You Can Still Get a Home Equity Line of Credit

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Not long ago, homes worked like giant credit cards. Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) helped borrowers cash in on the equity in the homes. You can still get a HELOC today, though the business is much smaller, with home prices down about 40 percent from their peak and banks tightening their lending standards. The volume of new HELOCs created in November was just $4.9 billion. That's less a quarter of the HELOCs created two
Not long ago, homes worked like giant credit cards. Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) helped borrowers cash in on the equity in the homes.

You can still get a HELOC today, though the business is much smaller, with home prices down about 40 percent from their peak and banks tightening their lending standards.

The volume of new HELOCs created in November was just $4.9 billion. That's less a quarter of the HELOCs created two years before, in November 2007, according to a recent report from credit tracker Equifax.

So banks are still creating billions of dollars in new HELOCs every month for borrowers who use them for purposes from an alternative to automobile financing to a credit line for small business.

HELOC interest rates now hover around 5 percent. That's down from over 7 percent two years ago and is much better than the rates offered by many credit cards, according to Bankrate.com.

The new HELOCs are also smaller, averaging $80,724 in November 2009. That's down from $80,724 two year before, according to Equifax. Banks also require strong credit to get a HELOC. Only borrowers with credit scores 820 and higher qualified for HELOCs over $100,000 in 2009. A credit score over 800 was needed to get a line over $80,000, compared to just 700 back in 2007.

The places where borrowers use HELOCs has also changed with falling property values. Borrowers Pennsylvania made up 8 percent of the market for new HELOCs in 2009, putting a state largely ignored by housing boom on par with the real estate gold rush state of Florida, which also had 8 percent of the HELOC market in 2009, and ahead of California, which had 7 percent.

Common sense should also limit the size of a credit line.

"Since many economists believe home prices have further to fall, don't borrow the maximum you can," said Amanda Gengler, writer for Money Magazine in a PBS interview.
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