Be sure to carefully review any home equity loan before you sign it. You can find loans with large balloon payments at the end of the loan, and others with no balloons but with higher monthly payments.
Repayment Terms: During the Loan
As you pay back the loan, your payments may change if your credit line has a variable interest rate, even if you do not borrow more money from your account. Find out how often and how much your payments can change. You also will want to know whether you are paying back both principal and interest, or interest only. Even if you are paying back some principal, ask whether your monthly payments will cover the full amount borrowed or whether you will owe an additional payment of principal at the end of the loan. In addition, you may want to ask about penalties for late payments and under what conditions the lender can consider you in default and demand immediate full payment.
Repayment Terms: End of Loan
Ask whether you might owe a large payment at the end of your loan term. If so, and you are not sure you will be able to afford the balloon payment, you may want to renegotiate your repayment terms. When you take out the loan, ask about the conditions for renewal of the plan or for refinancing the unpaid balance. Consider asking the lender to agree ahead of time and in writing to refinance any end-of-loan balance or extend your repayment time, if necessary.
Safeguards Built Into the Loan
One of the best protections you have is the Federal Truth in Lending Act, which requires lenders to inform you about the terms and costs of the plan at the time you are given an application. Lenders must disclose the APR and payment terms and must inform you of charges to open or use the account, such as an appraisal, a credit report, or attorneys' fees. Lenders also must tell you about any variable-rate feature and give you a brochure describing the general features of home equity plans.
The Truth in Lending Act also protects you from changes in the terms of the account (other than a variable-rate feature) before the plan is opened. If you decide not to enter into the plan because of a change in terms, all fees you paid earlier must be returned to you.
Because your home is at risk when you open a home equity credit account, you have three days to cancel the transaction, for any reason. To cancel, you must inform the lender in writing. Following that, your credit line must be cancelled and all fees you have paid must be returned.
Once your home equity plan is opened, if you pay as agreed, the lender, in most cases, may not terminate your plan, accelerate payment of your outstanding balance, or change the terms of your account. The lender may halt credit advances on your account during any period in which interest rates exceed the maximum rate cap in your agreement, if your contract permits this practice.