Some banks show an uptick, but often, the loans are harder to get.

Seeking money for a pressing need or unexpected expense? A TV commercial airing these days from U.S. Bank suggests a solution: A home equity line of credit.

The spot may be reminiscent of the housing bubble for some, but it also represents a sign of the recovery.

“A small fraction of banks are actually reporting they’re seeing stronger demands for home equity lines of credit over the last 3 months,’’ says Keith Leggett, vice president and senior economist at the American Bankers Association.

“The lenders are still going to be cautious, but the fact that you are seeing lenders actually tip toe back into that water is an indication that the housing market has probably stabilized and is actually beginning to recover,” he says. “Lenders would not be going into this market if they viewed (that) housing prices were scheduled to drop further.”

ComericA bank says it’s seen an increase in home equity lines of credit in Orange County. The bank had a 55 percent rise in applications for them as of mid-October this year compared with the full year 2011, and a 36 percent increase in money taken out by borrowers, bank spokeswoman Nancy Tovar Huxen said. There was a 74 percent jump in home equity credit applications in September year to date over the same period ending September 2011, and a 68 percent increase in money taken out.


During the housing bubble, many homeowners used their home like ATMs. Income documentation and a healthy amount of collateral often were not deemed necessary. Home prices were soaring.

But since the crash, the rules for such credit, as with other types of loans, have tightened significantly.

“They’re being very careful about who they’re giving that loan to,’’ says Houtan Hormozian of the Orange County Association of Mortgage Professionals. “Banks definitely don’t give them out like they used to.’’

Now homeowners typically need a 720 FICO score, at least 20 percent equity in the home, and documentation of income and mortgage payment stability, mortgage brokers say. And home equity lines of credit don’t come cheap: Average fixed interest rates were 6.68 percent as of Oct. 5, down from 7.06 percent a year ago, according to HSH Associates, which collects data on the mortgage market.

So who qualifies for a HELOC nowadays?

U.S. Bank officials say though the bank’s commercial is airing now, their careful lending practices haven’t significantly changed, and that the bank continued to give out home equity lines of credit even after the housing crash.

“It’s really for the crème de la crème,’’ says Dave Haub, president of CMC Lending in Garden Grove, of typical guidelines for the loans. “There’s not a lot of people who have the equity. It’s almost for the people who really don’t need it.”


But borrowers who took out home equity lines of credit in the past could face trouble ahead. In a couple of years, more than half of these loans will begin amortizing.

Houtan Hormozian
Houtan Hormozian

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