Use it. Please.

That's today's plea to borrowers from home equity lenders.

Lenders are doing all they can to get borrowers to use their home equity lines of credit now that the costs to find new customers are going up and competition among lenders is intensifying.

"Obviously, it doesn't do any good to have lines that aren't in use," said Robert J. Schroeder, vice president, Security Bank, Milwaukee. "It is imperative for lenders to keep and stimulate usage of the line by the customer once they are on board."

The portion of lines of credit in use has dropped steadily since 1991, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In 1991, 56% of home equity lines of credit were in use. Last year, just over 50% were being utilized.

Christine Caldwell, a vice president at Bank One Columbus, Westerville, Ohio, said at a recent American Bankers Association conference that increasing the use of home equity lines of credit is one of the industry's most important challenges.

Ms. Caldwell suggested using "credit card tactics" - sending borrowers checks that can be cashed if they activate a line of credit. She also suggested sending customers videos highlighting the benefits of a line of credit.

"I do think customers forget about them," she said of home equity lines of credit.

One proposition gaining followers in the industry is tiered pricing - a practice begun recently at Security Bank.

Mr. Schroeder said the bank offers three tiers of pricing. The more the line gets used, the lower the interest rate. He said it was too early to tell how successful the method might be.

"Retention and solicitation programs of existing customers are going to become more important because the acquisition cost to get new customers is increasing," he said.

Shawmut Bank has started offering within the last month travel vouchers for using home equity lines of credit. The vouchers -redeemable at a travel agent - increase in value as the line's usage increases.

Every quarter the Hartford, Conn., bank offers new promotions to increase the use of home equity lines of credit, said Donald W. Grigley, executive vice president in charge of consumer lending at the parent company, Shawmut National Corp.

Lenders say the need to increase usage has grown more urgent now that competition for home equity lenders has intensified since the home-loan refinance boom ended in 1993.

Advanta Mortgage Corp. is a perfect example of that. The lender, based in Fort Washington, Pa., and San Diego, introduced its first home equity line of credit a few weeks ago.

The response to its first direct mailing was better than expected, said Milton Riseman, president.

Like its first-mortgage business, Advanta is marketing home equity lines of credit to borrowers who do not measure up to the qualification standards of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Home equity lines of credit are "the fastest growing segment of the second-mortgage industry," Mr. Riseman said.

Executives at Home Savings of America apparently agree. The nation's largest thrift, a unit of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, Calif., will introduce its home equity line of credit on July 15.

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