The home equity season has arrived, and some lenders say they already are reaping the rewards.

February, March, and April are usually the busiest months in home equity lending - especially for lines of credit - as homeowners borrow in anticipation of tax payments. And this year's season is coming none too soon.

"January was pretty nasty; it was cold, slow; nobody's happy," said Robert H. Halleck, president and chief executive of Maryland Federal Savings and Loan, Hyattsville. "We have already done more this month than we did last month."

He said he expects Maryland Federal to originate $3 million of home equity loans this month. A "good month" at the thrift means $3.5 million of home equity loan originations, he said.

Maryland Federal has yet to undertake a newspaper advertising blitz. In April, it will market loans to its current mortgage holders.

Summit Bank is doing more than just that to invigorate its home equity products. The Cranford, N.J., bank has decided to "go heavy" with its home equity lending during the spring originations season, said Thomas J. Mies, a senior vice president.

Through heavy advertising and cross selling, Summit hopes to boost its home equity loan originations 50% this year, to $150 million, he said. Last year, it made $94 million of home equity loans.

"The market is there" to make more home equity loans, he said.

Michael L. Wummer, senior vice president at National Penn Bank, Boyertown, Pa., said he was encouraged by originations so far. But he warned that it may be too early to tell just how successful the season will be.

Early spring does not look as flowery at Columbia Federal Savings Bank, Woodhaven, N.Y.

Daniel P. Bennett, a vice president, said home equity lending "is not getting off to that jump start it did last year."

Home equity lending in his area - suburban New York City - depends strongly on advertising, he said, and local thrifts have yet to launch new advertising campaigns.

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