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Get help if home equity line is cut

October 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
During these tough economic times, banks are yanking people's home equity loans. That could mean trouble for those depending on them to help pay the bills. Frances Hicks has done a lot of work on her Laguna Niguel townhome. She paid for the beautiful new kitchen and other improvements with a home equity loan of credit or HELOC. After living in her place for 17 years, she had built up quite a bit of equity. But Frances is a realtor, and, as we all know, the housing market has been a tough business to be in.

"I'm not making the commissions I need to be making," said Frances.

With little-to-no paychecks, Frances planned to tap into her HELOC just to make ends meet. The only problem was her lender put a freeze on her line of credit, despite having plenty of equity.

"I actually filed Chapter 7 ... bankruptcy ... absolutely. Didn't want to do that. Didn't think I'd ever do it," said Frances.

Frances is just one of millions of homeowners all across the country, and all across income levels, who has seen her home values drop and slice into her home equity. Greg McBride is a senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com. He says this new policy by lenders and banks is happening everywhere.

"You may have had a line of credit approved for $100,000, back when you actually had $100,000 of equity in the home. Due to falling home prices, you no longer have that $100,000 in available credit. Therefore, the lender certainly doesn't want to be on the hook for it," said McBride.

James Burns is an attorney who usually handles loan modifications, but he's now doing more business with people having HELOC problems. He says a lot of decisions made by banks don't make sense.

"There's no definition on what's a significant decline. And, that's the term. And only the fed has said that's about 50 percent ... and most people aren't 50 percent," said Burns. "So, I think there's a lot of argument there."

Both James and Greg say homeowners with good credit can fight back.

"A lot of times it's just picking up the phone and requesting to have it reinstated. And, what we've seen in a couple of clients' instances is that they've called and it was reinstated," said Burns.

"Also, maybe you've done some home improvements that weren't factored into the previous appraisal when you originally got that home equity line. If so, then that's the type of thing that you'll want to communicate to the lender," said McBride.

It's a little late for Frances, but she says she will survive.

"When the going gets tough, the tough gets going," said Frances.

 

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