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Mortgage or HELOC: Which to Pay Off?

Jul. 4th 2010

Many of those that have an outstanding Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) loan are debating whether to withdraw additional funds in order to pay off their primary mortgages.

On one level, this probably seems like a silly question/notion, since it essentially involves substituting one loan for another. However, consider that HELOC loans typically accrue interest at variable rates while most primary mortgages accrue interest at a fixed rate. Those for whom such is the case can thus reap immediate savings on interest by withdrawing additional funds under their HELOC in order to repay their primary mortgage.

Of course, there are a couple problems with this approach. First of all, it ignores the possibility that variable rates may soon rise, to the extent that they exceed fixed rates. Under such a scenario, anyone who exchanged their primary mortgage for a HELOC would end up paying more interest. Second, there is a school of though which holds that a HELOC should be repaid before a primary mortgage, and in fact, this idea was confirmed by a recent study, which demonstrated that those who obtain home equity loans are more likely to default on their primary mortgages.

On the other hand, there is no indication that variable rates will rise anytime soon, let alone to the point where they would exceed fixed rates.The Fed has conveyed that rates will remain low for an extended period of time, and when it finally moves to adjust its benchmark Federal Funds Rate, it will probably move slowly. Thus, anyone who used their HELOC to repay their mortgage would probably save money for at least a couple years. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict where mortgage rates will stand.

Another approach would simply be to refinance one’s primary mortgage. While variable rates are currently near record lows, fixed rates are as well. Why risk a rise in variable rates if you can lock in a fixed-rate that as nearly as low? If, however, your credit is not strong enough to qualify for a refinancing, this is not an option. Instead, you can spend 1-2 years rebuilding your credit, before re-applying. If you are confident that you can stand the risk, you can shift the balance of your loan over to your HELOC, and save money in the interim.

Posted by Adam | in mortgage refinancing | 1 Comment »