Home-equity loans harder to come by

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DEAR BENNY: My wife and I bought our first home in November of last year. We paid $600,000 for the house and put 20 percent down so the mortgage is for $480,000. I've heard that opening a line of credit on the house is a good idea in case of an emergency. Obviously our house hasn't really appreciated since then, and I think we've put less than $1,000 towards the principal. Can we take out a line of credit based on the down payment because it's technically equity? Or will the mortgage company laugh in our face? Thanks! --Chris DEAR CHRIS: I certainly hope they won't laugh in your face, but under your circumstances, I doubt that you will be able to obtain a home equity (HELOC) loan at the present time. Yes, I absolutely believe that every homeowner should have a HELOC. It's a line of credit that you use only when you are in need of money. You do not pay any interest or principal until you actually draw down on that line. To me, it's a checkbook in my desk drawer for that rain...