HELOC to replace mortgage?

I'd appreciate the critical opinions of some of the folks who frequent this newsgroup and are more experienced and savvy than I regarding home financing.
Currently, I am about 4.5 years into a 7 year balloon mortgage at 5.5% fixed. I've paid down the premium balance regularly and expect to have no problem paying it off fully at the end of the 7 year term (in early 2006) without drawing from long-term investments/assets (which would be available in an "emergency").
I'm considering paying off the mortgage using a Home Equity Line of Credit. I qualify for one from a reputable source which has zero application or "closing" or annual fees, an interest rate which is Prime MINUS 1%, and a draw period of 10 years -- though, as with the current mortgage, I plan and expect to have the balance paid off by early 2006.
Of course the variable interest rate of the HELOC is what I am concerned about. I've looked at the way the Prime has varied in the past (went back about 50 years) and have found some years (esp late 70's and early 80's) in which it changed, both + and -, A LOT! For example, 1980 it INCREASED a net of 6.25% during the year. Though the economic and political environment now is different than late-70s-early-80s, the fact that the Prime now has virtually nowhere to go but up is a "concern".
I do like the additional flexibility (minimum payment possible and 10 year draw period) offered by the HELOC in case of emergency vs. the balloon though, as I said, I think the NECESSITY (vs convenience) of that is pretty unlikely. But nothing's impossible. ;-)
Anyway, I'd truly appreciate hearing pros/cons, cautions, whatever from folks with experience in home financing.
TIA
BTW, I've checked into fixed interest options but haven't found one that offerred enough difference from my current mortgage to make it attractive.
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Ermalina wrote:

There are HELOCs available that allow you to lock in all or part of the balance at a fixed rate at intervals. I have one that currently runs about 4% for the variable rate, and I can lock in at 5.5%. I can lock in a balance once every 365 days.
It sounds like you might be better off doing a refi for a 10-15 year fixed mortgage, honestly. YMMV.
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James Gifford wrote:

James, I accidentally posted that message on alt.home.repair (meant to post on misc.consumers.house) and quickly cancelled it. I guess your newsserver was even quicker. ;-)
However, I did find the info on the "fixed rate option" helpful. It helped me clarify my options, LACK thereof since the HELOC I was considering did not have that option. So, after mulling it over, I decided that the risk associated with a POSSIBLY rapidly increasing Prime, and therefore HELOC interest rate, without such an option, was more than I wanted to accept.
Thanks again.
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Ermalina wrote:

Okay, so this is a little OT here, but... it looks as if mortgage rates have bounced. Freddie Mac is reporting a significant rise (0.2 percent) and all signs point to a continuing increase from here on.
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