Home equity loans held by the top banks increased 8.13% in the 12 months ending June 30, reflecting refined data mining and advertising techniques, growing consumer awareness, and new loan products.

As of June 30, all FDIC-insured banks had more than $92.3 billion of home equity loans and lines of credit outstanding, versus $85.6 billion the year before, according to Sheshunoff Information Services Inc. in Austin, Tex.

"We have had an extremely successful year in home equity," said Karen Green, director of marketing for BankBoston. The bank showed the most phenomenal growth of the top 100 home equity banks-more than 700%, to $960 million, according to the study. Bank of Boston's merger with BayBanks Inc. last year was a big factor in the portfolio growth, Ms. Green said.

Both banks offered a wide variety of home equity products, and the merger allowed them to "just put that together," she said. For example, Bank of Boston provided loans for 100% of a home's value, and BayBank offered a line exclusively for education. Now BankBoston offers both.

Consumer awareness of the product is also driving growth, she noted. "People are looking for convenient ways of managing their money," Ms. Green said. Higher tax bracket homeowners like home equity loans because the interest they pay is tax deductible.

Overall, the increase in bank home equity lending is being driven by banks' willingness to make home equity loans for more than 80% of a home's value, said Christine Clifford, consultant with Wholesale Access, Columbia, Md. "That's where the excitement is," she said.

Consumers often use home equity loans for debt consolidation, she said. Some homeowners with jumbo mortgages take out second loans to bring down their principal balance, and therefore eliminate the need for mortgage insurance on their home, Ms. Clifford said.

Huntington National Bank has offered home equity loans up to 100% of a home's value for a the last few years, said Sandy Agrast, vice president and manager of direct consumer lending.

But he attributes the Columbus, Ohio-based bank's 49% increase more to a new way of trying to reach customers.

"We've become much more targeted with our direct mail," Mr. Agrast said. Loans and lines this year totaled almost $1.14 billion.

Huntington is mining its existing data base of bank customers and looking for brand new prospects, said John Berner, vice president of consumer lending at Huntington.

The biggest of the bunch are growing the fastest, according to this year's survey. The most phenomenal home equity portfolio growth was concentrated within already huge players: Nine of the top 20 home equity banks experienced more than 100% portfolio growth for the year. (Many of the triple-digit volume increases at the top of the pool can be attributed to merger activity.)

Topping the list was Bank of America, San Francisco, with more than $7.3 billion in home equity loans and lines outstanding, a 36% increase over the year before, and almost double that of the No. 2 home equity bank, NationsBank, Charlotte, N.C.

Of the top 20 home equity banks, only Wells Fargo, San Francisco; Fleet National Bank, Springfield, Mass.; First Union National Bank, Avondale, Pa., and Citibank, New York, saw home equity volume decrease for the year. (First Union National Bank, Charlotte, saw a substantial increase in volume.)

Nonperforming loans, or those 90 days and over past due, decreased 3 basis points to 0.42% for all FDIC insured banks, the study found.

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