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The $265 Billion Wave That's About to Crush Homeowners


Credit.com

Millions of consumers will have to absorb a major hit to their household budget in the coming months. About $265 billion in home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) will enter the repayment period in the next few years, according to a study from Experian, and consumers may see their monthly payments spike — in some cases, triple or quadruple what they previously paid.

HELOC originations soared from 2005 up until the start of the housing crisis, and because many HELOCs enter the repayment phase after 10 years, these billions of dollars in outstanding credit balances are just now coming due. This wave of HELOC resets is expected to significantly stress borrowers' finances and the lending industry.

"This analysis is critical as we want to not only help lenders prepare and understand the payment stress of their borrowers, but also give consumers an opportunity to understand what the impact may be to their financial status and how to be better prepared for it," said Michele Raneri, Experian's vice president of analytics and business development, in a statement about the study.

HELOCs are generally divided into two periods: draw and repayment. During the draw period, consumers can use the line of credit while making minimum, interest-only payments. Once the HELOC resets, consumers can no longer borrow from that line of credit, and they must restore the equity they haven't yet repaid.

"Instead of using it like a line of credit, borrowing and then repaying the loan to restore the home equity that had been tapped into, most people simply took the maximum amount in cash and never tried to pay down the outstanding amount for the entire 10-year period," said Charles Phelan, a debt-relief consultant who specializes in HELOC negotiation, in an email. He contributes content on the topic to Credit.com. "In effect, most existing HELOCs are therefore like a huge credit card debt that has been at the maximum limit for years, with only interest expense being paid each month to keep the balance the same and not reduce it."

How much your payment increases depends on many things, like the interest rate and the length of the repayment period — a shorter repayment period generally translates into a larger increase in payment. Some HELOCs have no repayment period and require a lump-sum repayment when the draw period ends.

The HELOCs that are coming due were opened in very different economic times, under the impression that home values would continue to rise. Because that didn't happen, borrowers may not be prepared to handle this significant change to their finances.

"A lucky few will be able to absorb the new high monthly payment without defaulting and thereby risking foreclosure, and some will have sufficient equity to obtain a traditional refinance to a new single mortgage," Phelan wrote. "For a majority of homeowners with HELOCs, however, options are limited due to real estate prices having dropped to the point where the most HELOCs are not covered by equity. This blocks people from refinancing to a single new mortgage at a more reasonable payment level."

Even if refinancing is an option, it requires the borrower to have great credit. Phelan said borrowers without the ability to refinance can look into government loan-modification programs, Chapter 13 bankruptcy or settling the second lien, but he expects HELOC defaults to skyrocket. No matter how you plan to address your HELOC reset, it's crucial to have a grasp on your credit standing so you can better research your options for managing repayment and how those options will impact your credit. One way to get your credit scores for free is through Credit.com, where you'll also get suggestions to help you improve your credit.

"With more than 10 million of these contracts having been issued during 2005-2008, a tsunami of defaults is likely and will be a downward drag on America's housing recovery for years to come," Phelan wrote.

If you took out a HELOC between 2005 and 2008 and you're not sure what you'll be facing when the HELOC resets, it's time to look at your agreement and understand what you're dealing with. Simply by calling your lender, you can get a handle on the situation and prepare to absorb this shock to your finances.


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