A home equity line of credit 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.
How HELOCs work
With a home equity line, you will be approved for a specific amount of credit—your credit limit, the maximum amount you may borrow at any one time under the plan. Many lenders set the credit limit on a home equity line by taking a percentage (say, 75 percent) of the home’s appraised value and subtracting from that the balance owed on the existing mortgage.
In determining your actual credit limit, the lender will also consider your ability to repay, by looking at your income, debts, and other financial obligations as well as your credit history.
Many home equity plans set a fixed period during which you can borrow money, such as 10 years. At the end of this “draw period,” you may be allowed to renew the credit line. If your plan does not allow renewals, you will not be able to borrow additional money once the period has ended. Some plans may call for payment in full of any outstanding balance at the end of the period. Others may allow repayment over a fixed period (the “repayment period”), for example, 10 years.
Once approved for a home equity line of credit, you will most likely be able to borrow up to your credit limit whenever you want. Typically, you will use special checks to draw on your line. Under some plans, borrowers can use a credit card or other means to draw on the line.
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 plans may also require that you take an initial advance when the line is set up.
If you decide to apply for a home equity line of credit, look for the plan that best meets your particular needs. Read the credit agreement carefully, and examine the terms and conditions of various plans, including the annual percentage rate (APR) and the costs of establishing the plan. The APR for a home equity line is based on the interest rate alone and will not reflect the closing costs and other fees and charges, so you’ll need to compare these costs, as well as the APRs, among lenders.
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