updated 7/24/2008 6:30:53 PM ET 2008-07-24T22:30:53

The amount of money Americans pulled out of their homes is at a four-year low as homeowners battle falling home values and stricter standards among lenders, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

Homeowners "cashed out" about $68 billion in home equity during the first half of the year, the lowest since the first six months of 2004, according to the McLean, Va.-based mortgage finance company.

About $38 billion in home equity was cashed out through refinancing of loans made to prime borrowers in the second quarter — less than half the $79 billion cashed out during the same period last year, said Amy Crews Cutts, Freddie Mac deputy chief economist.

In the second quarter, 66 percent of homeowners who refinanced loans purchased by Freddie Mac "cashed out" at least 5 percent of their equity.

Tapping home equity allows homeowners to get cash out of their homes. And economists watch that number closely because it affects consumer spending and investment decisions.

Consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity, remains under severe strains, as the housing market downturn, combined with rising food and gasoline costs, have hurt consumer confidence.

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Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%
Source: Bankrate.com