Fears Fading Over Looming Home Equity Resets

August 8, 2014

Millions of customers with home equity lines of credit are expected to see their payments rise in the coming years, but lenders don’t believe these customers pose as much risk to the housing market as they originally feared, according to new research from TransUnion, a credit information service provider.

Many Helocs were originated before the housing market collapsed and as home values were still continuing to climb. Indeed, nearly half of the 16 million consumers with Heloc balances by the end of 2013 had loans that were originated from 2005 to 2007. Many of those lines have a 10-year draw period. As such, borrowers are able to reach into their credit and they’re only responsible for paying the interest on the loan during that draw period. But once that period ends – which for many begins next year – borrowers must then begin paying both interest and principal on outstanding balances.

More than half of the loans have balances of $100,000 or more, according to the TransUnion study.

So why have lenders’ fears about Helocs began to fade? According to TransUnion’s study, fewer than 20 percent of the balances are at significant risk of default.

“There’s clearly risk in the market,” Ezra Becker, the vice president for research and consulting at TransUnion, told The New York Times. “But we’re not faced with an unknowable or immeasurable or nebulous fear.”

Also, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has been proactively urging lenders to reach out to borrowers ahead of time to mitigate the risks, encouraging lenders to extend workout or modification programs to borrowers if necessary.

“While improving, substantial challenges remain, and the O.C.C. will continue to monitor exposure levels and lender efforts to mitigate the risks,” according to a risk report from the comptroller.

Overall, Becker doesn’t believe the Heloc resets will take as big of toll on the housing market as once predicted. “As unemployment comes down, more people have the wherewithal to pay their debts,” Becker told The New York Times. “And as home values go up, consumers will have a better exit strategy if they can’t manage their debt.”

Source: “Dealing with Home Equity Resets,” Los Angeles Times (Aug. 7, 2014)