Best financial moves to make: Home equity

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

With the Fed standing pat on short-term rates, what are the smart moves for you to make?

Home equity loans:
Home equity loan rates tend to follow the prime rate, though rates on longer-term loans (those with terms of 10 years or 15 years, for instance) behave more like long-term, fixed-rate mortgage rates.

Best move now:
Fed chairman Alan Greenspan seems content to wait for the weak economy to strengthen itself. If his confidence in the resilience of the economy is misplaced and unemployment rises too high and businesses remain reluctant to invest in plants and equipment, the Fed might be forced to cut short-term rates. That would cause the prime rate to drop, and so would rates on home-equity loans.

Most economists agree that the economy will improve later this year, that the Fed’s next move will be to raise rates and that the Fed won’t raise rates until late this year or sometime next year.

Bottom line: Don’t time your home-equity loan based on guesswork about what the Fed might do this year. If you need to get a home equity loan, go ahead.

Even if rates drop afterward, you can relax knowing that you still got a good rate by historical standards. Equity loan rates averaged 7.53 percent April 30. Use
Bankrate’s home equity loan search engine to find the best rates in your area. You’ll find the lowest rates on the shortest-term loans (say, three to five years).

Home equity lines of credit:
Most equity lines of credit feature variable rates and payments tied to the prime rate, which moves up and down with Fed rate actions.

Best move now:
Even if the Fed cuts rates later this year, your monthly payment on a home equity line of credit might not decline if it has a minimum interest rate or a minimum monthly payment. Check the loan paperwork and see.

Home equity lines of credit tend to have lower rates than home equity loans. Because the rates adjust with the prime rate, they could fall again later this year if the Fed cuts short-term rates. Eventually — maybe next year — rates on home equity lines of credit could rise higher than the rate on today’s home equity loans. But that might take a while.

Equity line of credit rates averaged 4.66 percent April 30.
Search for the best HELOC rate in your area.