Home Equity Loans In-Depth: Interest Rates

You will find most loans come with variable interest rates, some come with attractive low introductory rates, and a few come with fixed rates. So it pays to check with several lenders for the lowest rate. Compare the annual percentage rate (APR), which indicates the cost of credit on a yearly basis. Be aware that the advertised APR for home equity credit lines is based on interest alone. For a true comparison of credit costs, compare other charges, such as points and closing costs, which will add to the cost of your home equity loan. This is especially important if you are comparing a home equity credit line with a traditional installment (or second) mortgage, where the APR includes the total credit costs for the loan.

In addition, ask about the type of interest rates available for the home equity plan. Most home equity credit lines have variable interest rates. These variable rates may offer lower monthly payments at first, but during the rest of the repayment period the payments may change and may be higher. Fixed interest rates, if available, may be slightly higher initially than variable rates, but fixed rates offer stable monthly payments over the life of the credit line.

If you are considering a variable rate, check and compare the terms. Check the periodic cap, which is the limit on interest rate changes at one time. Also, check the lifetime cap, which is the limit on interest rate changes throughout the loan term. Ask the lender which index is used and how much and how often it can change. An index (such as the prime rate) is used by lenders to determine how much to raise or lower interest rates. Also, check the margin, which is an amount added to the index that determines the interest you are charged. In addition, inquire whether you can convert your variable rate loan to a fixed rate at some future time.

Sometimes, lenders offer a temporarily discounted interest rate -- a rate that is unusually low and lasts only for an introductory period, such as six months. During this time, your monthly payments are lower too. After the introductory period ends, however, your rate (and payments) increase to the true market level (the index plus the margin). So, ask if the rate you are offered is "discounted," and if so, find out how the rate will be determined at the end of the discount period and how much larger your payments could be at that time.

Next Steps

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