Tag Archives: Line of Credit

Canadians weighed down by lines of credit they don’t understand

3 million Canadians have home equity lines of credit, but half of us don’t know how they work

A survey suggests 35 per cent of Canadians have a home equity line of credit and 19 per cent said they’d borrowed more than they intended. (Canadian Press)

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Over the past 15 years, home equity lines of credit have emerged as the driver of mounting non-mortgage debt in Canada — yet many Canadians don’t understand what they’ve signed up for and are not moving to pay them off, a new survey suggests.

The more than three million Canadians holding a HELOC owed an average amount of $65,000, the study released Tuesday by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) found.  About one quarter of HELOC holders had a balance of more than $150,000.

Yet 25 per cent of respondents said they only made the interest payments month to month.

Ipsos conducted the online survey of 4,800 Canadians, most of them homeowners, from June 5-28, 2018, on behalf FCAC, a federal agency that promotes financial education.

 

HELOCs are revolving credit products secured against the equity in a home. Banks can lend up to 65 per cent of the value of a home. Such lines of credit have been easy to get and banks offer them as a default credit option to anyone with home equity.

Of the homeowners surveyed, 54 per cent had a mortgage and 35 per cent had a HELOC.

Cheap source of credit

“You can’t deny the fact that for the consumer it is a cheap source of credit. However, you have to use it well,” said Michael Toope, communications strategist for FCAC.

The problem is that people borrow more than they intended and end up struggling with the debt, he said.

The survey suggested there is a lack of understanding among consumers of how these lines of credit work.

Only half of respondents knew basic facts about the terms of HELOCs, such as:

  • Banks can raise the rate of a HELOC at any time.
  • The bank can demand the balance of a HELOC at any time.
  • There are fees to transfer a HELOC to another institution.
  • The bank can raise or lower the credit limit on a HELOC.

Interest rates began climbing in 2017 and 2018 and are likely to rise further this year. That affects the interest cost of these loans and the overall cost of paying them off. Your HELOC is more expensive than a mortgage as the interest rate is higher.

“Each bank sets its own prime rate based on the Bank of Canada rate and HELOCs are usually set at prime plus a premium, but the bank can change that premium at their discretion,” Toope said.

For some, HELOCs are risky

Almost two-thirds of respondents said they used their HELOC only or mostly as intended, as a revolving line of credit.

Yet for some, HELOCs are a risky product that eats away at their ability to build wealth, Toope said.

The equity they build in their home as they pay off a mortgage is a way for Canadians to build wealth over time, but that won’t happen if they have a debt secured by the house.

“In the end, you’re losing the long-term value of the mortgage you have in your home,” Toope said.

 

In a 2017 report, FCAC found home equity lines of credit may be putting some Canadians at risk of over-borrowing.

That report found most consumers do not repay their HELOC in full until they sell their home.

About 19 per cent of respondents to the new survey said they’d borrowed more than they intended.

How much do I owe?

And 18 per cent said they did not know the full balance on their HELOC.

Among those who paid only the interest on the debt, the majority were young Canadians, aged 25 to 34. That’s not unusual, as people at that stage of life tend to have lower incomes and may be burdened with student debt as well as a mortgage, but it still indicates a lack of understanding, Toope said.

About half of respondents said they used their HELOC for a renovation, but another 22 per cent consolidated other debt. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

The survey found 62 per cent of those who paid only the interest expected to repay their HELOC in full within five years, a plan Toope called a “mathematical impossibility.”

 

Half of Canadians borrowed against their HELOCs for renovations, but another 22 per cent dipped into it for debt consolidation, with vehicle purchases and daily expenses also common uses, according to the survey.

“People should know what they are going to use it for and how to pay it down, so it doesn’t become an eternal revolving debt,” Toope said.

Source: CBC.ca – Susan Noakes · CBC News · 

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Why consumers should be wary of using the wildly popular home equity lines of credit as ATMs

A federal agency is warning consumers addicted to home equity lines of credit — a product increasingly driving debt —  could find themselves at increased risk of default if the housing market corrects.

“Falling housing prices may constrain HELOC borrowers’ access to credit, forcing them to curtail spending, which could in turn negatively affect the economy,” the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada wrote in a 15-page report out Wednesday. “Furthermore, during a severe and prolonged market correction, lenders may revise HELOC limits downward or call in loans.”

The timing of the release from FCAC is coincidental but it comes just two days after the Toronto Real Estate Board reported new data that clearly show the housing market in retreat. May sales dropped 20.3 per cent from a year ago and prices were off 6.2 per cent from April amid a massive surge of active listings.

The report, titled Home Equity Lines of Credit: Market Trends and Consumer Issues, focuses on the massive explosion of the HELOC market which grew from about $35 billion in 2000 to $186 billion by 2010 for an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

During that period, HELOC became the fastest growing segment of non-mortgage consumer debt. In 2000, the HELOC market made up just 10 per cent of non-mortgage consumer debt but had climbed to 40 per cent by 2010.

“At a time when consumers are carrying record amounts of debt, the persistence of HELOC debt may add stress to the financial well-being of Canadian households. HELOCs may lead Canadians to use their homes as ATMs, making it easier for them to borrow more than they can afford,” said Lucie Tedesco, commissioner of the FCAC. “Consumers carrying high levels of debt are more vulnerable to the impact of an unforeseen event or economic shock.”

The average annual growth of the HELOC market slowed to five per cent from 2011 to 2013 and has averaged two per cent since, the slowdown at least partially attributable to tougher federal guidelines on how much home equity consumers can access through a HELOC.

HELOC products have become popular because they work like credit cards or unsecured lines of credit, in terms of the ability to draw money from them. They are usually backed by a collateral charge on your home but a HELOC most often gives the consumer the ability to withdraw and pay off their HELOC with flexibility — financed at a rate which is usually close to the prime lending rate at most banks.

Unlike a mortgage, a HELOC is a demand loan, and while most borrowers can pay interest-only on them, the loans are callable by the bank at any moment — a practice rarely seen in the Canadian market at this time.

A positive feature of a HELOC is the ability to consolidate high-interest debt from items like credit cards, and the report says from 1999-2010, 26 per cent of loans were used for just that. Another 34 per cent were used for financial and non-financial investment. The remaining 40 per cent was used for consumption or home renovation — a market Altus Group said was worth $71.4 billion in 2016.

The federal agency noted that most HELOC products sold today are part of what is called readvanceable mortgage. In those cases a HELOC is combined with the mortgage and as the mortgage is paid down, the available credit in  HELOC increases.

“In recent years, lenders have been strongly encouraging consumers to use readvanceable mortgages to finance their new homes,” said Tedesco.

She said complaints have shown people are not understanding the product. “It’s not that they’ve been bamboozled,” said Tedesco. “One of the things that we will be doing with the results of our research is trying to see how we can improve the disclosure around readvanceable mortgages, and will communicate to the financial institutions our expectations on that front.”

Source: Financial Post – Garry Marr | June 7, 2017

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