Unlocking a HELOC Mystery

If you could create a client-facing “tip sheet” for your business, a simple punch list of things to do and not-to-do, what would be on that list? You know, the items that always seem to fly under the radar of public knowledge and wisdom, but the ones that frequently undermine the best-of-intentioned customers? I’m sure all of us have this wealth of “insider knowledge” that we’d love to share with the public and, as a result, save them from the misery and inconvenience of being counted among the unfortunate and unsuspecting.

High on my list would be an explanation of how home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are treated when a borrower goes to refinance a home. Typically, a borrower would obtain a HELOC one of two ways:

  1. At the time of purchase (as with an 80-10-10 or “piggyback” loan).
  2. At a later date. The borrower would have a first mortgage in place an later add a line of credit in order to do home improvement, consolidate debt, etc.

There’s an important distinction between the two options because in the first case, the funds used from the HELOC are considered “purchase money.” In the second case, well simply, they are not.

For the homeowner who has both a first mortgage and a HELOC, refinancing involves some additional considerations. The borrower may either consolidate the balance on the HELOC with the remaining first mortgage amount, or he may subordinate the HELOC altogether. This second option implies that the HELOC will stay as is, but that the second mortgage lender will agree to a process that allows that lien to stay in second position on the title of the home.

Assuming that we have a borrower who is looking to consolidate a HELOC balance into a single, new mortgage, lenders will first look at the nature of the proposed loan. If it will be a conforming or FHA loan, then any balances that are NOT purchase money, once combined will create a “cash out” refinance — even if the borrower does not get a single red cent back at the time of closing. Again, simply consolidating any balances that were not exclusively used to buy the home (such as with an 80/10/10) mean the new loan will be classified as a cash-out refinance and be priced accordingly — typically with slightly higher rates and more restrictive loan-to-value (LTV) parameters.

If the new loan will be a jumbo mortgage then things get a little more interesting. If the new loan balance will fall above the FHA and conforming limits then many jumbo investors will look at the line of credit itself. Specifically, they will look to see if any draws were taken on the line over the last twelve months. If not, then they will often classify the refinance as “rate and term.” This can be a real benefit to the borrower in the way of lower rates and higher LTVs. Just to clarify, the HELOC in these cases did not need to be purchase money, it just needs to have been recently inactive with respect to its balance increasing. If that holds true, structuring the refinance as a jumbo as opposed to a conforming, if possible, may be a highly beneficial approach and we employ it all the time here in the high-cost environment of the San Francisco Bay Area. But caveat borrower. If you have 11 months of payback on the HELOC that is punctuated by a $1 draw on the line in month 12, you go back to square one or you are looking at a cash-out refinance.

And so this last point is the one I wish I could shout from the rooftops.  If you have a jumbo scenario, and if you have a home equity line of credit that you’re looking to consolidate, try to avoid draws for 12 months before you refinance.

Let me know if any questions any time. We’re here to help you with your jumbo or conforming refinance and we’re here to help unlock a common mystery of the HELOC.

LOC her up, 


Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Guaranteed Rate
NMLS: 22343
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959

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*The views and opinions expressed on this site about work-related matters are my own, have not been reviewed or approved by Guaranteed Rate and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Guaranteed Rate. In no way do I commit Guaranteed Rate to any position on any matter or issue without the express prior written consent of Guaranteed Rate’s Human Resources Department.

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