Norwest Corp. has changed its marketing strategy for home equity loans and is now promoting them as an all-purpose borrowing tool for homeowners.

Carlotta C. Willard, director of consumer loans at the Minneapolis-based bank, said the bank is trying to change customers' views of home equity loans.

She said most customers think of home equity loans as a short-term mortgage product. But Norwest - along with other banks - is marketing home equity loans for both the short term and long term.

Norwest wants its customers to consider a home equity loan "more of a need-based" loan, Ms. Willard said.

"Our marketing strategy is to let the consumer know that the home equity loan is an option," she said.

Norwest offers customers a panoply of home equity loans.

Most of Norwest's home equity loan activity is generated through its extensive retail branch network, said David Olson, A Columbia, Md.,-based consultant. He said the lender focuses mainly on selling fixed-rate home equity loans - a stalwart product in the industry.

Ms. Willard said the role home equity loans play has changed over the last several years. She said no longer are home equity loans only for home improvements. People are increasingly buying cars or consolidating their debt with home equity loans.

"I think you will see more of the lenders trying to point in that direction," she said, promoting the product "as an umbrella for multiple purposes."

Lenders have been faced with a dilemma recently. They are selling more home equity lines of credit than ever, but customers are not activating their lines as often as in the past.

Ms. Willard, who is a member of the Consumer Bankers Association's home equity committee, said banks must do more to reposition the home equity loan as more than just a two-year lien.

"Lenders need to place a heavy emphasis on revolving credit and the consumer smartness of the program," she said.

She said she expects advertising of home equity loans to increase, including, perhaps, solicitations on the Internet.

All this has one goal: to make home equity loans as acceptable as credit card debt. "It is an educational process," she said.

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