Home Equity Loans
A home equity loan is a loan secured by the equity in a borrower's residence. It is generally structured in one of two ways. First, it can be structured as a traditional second mortgage loan, wherein the borrower obtains the funds for the full amount of the loan immediately and repays the debt with a fixed repayment schedule. Second, the home equity borrowing can be structured as a line of Credit, with a check, credit card, or other access to the line over its life. The home equity line of credit has evolved into the dominant form of home equity lending. This credit instrument generally offers variable interest rates and flexible repayment terms. Additional characteristics of this product line include relatively low interest rates as compared to other forms of consumer credit, absorption by some banks of certain fees (origination, title search, appraisal, recordation cost, etc.) associated with establishing a real estate-related loan. The changes imposed by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 relating to the income tax deductibility of interest paid on consumer debt led to the increased popularity of home equity lines of credit.
Home equity lending is widely considered to be a low-risk lending activity. These loans are secured by housing assets, the value of which historically has performed well. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that local housing values or household purchasing power may decline,
stimulating abandonment of the property and default on the debt secured by the housing. Certain features of home equity loans make them particularly susceptible to such risks. First, while the variable rate feature of the debt reduces the interest rate risk of the lender, the variable payment size exposes the borrower to greater cash flow risks than would a fixed-rate loan, everything else being equal. This, in turn, exposes the lender to greater credit risk. Another risk is introduced by the very nature of the home equity loan. Such loans are generally secured by a junior lien. Thus, there is less effective equity protection than in a first lien instrument. Consequently, a decline in the value of the underlying housing results in a much greater than proportional decline in the coverage of a home equity loan. This added leverage makes them correspondingly riskier than first mortgages.
Banks that make these kinds of loans should adopt specific policies and procedures for dealing with this product line. Management should have expertise in both mortgage lending as well as open-end credit procedures. Another major concern is that borrowers will become overextended and the bank will have to initiate foreclosure proceedings. Therefore, underwriting standards should emphasize the borrower's ability to service the line from cash flow rather than the sale of the collateral, especially if the home equity line is written on a variable rate basis. If the bank has offered a low introductory interest rate, repayment capacity should be analyzed at the rate that could be in effect at the conclusion of the initial term.
Other important considerations include acceptable loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios, and proper credit and collateral documentation, including adequate appraisals and written evidence of prior lien status. Another significant risk concerns the continued lien priority for subsequent advances under a home equity line of credit. State law governs the status of these subsequent advances. It is also important that the bank's program include periodic reviews of the borrower's financial condition and continuing ability to repay the indebtedness. The variation in contract characteristics of home equity debt affects the liquidity of this form of lending. For debt to be easily pooled and sold in the secondary market, it needs to be fairly consistent in its credit and interest rate characteristics. The complexity of the collateral structures, coupled with the uncertain maturity of revolving credit, makes home equity loans considerably less liquid than straight first lien, fixed maturity mortgage loans. While home equity lending is considered to be fairly low-risk, subprime home equity loans and lending programs exist at some banks. These programs have a higher level of risk than traditional home equity lending programs.