Home Equity Loans

Find out how tapping into the equity in your house can open the door to a lot of financial possibilities that you didn’t think you could afford.

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Need some extra cash? Home equity loans are a convenient, low-cost way to borrow large sums at favorable rates.

Home equity loans for debt consolidation will have a much lower interest rate than credit cards, but you can also use the equity in your home for large home improvement projects like a kitchen remodel or even a down payment for another property.

What’s not to love about that?

The “equity’’ figure in home equity loans is a simple math equation: Home’s value minus amount owed = home equity. So, if your home is worth $200,000 and you owe $125,000, you have $75,000 worth of equity.

Most lenders offer an 80% loan-to-value rate based on your equity. With the $75,000 equity example, you could qualify for up to a $60,000 loan ($75,000 x .80 = $60,000).

You would receive the $60,000 in a lump sum, then begin a monthly repayment schedule at a fixed rate for anywhere from 5-to-15 years, though most are 5-year loans.

And now that often-asked question: Can I get a home equity loan for anything?

The answer is … YES! Anything your heart desires. Lenders won’t follow you around to see how the money is spent.

If you qualify for a home equity loan, the cash can be used for financing your daughter’s wedding, taking a family vacation to Europe, getting some front-row Broadway tickets to “Hamilton,’’ purchasing season tickets for your favorite sports teams, paying off your student loan or even making home improvements.

The lender really doesn’t care because there is a huge piece of collateral – your house! – backing the loan. As long as you make your payments on time, it’s simply another successful transaction for the lender.

However, if you miss payments, you run the risk of losing your home.

Home Equity Loans and HELOCs Not the Same Thing

It’s important to distinguish between home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).

The home equity loan is a lump sum of money given to the qualified homeowner. It is repaid over time with fixed monthly payments. Each payment reduces the loan balance and covers interest costs on a familiar amortization schedule.

With a HELOC, you receive a line of credit for an approved amount and borrow against that amount as needed. You can withdraw from the line of credit multiple times and make smaller payments for several years before a fully amortized schedule kicks in.

HELOCs are flexible. You pay interest only on the amount of money that is drawn out. The interest rates are variable, so the costs can change over time. Another factor: the lender can cancel the line of credit, possibly before you’ve had a chance to use all the money, so there is some risk.

Home Equity Loan Pros and Cons

Before deciding upon a home equity loan, consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of a Home Equity Loan
  • Rates Are Lower:With your home serving as collateral, you won’t pay as much interest as an unsecured loan with no collateral.
  • Tax Benefits:If you use the loan to improve your home, you can deduct the interest when you itemize your taxes.
  • Large Funds:Home equity loans probably provide more funds than any other source, including personal loans and credit cards.
  • Flexibility: Whether it’s a need (home repairs) or a want (lavish vacation), home equity loans can be used for any purpose.
Disadvantages of a Home Equity Loan
  • Risk:Your home is the collateral. Worst-case scenario, if you suddenly can’t repay the loan, your lender can take your home.
  • Going Underwater:If you tap into your home’s equity, and later its value declines, you could owe more on your home than it’s actually worth. The well-known terms are being “underwater’’ or “upside down’’ on your mortgage. It was a common occurrence during the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis and standards were changed. But it’s still a possibility, so be wary.
  • Closing Costs and Fees:Home equity loans can serve as a second mortgage. So just like your primary mortgage, the closing costs – usually somewhere between 2% and 5% of loan amount – can be expensive. There may also be an early termination fee if you pay off the loan ahead of schedule.
  • Taking on Debt:Sometimes, it’s necessary. And it’s a way to pay for some essential items with relatively favorable interest rates. But it’s still debt.

Home Equity Loan Qualification

Home equity loans operate much like a mortgage or auto loan. The borrower receives a lump sum of money that is paid back over a fixed time with a fixed interest rate. In 2019, the rates were averaging about 6% with some available for a lower rate and great credit score.

The terms are pretty standard, ranging from 5-to-15 years, though some can be as long as 20. Approval, by the way, is not guaranteed.

Banks are much more careful after the 2008 housing crisis, when it was more of a rubber-stamp operation. Lenders evaluate your application and generally make sure the 80% loan-to-value ratio isn’t surpassed.

Basically, like most loans, home equity approval moves forward if you demonstrate the ability to repay. The ability to repay is an amazing thing. Lenders go through credit reports to verify your finances. You need to provide proof of income with pay stubs, tax returns, investments, etc. Your credit will be checked carefully. An appraisal will be required. The whole process will take several weeks (maybe months) before any money is released.

It’s similar to applying for a home purchase loan. Another similarity: You should shop around with banks, credit unions and online lenders because interest rates can vary.

Lenders don’t want risk. Neither should you. A home equity loan is a secured loan, meaning your home is technically at risk because it’s the loan collateral. If something drastic occurs such as a job loss or serious medical condition, and you can’t make payments, your home could go into foreclosure.

If you are hesitant because of volatility in the real-estate market, it could be very difficult to sell your home. You might investigate other options, such as mortgage modifications.

Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. Sometimes, your financial needs can be solved with a zero-interest credit card or personal loan, unsecured options that don’t involve putting your home at risk. If you take the home equity loan, it helps to have a detailed list of income and expenses, so you can see how to manage a hefty new payment.

If you are approved easily, don’t be swayed by the quick access to large funds. Your home is not an ATM complete with couches and tables.

The prudent steps are to use your home’s equity for things that improve its value, add practical significance to your life or put your family in position for a better financial future.

Beware of the scammers, too. Like anything these days, the world is filled with opportunists who try to cheat homeowners. If there’s a high-pressure sales pitch or the inability to put things in writing, don’t accept those tactics. The stakes are too high to fall for a con artist.

Home Equity Loan with Low Income

The ability to repay is dependent on income, so it is going to be difficult to get approved for a home equity loan with low income.

Having a cosigner would help your case. A cosigner is someone with good credit and high income that agrees to pay your debt in case you default on your loan. It also helps to have a large amount of equity in your home, and really good credit is required.

If you are in between jobs, and plan to use a home equity loan to pay for bills, there is a chance you can be approved if you have other revenue streams like rental properties. File for unemployment income and use that to build your case.

A home equity loan is a risky venture if you’re able to get approved, especially for someone with low income. The lender has the right to foreclose on your home if you can’t make payments.

What Documents Are Needed?

Getting a home equity loan is a thorough process. You’ll need to pull together the following information and documents:
  • Property information (address, purchase price, purchase date, property type).
  • Estimated property value.
  • Personal information (Social Security number, date of birth, marital status, employment status, residential status).
  • Employment and income information.
  • Debts such as auto loans, student loans, credit cards, current mortgage and home equity accounts.
  • A completed and signed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 4506T.
  • Copy of your most recent pay stub that reflects earnings for the past month and year to date.
  • The most recent two years of W-2 forms from your employer.
  • Self-employed borrowers will need the most recent two years of personal IRS tax return documents (and all schedules), the most recent two years K-1’s from the partnership, LLC or S Corporation.
  • Proof of homeowners, hazard and flood insurance.

Is There A Minimum?

Generally, home equity loans don’t dip below $10,000. Most lenders won’t bother with loans less than that. Some banks have a $25,000 minimum.

Bad Credit Home Equity Loans

Lenders are looking for good to excellent credit when considering a home equity loan. You can find some with credit scores in the 620 range, but that’s pushing it. Normally, lenders like to see something above 670.

Of course, every situation is different. Home equity loans could become available for borrowers who have lots of equity or a low debt-to-income ratio.

There are also scenarios where it pays to do whatever it takes to boost your credit score in the short term — whether it’s opening a secured credit card, clearing up your collection history and getting on a schedule to avoid late payments — so you can qualify for the home equity loan.

VA Home Equity Loans

It’s possible to get a home equity loan with a home that was purchased through the VA home loan program. However, it’s probably more efficient to pull cash equity from your home through a newly financed VA loan. That’s a technique known as “cash-out refinancing.’’

Cash-out Refinancing

And speaking of cash-out refinancing, that’s a topic worth addressing for all borrowers, not just those with VA loans.

The questions: Am I better off getting a second mortgage in the form of a home equity loan? Or I should get an entirely new mortgage, then take some money out of that?

Both options will give the borrow access to funds that can be used for medical emergencies, major home repair or straightening out other financial maladies such as student loans or credit card debt.

But there certainly are differences:

If a borrower opts for a home equity loan for, let’s say, $100,000, they will receive a lump-sum figure, then have monthly payments at a fixed rate. And they still will have the remainder of their old mortgage.

If a borrower opts for a cash-out refinance, they are essentially refinancing their current mortgage for more than what they currently so they can receive extra funds.

Example: The borrower owns a home worth $200,000 and owes $100,000 on their mortgage at a high interest rate, but they can refinance at a lower interest rate while taking out a larger mortgage. They refinance the mortgage at $130,000, replacing the $100,000 of the old mortgage, while receiving $30,000 in cash.

The cash-out refinance replaces the current mortgage. Even though there’s additional cash received, there’s only one monthly payment. The approval process for a cash-out refinance can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but the borrower will receive a lower interest rate, a fixed payment and access to additional cash.

In some cases, it might be a better option than a home equity loan.

If you’re using the money from a home equity loan for things you truly don’t need, consider this: You are taking a chunk of your net worth and converting it into debt.

Fundamentally, it’s just not a wise move.

About The Author

Max Fay

Max Fay has been writing about personal finance for Debt.org for the past five years. His expertise is in student loans, credit cards and mortgages. Max inherited a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. He was published in every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University.


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