Time to Rediscover the Home Equity Loan
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With all the focus on record low mortgage rates, another falling rate has received little attention: the enticing rate on home equity loans. These are the best deals they've been in years.
This week the rate on the fixed-rate five-year home equity installment loan fell to 5.4%, compared with 5.8% a week earlier, according to the Bankingmyway.com survey. Rates were around 8.5% as the financial crisis raged in 2009.
The Federal Reserve's low-rate policy and investors' demand for debt securities have driven home equity rates down the same as the have for mortgage rates.
Home equity rates are usually higher than mortgage rates because home equity loans are riskier for lenders. In a foreclosure, a home equity lender gets paid only after the mortgage lender recoups all it is owed, and often the home's sale does not produce enough for both.
Many homeowners, of course, cannot get a home equity loan today because the plunge of home prices during the crisis left them with no equity to borrow against. Others simply cannot meet lenders tough standards. But if you need some cash and can get a home equity loan, should you?
Many homeowners opt instead to refinance their first mortgages. After all, why take out a home equity loan at 5.4% if you can get a 30-year mortgage for 3.4%? Long-term homeowners with lots of equity can refinance for more they owe on the old mortgage and use the extra cash just as they would a home equity loan, but at a lower rate. For these homeowners, the home equity loan is an also-ran.
But now that home prices are rising, people who have already refinanced a first mortgage when they didn't need that extra cash may find the home equity loan is the best way to deal with a new cash need. Their choice is to refinance again, using the new equity to take out a larger loan then they need to pay off the old mortgage, or to leave the low-rate mortgage in place and add a home equity loan.