Paying Down $29K HELOC Balance Due in 3 Years

Dear Debt Adviser, Between 2005 and 2007, I was laid off four times. I took all the debt I had accumulated and consolidated it in my home equity line of credit to the tune of $29,000. I did that with the idea I would then refinance/consolidate it all in my house payment. Well, I waited too long, and now my home is worth considerably less than my current mortgage and HELOC combined. I have until February 2015 to pay off the HELOC. I do not know what to do. I am afraid I will lose my home. -- Daniel

Dear Daniel, First, relax. A lot can happen in three years. You could be offered a new position with a larger salary. You could discover you have a hidden passion and aptitude for a hobby that will bring in extra money. You could be left an unexpected inheritance. Or the value of your home may recover. You get the idea.

In the meantime, what I want you to do is determine how much extra you can realistically afford each month to pay down the balance on your HELOC. Then, either make the payments or have the extra money directly deposited into a savings account, so you'll have it if you need it.

Here's an example of the math for what you need to do. To pay off the $29,000 balance by February 2015, you would need to make a monthly payment of approximately $866 or a biweekly one of $433. That figure is based on today's average interest rate for a HELOC of 4.78%. Your interest rate may be lower than that.

If you come up short on funds to make that steep a payment, be sure to make at least the interest payment and put aside what you can on a consistent basis to put you in a position where any windfall will put you over your goal line. For example, let's say you can only come up with $650 a month to pay toward the HELOC balance. That leaves you short $216 per month or with a balance of $7,776 in February 2015. This is not the end of the world, and in fact, you'd now be so close to your goal that your blood pressure should drop along with your anxiety level.

Also, consider putting your tax refunds, holiday bonuses and any other windfalls throughout the year toward your HELOC. You may find you are closer than you thought to paying it off in time.

If all else fails and you find you will be unable to repay the HELOC by the deadline, contact your lender before the loan goes into default and request an extension on your repayment period. Should your lender be uncooperative, I would recommend you contact a Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved housing counseling agency. See what options are available to you now for refinancing your loan at that time. There is no way to know now what programs and options may be available to you in 2015.

So begin to increase your payments or savings now, and you'll have more options available when Valentine's Day comes around in three years.

Good luck!

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