House-Rich

Home-equity loans are the quickest bucks in town. But are they good for consumers?

Where is all this money coming from? True, we're living in a time of record employment, rising wages, a bloated stock market and a flock of newly hatched dot.com millionaires. But even these indicators of prosperity don't add up to the consumer-spending spree that characterizes the current U.S. economic boom. There's something else.

The answer is in your attic, also in your bedroom, kitchen and other parts of your home that represent the equity you, like millions of other Americans, have built up over those years of paying down mortgages. Lenders are willing--even eager--to advance you cash up to the full...