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March 2003

"Texans need and deserve the right to take out home equity lines of credit. This simple change will pump $741 million back to Texas homeowners."
-- Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Texas Comptroller

Home Equity Lending Gaps in Texas

The number of Texans with home equity loans has more than doubled since 1997 when changes in the Texas constitution made it easier for Texans to borrow against the equity they have in their homes.[1] Yet, Texans are still not taking as many home equity loans as residents in other states.

In the traditional home equity lending market—the segment that involves a lump-sum payout of equity to be repaid over a set term—Texans seem to have caught up with the rest of the nation. Indeed, the estimated 6.4 percent of Texas home-owners with traditional home equity loans in 2001 is not only up considerably from 2.5 in 1997 but may well be higher than the average for the other 49 states of 5.7 percent (Figure 1).[2] This most likely reflects the fact that one portion of the home equity loan market—the home equity line of credit market—remains unavailable to Texans.

figure 1

An estimated $12.7 billion in higher-cost, non-tax-deductible loans that currently exist could be supplanted if home equity lines of credit were available and Texans used these financial options at the same rate as other consumers in the country. By taking advantage of a substantially untapped resource, Texas consumers could save $741 million annually using home equity lines of credit instead of other loans. These savings could be pumped into the Texas economy through lower interest rates and additional federal income tax deductions. The gains would be realized in the Texas economy if existing loans were merely paid off by homeowners through home equity lines of credit. This need not expand homeowners’ overall debt burden.

Home Equity Lending in Texas

For more than 160 years, access to the home equity that owners had built up in their residences was largely untapped. As a direct result of the Panic of 1837, Texas prohibited the forced sale of homesteads for all but a very limited number of reasons. When Texas became a state, these protections became part of the state constitution and effectively barred foreclosing on a person’s residence for reasons other than non-payment of taxes, the original mortgage or a home improvement loan. These same provisions also effectively barred tapping into home equity for purposes other than home improvement.

But on November 4, 1997, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing more leeway in home equity lending and for reverse mortgages.[3] These loans became available to Texans in 1998, but some technical issues limited the availability of home equity loans for homesteads larger than one acre and from reverse mortgages. Subsequent amendments addressed these legal concerns.[4]

Changes in the Texas Constitution expanded the conditions under which homeowners could obtain a traditional home equity loan. These closed-end loans extend for a specified length of time and generally require repayment of interest and principal in equal monthly installments. Interest rates on these loans are ordinarily fixed for the life of the loan.

Growth in Home Equity Lending in Texas

Since changing the Texas constitution to allow wider use of home equity loans, Texans have steadily increased their reliance on these loans. According to American Housing Survey (AHS) data on nine Texas metropolitan areas that cover 68 percent of Texas’ owner-occupied homes, only 2.5 percent of Texas homeowners had any form of home equity loan in 1997, substantially less than the 14.5 percent for all U.S. homeowners outside of Texas that same year.

By 1999, the proportion of Texas homeowners with a home equity loan had risen to 4.5 percent. While this represents nearly a doubling of home equity loan usage in just two years, this was still slightly less than the estimated 5 percent rate for home equity loan usage in the nation and substantially less than the 12.9 percent estimated by the AHS that year for both home equity loans and lines of credit.

By 2001, the proportion of Texas households with home equity loans had reached 6.4 percent. At this level, the usage in Texas actually exceeded the usage rate of fixed-term closed-end loans in the U.S., indicating that Texans may have reached the saturation point with traditional home equity loans. These loans typically are written for a set amount to be repaid in equal installments over a specified time, just like a traditional mortgage.

Based on a survey conducted for the Comptroller of Public Accounts of home equity lenders in Texas, from 1998 to 2000, the amount of the average home equity loan was about $36,750. In 2001 and 2002, the average home equity loan jumped to more than $47,000.[5]

Closing the Gap

Although Texans’ reliance on home equity loans has grown substantially since the passage of the constitutional amendment, further gains may be unlikely. Other states’ average usage of 14 percent in 2001 included both traditional home equity loans and home equity lines of credit, financial instruments not now available to Texas homeowners. The possibility that the usage rate of traditional home equity loans in Texas exceeded the usage rate of similar loans in the nation probably indicates that without the home equity line of credit option, more homeowners are opting for the fixed term loans—their only other choice.

During much of the 1990s, about 8 percent of U.S. homeowners had a home equity line of credit whereas about 5 percent of homeowners had a traditional loan.[6] In 2001, AHS data indicated an estimated 8.4 percent of homeowners had a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and 5.7 percent had traditional home equity loans.

This newer form of home equity lending has become the preferred choice by homeowners in other states. A HELOC is a revolving account that permits borrowing from time to time, at the account holder’s discretion, up to a set credit limit. HELOCs also typically have more flexible repayment schedules than traditional home equity loans and have a variable interest rate.

Most consumers think home equity lines of credit are more convenient than traditional home equity loans. While about 40 percent of consumers cited the tax advantages of both types of home equity credit as an important consideration, 43 percent of HELOC users cited convenience of use as an advantage, compared with only 1 percent of those using the traditional home equity loans.[7]

Many of the major lenders in Texas make HELOC loans to homeowners in other states. Their experiences underscore how attractive this option is to consumers. Figure 2 presents the percentage of the amount of home equity loans and lines of credit written in Georgia, Florida and California by three major Texas lenders.[8] About 88 percent of the consumers in these states choose HELOCs compared with about 12 percent choosing traditional home equity loans.


Potential Economic Impact of HELOCs in Texas

One approach to examining what expanded home equity lending might mean in Texas is to estimate what consumers would save if they had access to HELOCs. Three issues are crucial when estimating this impact: what savings could be expected from lower interest costs; how much would HELOCs lower federal income tax bills; and how large total borrowing might become.

Underlying this assessment is the assumption that if Texans had access to HELOCs the total home equity usage in Texas would approach the U.S. average. This implies that consumer use of both home equity lines of credit and traditional loans would reach about 14 percent, 7.6 percentage points up from the 2001 level, which was 6.4 and consisted of only traditional home equity loans.

The true economic value of HELOCs to consumers lies in low interest rates and as a deduction from federal income taxes. For example, recent data from February 2003 show that the average interest rate on credit card debt is 13.8 percent, the rate for new auto loans is 5.8 percent and on home equity lines of credit, 4.4 percent.[9]

This implies that on a $1,000 loan, annual credit card interest charges would be $138 whereas these charges would amount to only $44 for the home equity line of credit. On $1,000 in outstanding credit card debt, conversion of this debt to a HELOC would save $94 in interest payments annually. But even this neglects the fact that HELOC interest costs are deductible from federal income taxes, whereas credit card interest charges are not deductible.

Although each individual’s exact marginal tax rate paid depends on adjusted gross income, the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that, on average, in 1999 interest deductions reduced income taxes 24.5 cents per dollar of interest paid.[10] This implies that, on average, the $44 in HELOC interest payments would generate an estimated $10.78 in federal income tax savings so that the total consumer savings per $1,000 in credit card debt replaced by HELOC would be $104.78 annually.

Savings from other loans would be less dramatic. Based on current rates, car loans would cost $58 in interest charges per $1,000 borrowed, or only $14 more than HELOC. But tacking on the deductibility of HELOC raises this savings to $24.78 annually per $1,000 borrowed.

The loans likely to be displaced by HELOC would be a mixture of credit card loans and other consumer loans such as car loans. According to Federal Reserve loan data, consumer debt nationwide at the end of 2002 was divided into $738.9 billion in revolving loans, of which credit card debt is a large part, and $1,017.9 billion in non-revolving loans.[11] Assuming Texas consumers have a similar debt profile, about 42 percent of Texas consumer debt would be in revolving credit and 58 percent in non-revolving. Based on these shares, the average consumer would save an estimated $58.38 in interest and tax payments per $1,000 owed by switching from other consumer credit sources to HELOC.[12]

How much Texans could save depends on the volume of consumer loans displaced. Using 2001 commercial bank data to update national figures indicates that the traditional home equity loan market in the U.S. reached $352.7 billion, up from $267 billion in 1997. Considering Texas’ share of home equity loans and the average per loan value, Texans account for an estimated 8.4 percent of the U.S. market for traditional home equity loans.

Based on this percentage and assuming that Texans would use both traditional and HELOC loans at the national rate, Texas consumers would exchange $12.7 billion in existing loans for HELOC. In doing so, Texas homeowners would save $741 million in interest charges and federal income taxes annually.

This would be a modest level of savings. The Federal Reserve Board estimates that households spend about 8 percent of their disposable personal income servicing the debt on revolving loans.[13] The $741 million annual savings from increased use of HELOCs would be about 1.7 percent of the annual amount Texans spend on debt service for revolving loans.[14]

Home Equity Delinquencies

If Texas consumers relied more on home equity lines of credit and followed national trends, loan delinquencies would likely fall. Based on American Bankers Association data (Table 1), Texas averages fewer loan delinquencies for closed-end home equity loans than consumers at the national level. Loan delinquencies did rise in Texas from 1999 to 2001, but dropped off in 2002.

Table 1: Texas Home Equity Delinquency Rates Compared to
All Other States Home Equity Delinquency Rates and All States First Mortgage Delinquency Rates*

  Closed-End** Home Equity Loans(1) Home Equity Lines of Credit(1) All States - First Mortgages(2)
  Texas All States All States Conventional FHA VA
2002 0.99% 1.30% 0.59% 3.06% 11.55% 7.87%
2001 1.17 1.28 0.73 2.96 10.78 7.67
2000 0.88 1.20 0.75 2.50 9.10 6.80
1999 0.77 1.26 0.62 2.60 8.60 6.80
* Delinquency Rates are based on the number of Loans Past Due 30 Days or More as a Percentage of Loans Outstanding.
** "Closed End" includes home equity and second mortgages (but not home improvement).
(1) Home equity delinquency rates obtained from "Consumer Credit Delinquency Bulletin" published quarterly by American Bankers Association.
(2) First mortgage delinquency rates obtained from "U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2001" and Mortgage Bankers Association of America "Quarterly Delinquency Surveys."

But nationwide, loan delinquencies for lines of credit are slightly more than half the rates seen for closed end home equity loans. Based on this pattern, a shift towards using home equity lines of credit from traditional home equity loans should lower overall home equity delinquency rates. Compared with first mortgages, the delinquency rates for both home equity loans and lines of credit are substantially lower.


The use of home equity loans in Texas has risen dramatically following constitutional changes in Texas in 1997. Use of closed-end traditional home equity loans in Texas exceeds nationwide use.

The fact that home equity lines of credit are not available in Texas contributes to a higher reliance on traditional home equity loans. But the strong consumer preference expressed for HELOCs in other states and consumer preference for their ease of use may indicate that continued expansion of lower interest, tax deductible home equity financing by consumers in Texas may slow without access to these loans.

If Texans were to use home equity financing only up to the national average through HELOCs, lower interest payments and lower federal taxes would save Texas consumers $741 million.

Making HELOCs available to Texas consumers would require passing another constitutional amendment and legislation proposing such amendments will likely be introduced during the current legislative session. If the nature of consumer safeguards and other requirements on lending institutions in Texas making HELOC loans were significantly more restrictive than national practices, interest rates on these loans in Texas could be higher than national rates, and the economic impacts less.

Data Collection

While banking and finance are two of the most heavily regulated industries, this level of scrutiny does not always result in the availability of detailed information. Since 1987, banks and finance companies have reported home equity lines of credit under receivables on quarterly Call Reports and since 1991 have also separately reported their holdings of traditional closed-end home equity loans. Mutual savings banks also report these data on Federal Reserve Board Call Reports.

Other segments of the financial industry report this information to varying degrees. Savings and loan associations and federal saving banks report credit line receivables on Call Reports, but they do not separate home equity loans from first mortgages. Since June 1996, finance companies have reported commercial and residential mortgages separately but do not distinguish between loans under lines of credit and traditional loans. Credit union data is available on both types of home equity debt from the Credit Union National Association.

At the national level, some data track the degree to which consumers utilize the various home equity loan alternatives. Every two years the Federal Reserve Board surveys consumers’ use of credit. This data, while instructive on overall trends and the use of home equity loans and lines of credit, does not contain information about practices in particular states. Moreover, much of the state-specific data collected from financial institutions is available primarily for the location of the financial institution involved, and not where the loan was made. Where this data are available, coverage by type of financing (home equity loan versus line of credit) is limited.

The Texas-specific data in this analysis is derived largely from two sources. First, the U.S. Bureau of the Census surveys about 60,000 Americans every two years about housing conditions. This survey includes questions about the usage of home equity loans, but only the most recent survey, from 2001, elicits responses on traditional home equity loans separately from home equity lines of credit. Because this survey is national, there is only partial coverage of Texas. Specifically, publicly available data from the survey identifies only responses coming from nine metropolitan areas in Texas. Although the sample does contain responses from non-metropolitan areas, these are not identified by state. The Census survey covers about 68.2 percent of the Texas population.

The second source of data is internal surveys of lending activity conducted by lending institutions doing business in Texas. These institutions cover more than 10 percent of the Texas market for commercial financial institutions and financial companies. These data are used to identify the potential to expand home equity lending in Texas if lines of credit became available.


[1] In 1997 and before, availability of home equity loans in Texas was limited to home improvement loans, loans to pay outstanding taxes and loans allowing one spouse to “buy out” another in the case of divorce. Such loans were typically known as a second lien against the property. Homeowners could not secure a loan backed by the equity in their home and use the proceeds of the loan for purposes other than those specified in law. Outside of Texas, using home equity loan proceeds for whatever purpose and even the more flexible home equity line of credit (a revolving line of credit secured by home equity) have been widely available for years.

[2] The tentative nature of this statement stems from what seems to be respondent confusion to the American Housing Survey (AHS). In the 2001 AHS, 14 Texas households identified themselves as having a home equity line of credit in 2001. Since these lines of credit currently cannot be offered in Texas, the most likely explanation for this is that these respondents misunderstood the “line of credit” option in the survey as describing the “draw down” feature of a home improvement loan during construction when, in fact, these instances were almost certainly traditional “closed end” loans. Placing these responses in that category indicates that 6.4 percent of the homeowners in the survey in Texas had a closed-end home equity loan as compared to only 5.7 percent in states outside of Texas.

[3]House Joint Resolution 31 (HJR 31) passed by the 1997 Legislature that, upon passage, became effective January 1, 1998.

[4] On November 2, 1999, Texas voters approved constitutional amendments proposed by the 1999 Legislature to address these problems, Senate Joint Resolutions 12 and 22 (SJR 12 and 22).

[5]Data submitted by lenders in early 2003. For number and amount of loans in Texas, the survey included five large Texas lenders.

[6]Glenn B. Canner, Thomas A. Durkin and Charles A. Luckett, “Recent Developments in Home Equity Lending,” Federal Reserve Bulletin, April 1998, p. 243.

[7]Canner, Durkin and Luckett, pp. 241- 251.

[8]From data submitted by lenders. Together these three lenders serve more than 10 percent of the commercial banking market in Texas.

[9] These rates and those of HELOCs are from on February 18, 2003. The credit card rate is for a standard card (not gold or platinum) at a fixed annual rate. The auto loan figure refers to a 48-month loan for a new car. The HELOC rate is for a $10,000 or minimum amount.

[10], February 20, 2003.

[11]Federal Reserve Board Statistical Release, G.19, Consumer Credit, February 7, 2003.

[12]This is a fairly conservative assessment on two points. First it assumes that consumers would replace current borrowing in proportion to the amount borrowed of each type without consideration of the interest rates charged for each type of borrowing. A more rational approach would be to replace all of the most costly borrowing first. Secondly, new car financing rates are among the lowest cost loans available and this probably underestimates the interest costs of non-revolving loans.

[13], February 19,2003.

[14] Disposable personal income in Texas is estimated to be $535.2 billion in 2001.