,000 on your credit card at 15%, you'll probably have a monthly payment of $278. But the same amount owed at 15% on a home-equity loan that's amortized over 15 years results in a monthly payment of only $140. The more you owe, the more enticing a home-equity loan looks. At $20,000 in debt in the same scenario, the home-equity loan costs $280 a month, while the credit card and/or auto debt requires a $557 monthly payment.

The trouble comes when people borrow all their home equity to pay off their debts, but they haven't learned how to manage their money well enough to avoid running up credit-card debts and auto-loan debts again. In fact, the lenders have a name for this process: It's called "reloading." Then, if the economy slows or one of the breadwinners loses a job, the next time you get into credit-card trouble, you could actually lose your house.

Statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association underscore the problem. The percentage of homes foreclosed in 1998 was 1.16%, about double the rate of the terrible recession years of the early 1980s, when 0.59% of homes were in foreclosure. The rising foreclosure rate comes even as bankruptcy rates remain high, with 1.2 million filings in 1999. But as people try to avoid bankruptcy, they're increasingly taking out home-equity loans to pay off their other bills. As a result of those home-equity loans (and new mortgage programs designed to help people buy homes with down payments of less than 5%), Americans have a lower percentage of equity in their homes than at any time in history.

Essentially, an unsecured loan
The real kicker comes if you borrow past the value of your home. Unlike home-equity loans, these loans usually are not considered tax deductible. The law says that all interest on a first mortgage (of up to $1 million) is deductible. And interest on up to $100,000 of a second mortgage or home-equity loan also is deductible. By law, interest on any part of a loan that exceeds 100% of the value of your home is not deductible.

In addition, lenders typically charge higher rates, because you've essentially taken out an unsecured loan. An unsecured loan means there is no collateral in case you default on the loan. A mortgage for up to the value of your home is "secured" by the home itself. Many lenders charge interest rates seven or eight percentage points higher than traditional mortgages. In some cases, that's twice what you'd pay for a regular mortgage or home-equity loan.

Don't get fooled by the "special programs" offer mentioned in advertisements like the one I mentioned earlier, either. They're either introductory loans, which require large "balloon payments" several years later, or adjustable rate loans in which the rates -- and the payments -- can increase every year. As long as the loan is repaid, it's very profitable. And the lenders know that paying off mortgage or home-equity loans takes a high priority in a consumer's mind, so the default rate is far lower than on unsecured credit-card lending.

SMR Research, a financial industry market-research firm, reports that about 30% of all home-equity loans are sub-prime. That is, these are loans made to borrowers who are considered a poor credit risk -- the very people most likely to be caught in the crunch when the economy turns down.

Bankruptcy: the only escape
The greatest danger for those who fall for this pitch is the fact that they've put their home on the line. If they fail to make the payments, the lender can force the home to be sold in a foreclosure proceeding. The grantor of the original mortgage must be paid off first; then the home equity lender collects what's left from the sale price. And if there's not enough equity to repay the home equity lender, a default judgment will be entered against the borrower for the difference. The only escape is bankruptcy.

The generation that went through the Great Depression of the 1930s learned the hard way not to borrow against the family home. So many people lost their homes that by 1935, banks categorized 20% of all mortgages as "real-estate owned" -- that is, foreclosed. But today's homeowners have forgotten -- or never learned -- the lessons of their grandparents. Rising home prices have tempted homeowners to count home equity as a source of ready cash. But that kind of home equity borrowing should only be done as part of an overall financial plan and a disciplined approach to money management. Otherwise, today's easy way out of debt could one day put your family out on the street.





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