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If you want to make an important purchase but do not currently have the money, you don’t necessarily have to put things on hold. If you own a house and have been paying your mortgage for several years, you may have enough equity to qualify for a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. Before you take that step, you need to understand how a HELOC works and ask yourself whether the purchase you want to make is worthwhile and whether you can handle the responsibility that comes with accessing your home’s equity.

How it Works

A HELOC is a line of credit that draws on the equity in your home, which is the current value of your home minus the amount you still owe on the mortgage. You may be able to receive as much as 80 or 90 percent of your home’s equity as a line of credit. You can use that credit all at once or a little at a time to lower your interest rates on credit card balances, make home improvements, buy a car or cover college costs.

The money will need to be repaid at an interest rate that is based on the amount of equity you have and your credit score. Interest is only charged on the amount of equity that is used. In most cases, your payments for the first several years will only go toward interest. The interest on a HELOC may be tax-deductible.

Is a HELOC Right for You?

Before you take out a home equity line of credit, you need to think carefully about your personality, habits and situation. First of all, ask yourself if you are considering a HELOC for the right reasons. If your house needs a major repair that cannot wait, or if you’re struggling to pay your credit card balances because of high interest rates, a HELOC could be a wise move.

Once you obtain a HELOC for one purpose, you’ll continue to have access to the remaining equity. If you can handle that temptation, it won’t be a problem. On the other hand, if you know you wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to use your home’s equity to finance a lavish vacation or a shopping spree, you should avoid a HELOC because you could get yourself into serious financial trouble. If you get in over your head and are unable to make the monthly payments on time, you might lose your house in a foreclosure.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

A home equity line of credit is a tool that has helped many homeowners finance necessary purchases that they would otherwise have been unable to afford. It’s important to consider the risks and to use a HELOC responsibly. Before you sign on the dotted line, carefully consider whether you’re doing it for the right reasons and whether you can handle the temptation and responsibility that comes with using a home equity line of credit.

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