What is mortgage amortization?

What is Mortgage Amortization?

If you’re looking into getting a mortgage for the first time, congratulations! You’re about to embark on a brave new adventure in adulthood. Like most adventures, it comes with some highs and some lows. One of the highs might be when you finally find the perfect home in your price range. As for the lows, one of them could well be trying to understand all the jargon that’s involved in buying a house.

Home-buying terminology can be somewhat intimidating. What’s the difference between prequalification and preapproval? Why are there so many different types of mortgage loans? What in the world is escrow? And what does amortized mean?

We’re going to answer that last question, quickly and painlessly. Basically, mortgage amortization just means that your mortgage loan payments will be spaced out over a set period of time (often 30 years) and will be calculated so that you always pay the same amount per month (if you have a fixed rate mortgage, not a variable rate mortgage).

That means that if you get a fixed rate mortgage and your first payment in your first month is $1,500, you know that you’ll pay $1,500 in the last month of your mortgage, years later. If you take out a variable rate mortgage, the amount you pay each month will change periodically as the market rate fluctuates.

Just because you’re paying the same amount for your fixed rate mortgage each month doesn’t mean that your payment is going toward the same things each month. In fact, your first mortgage payment will go primarily toward interest, and your last mortgage payment will go primarily toward the principal. Throughout the life of your loan, this balance paying off interest to paying off principal will gradually shift as more of your principal is paid off (and therefore generates less interest).

Why do People Choose Amortized Mortgages?

Mortgage amortization helps ensure that your obligations are predictable, which can make it easier for you to plan. If you take out a 30-year mortgage, then the amortization helps guarantee that in 30 years, you will have finished paying it off. For a fixed rate mortgage, amortization also keeps all your payments consistently the same amount, rather than different amounts that depend on how much your principal is.

How to Calculate Amortization Using Tables

In real life, even if you choose an amortized mortgage, you may never need to figure out your 30 years or so of payments yourself. But it’s useful to see what goes into the table or payments (they’re not arbitrary!) and understand how it’s populated. Calculating your amortized mortgage really puts you on the front lines of homebuying.

Let’s say you take out a $100,000 mortgage over 10 years at a 5% fixed interest rate. That means your monthly payment will be $1,061. You can then divide your interest rate by 12 equal monthly payments. That works out to 0.4166% of interest per month. And that, in turn, means that in the first month of your loan, you’ll pay around $417 toward interest and the remaining $644 toward your principal.

Next, to calculate the second month, you’ll need to deduct your monthly payment from the starting balance to get the ‘balance after payment’ for the chart. You’ll also need to put the $417 you paid in interest and $644 you paid toward the principal in the chart. Then you can repeat the calculation of your monthly interest and principal breakdown, and continue inputting until you finish completing the chart.


Date Starting Balance Interest Principal Balance after payment
Jan, 2021 $100,000 $417 $644 $99,356
Feb, 2021 $99,356 $414 $647 $98,709
Mar, 2021 $98,709 $411 $649 $98,060
Apr, 2021 $98,060 $409 $652 $97,408
May, 2021 $97,408 $406 $655 $96,753
Jun, 2021 $96,753 $403 $658 $96,096
Jul, 2021 $96,096 $400 $660 $95,435
Aug, 2021 $95,435 $398 $663 $94,772
Sep, 2021 $94,772 $395 $666 $94,107
Oct, 2021 $94,107 $392 $669 $93,438
Nov, 2021 $93,438 $389 $671 $92,767
Dec, 2021 $92,767 $387 $674 $92,093

How to Calculate Amortization Using a Calculator

So you can see that it’s not so much difficult to calculate your amortized payments as it is time-consuming. Fortunately, you can save yourself the trouble by using an online amortization calculator . All you have to do is input info about your mortgage, including the amount you’re borrowing, your term length, and the interest you’re paying, and the calculator will do the math for you.

What Are the Pros of an Amortized Mortgage?

•  You’ll slowly but surely pay off the principal of your home loan. With every month, you’ll get closer to owning your home outright!
•  It ensures that you pay a set amount for each payment over the life of your loan. With some loans you may end up paying more at the beginning or the end. A balloon mortgage, for example, requires you to pay interest charges monthly during the regular term. You then pay off large parts of the principal at the end of the loan period. (Thus, your payment literally balloons.)
•  You can often get better terms with an amortized loan. And you’ll save money in the long run by paying less interest over the life of your mortgage.

What Are the Cons of an Amortized Mortgage?

•  Amortized mortgages favor borrowers who are putting down a larger down payment. To qualify for a competitive interest rate, you’ll probably need to put down 10% (if not 20%).

•  You might not be able to qualify to borrow as much money via an amortized mortgage as you would through an alternative mortgage, such as an interest-only mortgage or a balloon mortgage.

Ready to apply for your first mortgage, but not sure where to start? Check out SoFi mortgages—and check your rates in just two minutes. SoFi offers mortgages with as little as 10% down on loans up to $3 million.


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Preparing To Buy a House in 8 Simple Steps

In life there are some situations a person simply can’t prepare for, like locking the keys in a car full of groceries or having a head full of shampoo when the smoke alarm goes off. Luckily, purchasing a home doesn’t have to be one of those moments.

Buying a house is probably one of the biggest financial decisions many people will make in their lifetime, and the process can be lengthy and complex. From getting a bird’s-eye view of their overall financial picture to calculating housing costs and securing loan pre-approval, there are many actions for home buyers to take as they get ready to purchase a home.

With the right resources and a solid strategy, however, purchasing a house can be a smooth process.

8 Steps to Prepare for a Home Purchase

1. Determining Credit Score

A home buyer’s credit score can impact their ability to secure a mortgage loan with a desirable rate. It can also affect how much they’ll be required to pay as a down payment when it’s time to close.

In a recent report from the National Association of Realtors , home buyers who had debt said it hindered their ability to set aside funds for a down payment by a median of four years.

Credit score can be influenced by a variety of factors, from payment history to amount of debt (a.k.a. credit utilization ratio) to age of credit accounts, mix of credit accounts, and new credit inquiries.

Payment history is the main factor that affects a person’s credit score, accounting for 35% of an overall FICO® score. Missing a payment on any credit account—from unpaid student loans to credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages—can negatively impact a person’s credit score.

By making on-time payments, limiting the number of new inquiries on their credit file, and working to pay down outstanding balances, home buyers could potentially boost their credit score and qualify for a lower mortgage rate.

Is There a Credit Score “Sweet Spot?”

Many buyers wonder whether there’s a desired credit score range or “sweet spot” to obtain a mortgage. The 2020 Q1 Federal Reserve Report on Household Debt and Credit found that the median credit score of newly originating borrowers increased to 773 in the first quarter for mortgages—up 14 points from 2019.

That’s not necessarily to say a credit score of 773 is a must for securing a mortgage, but the difference between a credit score in the 600 range and one in the 700 range could amount to about half a percent less interest on a mortgage loan and add up to a lot of money over time.

Credit scores can also affect the amount of the down payment itself. Many mortgage lenders require at least 20% of the house’s sale price be put down, but might offer more flexibility if the buyer’s credit score is in the higher range. A lower credit score, on the other hand, could call for a larger down payment.

Whether home buyers have debt or not, checking credit reports is still a recommended first step to applying for a mortgage. Understanding the information on credit reports is invaluable in knowing whether time is needed to repair credit, which could potentially lead to a higher credit score and possibly lower mortgage loan rate.

2. Deciding how Much To Spend

Deciding how much to pay for a new home can be based on a variety of factors including expected and unexpected housing costs, up-front payments and closing costs, and how it all fits into the buyer’s overall budget.

Calculating Housing Costs

There are several housing costs for home purchasers to consider that might affect how much they can afford to offer for the house itself. The costs of ongoing fees like property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and interest—if the loan does not have a fixed rate—can all lead to an increase in the monthly mortgage payment.

Closing costs are fees associated with the final real estate transaction that go above and beyond the price of the property itself. These costs might include an origination fee paid to the bank or lender for their services in creating the loan (typically amounting to 0.5% to 1% of the mortgage), real estate attorney fees, escrow fees, title insurance fees, home inspection and appraisal fees and recording fees, to name a few. To get an idea on how this can impact your budget, use this home affordability calculator to estimate total purchase cost.

Last year, the average closing costs for a single-family property were $5,749 including taxes, and $3,339 excluding taxes, according to a recent report from ClosingCorp .

In addition to closing costs, expenses that potential home buyers might want to consider are repairs and updates they might want to make to a home, new furniture, moving costs, or even commuting costs.

Finally, unforeseen costs of a major life event like a layoff or the birth of a new child might not be the first expenses that come to mind, but some buyers could find themselves making a potential home buying mistake by not getting their finances in order to prepare for the unexpected.

Making a list of these estimated expenses can help home buyers calculate how much they can feasibly afford and create a budget that could help them avoid being overextended on housing costs, especially if they might be paying other debt or saving for other financial goals.

3. Saving for a Down Payment

Saving money for a house is one of the biggest financial goals many people will have in their lifetime. And how much they’re able to offer as a down payment can significantly impact the amount of their monthly mortgage payment.

A larger down payment can also be convincing to sellers who see it as evidence of solid finances, sometimes beating out other offers in a competitive housing market.

The average down payment on a house varies depending on the type of buyer, loan, location, and housing prices, but, according to Zillow’s 2019 Consumer Housing Trends Report , 56% of buyers put down less than the typical 20% down payment, 19% put down 20%, and 20% of home buyers put down more than 20%.

For first-time home buyers, 20% of the price of the home can seem like a daunting figure. Many buyers find that cutting spending on luxury or non-essential items and entertainment can help them save up the funds.

Other tactics could include getting gifts and loans from family members, applying for low-down-payment mortgages, withdrawing funds from retirement, or receiving assistance from state and local agencies.

For buyers who were also sellers, proceeds from another property could also fund the down payment.

4. Shopping for a Mortgage Lender

There are many mortgage lenders competing for the business of the 86% of home buyers who finance their home purchases. These lenders offer a variety of mortgages to apply for, with a few of the most common being conventional/fixed rate, adjustable rate, FHA loans, and VA loans.

Buyers might not realize they can—and should—shop around for a lender before selecting one to work with. Different lenders offer different variations in interest rates, terms, and closing costs, so it can be helpful to conduct adequate research before landing on a particular lender.

Mortgage lenders must provide a loan estimate within three business days of receiving a mortgage application. The form is standard—all lenders are required to use the same form, which makes it easier for the applicant to compare information from different lenders and make sure they are getting the best loan for their financial situation.

5. Getting Pre-Approved for a Loan

While it might seem like a bit of a nuance, getting prequalified for a loan versus pre-approved for a loan are two different things.

When a buyer is prequalified for a loan, their mortgage lender estimates—but does not guarantee—the loan rate, based on finances provided by the buyer.

When a buyer is pre-approved, the lender conducts a thorough investigation into their finances that includes income verification, assets, and credit rating. This pre-approval gives a guarantee to the buyer that they will be able to obtain the loan and breaks down exactly what the bank is willing to lend.

Having a pre-approval letter in hand can help some buyers get ahead by appealing to the seller as a serious intention of purchase and a lender’s guarantee to back that purchase up.

6. Finding the Right Real Estate Agent

According to the National Association of Realtors 2020 Generational Trends Report :

•  89% of all buyers purchased their homes through a real estate agent.
•  The primary method most used to find that agent was referral.
•  All generations of buyers continued to utilize a real estate agent as their top resource for helping them buy a home.

While the internet and popular real estate search websites have made it easier for home buyers to hunt for a house online, most buyers still solicit the help of a real estate agent to find the right home and negotiate the price and purchase.

Also, many realtors are experts in their particular housing market, so for buyers who are searching in a specific location, a real estate agent may be able to offer valuable insights that might not be revealed online.

7. Exploring Different Neighborhoods

By researching neighborhoods where they might want to purchase a property (both in-person and online), home buyers can get a better sense of what living in their future community could look like.

Many real estate websites provide comparable listings to help determine a reasonable offer amount in a given neighborhood.

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trends, hot neighborhoods,
and demographics by city.


They may also highlight nearby school ratings, price and tax history, commute times, and neighborhood stats like home value fluctuations or predictions, and walkability ratings.

All of this information can help paint a picture of life in the area a home buyer chooses to settle in. Doing a deep dive into a desired neighborhood can help inform a more realistic decision on where to buy a house.

8. Kicking off the House Hunt

Once the neighborhoods are whittled down, the loan is secured, the real estate agent has been signed, and the savings are set aside, the official house hunt can begin.

For 55% of buyers, the most difficult step in the home buying process was finding the right property. Some had to undergo a considerable process before making the final purchase, with most searching for 10 weeks and seeing a median of nine homes first.

With the help of a trusted real estate agent and a housing market with adequate inventory, most home buyers can begin to book showings, attend open houses, and formally put down an offer on a house they like.

In particularly “hot” markets, houses could receive several offers, so home buyers might want to be prepared to go through the bidding process with a few properties before they get to that glorious final sale.

Home buyers might wish they could snap their fingers and move into their dream house as quickly and painlessly as possible. While that is not realistic, SoFi can help simplify the mortgage loan process.

Without any hidden fees or prepayment penalties, a SoFi home loan could be the right option for many homebuyers. For questions about buying a home, SoFi offers home loan resources, guides, and tips to steer future homeowners through the process. There are a lot of steps, but managing them can be easier with a helping hand.

Learn more about how SoFi home loans make the mortgage process as quick and painless as possible.



External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
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8 Steps to Buying a Vacation Home

If you’re like many Americans, you dream of having a beach house, a desert escape, or a mountain hideaway. Perhaps you’re tired of staying at hotels and want the comforts of home at your fingertips.

You’re ready to make this dream a reality. Before you do, consider these steps.

How to Buy a Vacation Home

1. Choose a Home That Fits Your Needs

As you begin your search for a vacation home, carefully consider your goals and needs. Start with the location. Do you prefer an urban or rural area? Lots of property or a townhouse with just a small yard to care for?

Consider what amenities are important to be close to. Where is the nearest grocery store? Is a hospital accessible?

Consider your goals for the property. Is this a place that only you and your family will use? Do you plan to rent it out from time to time? Or maybe you plan to be there only a couple of weeks out of the year, using it as a rental property the rest of the time.

The answers to these questions will have a cascade effect on the other factors you’ll need to consider, from financing to taxes and other costs.

2. Figure Out Financing

Next, consider what kind of mortgage works best for you, if you’re not paying cash. You may want to engage a mortgage broker or direct lender to help with this process.

If you have a primary residence, you may be in the market for a second mortgage. The key question: Are you purchasing a second home or an investment property?

Second home. A second home is one that you, family members, or friends plan to live in for a certain period of time every year and not rent it out. Second-home loans have the same rates as primary residences. The down payment could be as low as 10%, though 20% is typical.

Investment property. If you plan on using your vacation home to generate rental income, expect a down payment of 25% or 30% and a higher rate for a non-owner- occupied loan. If you need the rental income in order to qualify for the additional home purchase, you may need to identify a renter and have a lease. A lender still may only consider a percentage of the rental income toward your qualifying income.

Some people may choose to tap equity in their primary home to buy the vacation home. One popular option is a cash-out refinance, in which you borrow more than you owe on your primary home and take the extra money as cash.

3. Consider Costs

While you consider the goals you’re hoping to accomplish by acquiring a vacation home, try to avoid home buying mistakes.

A mortgage lender can delineate the down payment, monthly mortgage payment, and closing costs. But remember that there are other costs to consider, including maintenance of the home and landscape, utilities, furnishings, insurance, property taxes, and travel to and from the home.

If you’re planning on renting out the house, determine frequency and expected rental income. Be prepared to take a financial hit if you are unable to rent the property out as much as you planned. For a full picture of cost, check out our home affordability calculator.

4. Learn About Taxes

Taxes will be an ongoing consideration if you buy a vacation home.

A second home qualifies for mortgage interest and property tax deductions as long as the home is for personal use. And if you rent out the home for 14 or fewer days during the year, you can pocket the rental income tax-free.

If you rent out the home for more than 14 days, you must report all rental income to the IRS. You also can deduct rental expenses.

The mortgage interest deduction is available on total mortgages up to $750,000. If you already have a mortgage equal to the amount you on primary residence, your second home will not qualify.

The bottom line: Tax rules vary greatly, depending on personal or rental use.

5. Research Alternatives

There are a number of options to owning a vacation home. For example, you may consider buying a home with friends or family members, or purchasing a timeshare. But before you pursue an option, carefully weigh the pros and cons.

If you’re considering purchasing a home with other people, beware the potential challenges. Owning a home together requires a lot of compromise and cooperation.

You also must decide what will happen if one party is having trouble paying the mortgage. Are the others willing to cover it?

In addition to second home and investment properties, you may be tempted by timeshares, vacation clubs, fractional ownership, and condo hotels. Be aware that it may be hard to resell these, and the property may not retain its value over time.

6. Make It Easy to Rent

If you do decide to use your vacation home as a rental property, you have to take other people’s concerns and desires into account. Be sure to consider the factors that will make it easy to rent. A home near tourist hot spots, amenities, and a beach or lake may be more desirable.

Consider, too, factors that will make the house less desirable. Is there planned construction nearby that will make it unpleasant to stay at the house?

How far the house is from your main residence takes on increased significance when you’re a rental property owner. Will you have to engage a property manager to maintain the house and address renters’ concerns? Doing so will increase your costs.

7. Pay Attention to Local Rules

Local laws or homeowners association rules may limit who you can rent to and when.

For example, a homeowners association might limit how often you can rent your vacation home, whether renters can have pets, where they can park, and how much noise they can make.

Be aware that these rules can be put in place after you’ve purchased your vacation home.

8. Tap Local Expertise

It’s a good idea to enlist the help of local real estate agents and lenders.

Vacation homes tend to exist in specialized markets, and these experts can help you navigate local taxes, transaction fees, zoning, and rental ordinances. They can also help you determine the best time to buy a house in the area you’re interested in.

Because they are familiar with the local market and comparable properties, they are also likely to be more comfortable with appraisals, especially in low-population areas where there may be fewer houses to compare.

The Takeaway

Buying a vacation home can be a ticket to relaxation or a rough trip. It’s imperative to know the rules governing a second home vs. a rental property, how to finance a vacation house, tax considerations, and more.

Ready to buy? SoFi offers mortgages for second homes and investment properties, including single-family homes, two-unit buildings, condos, and planned unit developments.

SoFi also offers a cash-out refinance, all at competitive rates.

Got two minutes to spare? That’s how long it takes to check your rate for a mortgage with SoFi.



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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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Cash-Out Refinance vs Home Equity Line of Credit

Cash-out refinances and home equity lines of credit are two borrowing options that allow homeowners to tap into the equity they have built in their home.

A HELOC is a line of credit secured by the borrower’s home. The line of credit can be accessed on an as-needed basis, up to the borrowing limit. The borrower is only charged interest and responsible for repaying the amount they actually borrowed.

For a cash-out refinance, the borrower takes out an entirely new mortgage while borrowing a portion of their existing home equity. The total borrowed amount of the cash-out refinance will be greater than the borrower’s original mortgage, and the borrower will receive the difference in a lump sum payment from the lender.

There are differences in how each type of loan works that may influence which is right for you. In general, HELOCs give borrowers flexibility since they can draw on the line of credit as needed and are suited for shorter-term financial needs. Cash-out refinances require the borrower to take out a new mortgage and the borrower generally needs to pay closing costs upfront. They often have a fixed interest rate and may be a better option for borrowers who have a long-term need.

Learn more about the pros and cons of a HELOC vs a cash-out refinance.

Difference in HELOCs and Cash-Out Refinancing

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A HELOC is like a line of credit in that borrowers can draw from using their home as collateral. The amount of the line of credit is determined by the mortgage lender and is based on the amount of equity a homeowner has built. Lenders usually limit the line of credit to around 80% to 90% of the equity amount.

A unique feature of a HELOC is that it works somewhat like a credit card in that it is revolving. If a borrower, for example, is approved for a $30,000 home equity line of credit, they can access it when they want for the amount that they choose by writing a check or even using a specified credit card.

Many lenders, however, have a minimum draw requirement, which means a borrower has to take out a minimum amount even if it’s more than they need at the time. Also, lenders have the right to change the terms associated with the line of credit and can even close it, often without having to provide advanced notice.

A major drawback of a home equity line of credit is that the interest rate is usually adjustable. This means that the interest rate can rise, and if it does, the monthly payment can increase. Another point that borrowers should keep in mind is that there is a draw period of 5 to 10 years during which a borrower can access funds and a repayment period of 10 to 20 years.

During the draw period, the monthly payments can be relatively low because the borrower pays interest only, but during the repayment period, the payments can increase significantly because both principal and interest have to be paid.

Cash-Out Refinance

A cash-out refinance is a form of mortgage refinancing that allows a borrower the ability to refinance their current mortgage for more than what they currently owe in order to receive extra funds.

For example, if a borrower owns a home worth $200,000 and owes $100,000 on their mortgage at a high-interest rate, they could refinance at a lower interest rate, while at the same time taking out a larger mortgage. Let’s say they refinance the mortgage at $130,000. In this case, $100,000 would replace the old mortgage, and the borrower would receive the remaining amount of $30,000 in cash.

Borrowers should keep in mind that a cash-out refinance replaces their current mortgage and even though they receive additional cash they only have to make one monthly payment. Unlike a home equity line of credit, a cash-out refinance may have a fixed interest rate, meaning that the interest rate remains unchanged for the life of the loan so the monthly payments remain the same. Additionally, interest rates are typically lower than with a HELOC.

The approval process for a cash-out refinance is similar to the initial approval process when buying a home. It can be somewhat cumbersome, but the payoff is a lower interest rate, a fixed payment, and access to additional cash.

Recommended: Home Buyer’s Guide

Which is Better?

Like most things in the world of finance, the answer to which option is better will vary by person based on their individual financial circumstances and unique needs. In some situations, a HELOC may make more sense than a cash-out refinance and vice versa.

HELOCs can be useful for shorter-term needs or situations where a borrower may want access to funds over a certain period of time, for example when completing a home renovation. Because HELOCs generally have a variable interest.

Cash-out refinances can make sense if there is a need for a large sum of money or if they can be used as a tool to improve your financial situation on the whole.

Both a home equity line of credit and a cash-out refinance have fees associated with them. With a cash-out refinance, fees are paid upfront in the form of loan closing costs. With a HELOC, several types of fees can be charged periodically such as an annual fee or inactivity fee for non-usage. One way for a borrower to reduce these fees is to shop around and compare lenders.

While it’s typically faster to be approved for a home equity line of credit, the adjustable interest rate and lack of a fixed payment can potentially be a drawback. The approval process for a cash-out refinance is more complex than that of a HELOC, but the loan will have a set payment and a lower interest rate that can provide significant savings. Both options give borrowers the ability to turn their home equity into cash, which can make it possible to achieve certain goals, consolidate debt, and improve their overall financial situation.

The Takeaway

Both cash-out refinancing and HELOCs have their place in a borrower’s toolbox. In both cases, borrowers are borrowing against the equity they have built in their home, which comes with risks. In the case that a borrower is unable to make payments on their HELOC or cash-out refinance, the consequence could be selling the home or even losing the home to foreclosure.

HELOCs are generally used when a borrower has shorter-term financial needs. Borrowers are able to draw against the line of credit as needed however the interest rate is variable. Cash-out refinances are generally used for longer term needs and often have a fixed interest rate.

Borrow more with less money down.



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The Different Types Of Home Equity Loans

How does a home equity loan work? First, it’s important to understand that the term home equity loan is simply a catchall for the different ways the equity in your home can be used to access cash. The most common types of home equity loans are fixed-rate home equity loans, home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), and cash-out refinancing.

Breaking Down the Main Types of Home Equity Loans

When folks think of home equity loans, they typically think of either a fixed-rate home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC). There is a third way to use home equity to access cash, and that’s through a cash-out refinance.

With fixed-rate home equity loans or HELOCs, the primary benefit is that the borrower may qualify for a better interest rate using their home as collateral than by using an unsecured loan—a loan that is not backed by collateral. Some people with high-interest credit card debt may choose to use a lower-rate home equity loan to pay off those credit card balances.

This does not come without its risks, of course. Borrowing against a home could leave it vulnerable to foreclosure if the borrower is unable to pay back the loan. A personal loan may be a better fit if the borrower doesn’t want to put their home up as collateral.

How much a homeowner can borrow is typically based on the combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV ratio) of the first mortgage plus the home equity loan. Generally, this figure cannot exceed 80% CLTV. To calculate the CLTV, divide the combined value of the two loans by the appraised value of the home. In addition, utilizing a home affordability calculator can be a good starting point in understanding how much you will need to put down and other expenses related to the first time home buying process.

Of course, qualifying for a home equity loan is typically contingent on several factors, such as the credit score and financial standing of the borrower.

Fixed-rate Home Equity Loans

Fixed-rate loans are pretty straightforward: The lender provides one lump-sum payment to the borrower, which is to be repaid over a period of time with a set interest rate. Both the monthly payment and interest rate remain the same over the life of the loan. Fixed-rate home equity loans typically have terms that run from five to 15 years and must be paid back in full if the home is sold.

With a fixed-rate home equity loan, the amount of closing costs is usually similar to the costs of closing on a mortgage. When shopping around for rates, asking about the lender’s closing costs and all other third-party costs is recommended. These costs vary from bank to bank.

This loan type may be best for borrowers with a one-time or straightforward cash need. For example, a borrower wants to build a $20,000 garage addition and pay off a $4,000 medical bill. A $24,000 lump sum loan is made to the borrower who would then simply pay back the loan with interest. This option could also make sense for borrowers who already have a mortgage with a low interest rate and may not want to refinance that loan.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A HELOC is revolving debt, which means that as the loan balance is paid down, it can be borrowed again during the draw period (whereas a home equity loan provides one lump sum and that’s it). For example, a borrower is approved for a $10,000 HELOC. They first borrow $7,000 against the line of credit, leaving a balance of $3,000 they can draw against. The borrower then pays $5,000 toward the principal, which gives them $8,000 in available credit.

Unlike with a fixed-rate loan, a HELOC’s interest rate is variable and will fluctuate with market rates, which means that rates could increase throughout the duration of the credit line. The monthly loan payments will vary because they’re dependent on the amount borrowed and the current interest rate.

HELOCs have two periods of time that are important for borrowers to be aware of: the draw period and the repayment period.

•  The draw period is the amount of time the borrower is allowed to use, or draw, funds against the line of credit, commonly 10 years. After this amount of time, the borrower can no longer draw against the funds available.
•  The repayment period is the amount of time the borrower has to repay the loan in full. The repayment period is for a certain number of years after the draw period ends.

A 30-year HELOC will have a draw period of 10 years and a repayment period of 20 years. Payments made during the draw period are typically interest only, with principal payments added during the repayment period.

This loan type may be best for people who want the flexibility to pay as they go. For an ongoing project that will need the money portioned out over longer periods of time, a HELOC might be the best option. While home improvement projects might be the most common reason for considering a HELOC, other uses might be for wedding costs or business start-up costs.

Home Equity Loan Fees

Generally, fees should be disclosed by the lender, under federal law, although there are some fees that are not required to be disclosed. Borrowers certainly have the right to ask what those undisclosed fees are, though. Fees that require disclosure include application fees, points, annual account fees, and transaction fees, to name a few. Lenders are not required to disclose fees for things like photocopying related to the loan, returned check or stop payment fees, and others.

Home Equity Loan Tax Deductibility

Since enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, interest on home equity loans is only deductible if the loan is used on qualifying home improvements. Checking with a tax professional to understand how a home equity loan or HELOC might affect a certain financial situation is recommended.

Cash-Out Refinance

Mortgage refinancing is the process of paying off an existing mortgage loan with a new loan from either the current lender or a new lender. Common reasons for refinancing a mortgage include securing a lower interest rate, or increasing or decreasing the term of the mortgage. It may be worth comparing rates and terms from multiple lenders. Depending on the new loan’s interest rate and term, the borrower may be able to save money in the long term. Increasing the term of the loan may not save money on interest, even if the borrower receives a lower interest rate, but it could lower the monthly payments.

With a cash-out refinance, a borrower may be able to refinance their current mortgage for more than they currently owe and then take the difference in cash. For example, a borrower owns a home with an appraised value of $400,000 and owes $200,000 on the mortgage. They would like to make $30,000 worth of repairs to their home, so they refinance with a $230,000 mortgage, taking the difference in cash.

As with home equity loans, there typically are some costs associated with a cash-out refinance. Generally, a refinance will have higher closing costs than a home equity loan.

This loan type may be best for people who would prefer to have one consolidated loan and may want to secure a lower rate or different loan term. For example, a homeowner who purchased their house 10 years ago with a 6% mortgage interest rate may now have equity in the home and might even have better credit than when they first took out the mortgage. The homeowner might be able to refinance to a mortgage with a 4% interest rate while also taking out cash.

The Takeaway

Traditional mortgages are often referred to as “first mortgages,” and home equity loans are often referred to as “second mortgages.” In both cases, a bank or other creditor loans money to the borrower, using real property as collateral. Both also require a review of the borrower’s financial situation to determine a loan rate, and both options come with a similar set of fees. Cash-out refinancing is not taking out a second mortgage—it’s getting a new first mortgage.

Looking to fund a home improvement project or pay off credit card debt? If you’ve got equity in your home, consider a cash-out refinance with SoFi. SoFi offers competitive rates and an easy online application process.



SoFi Mortgages not available in all states. Products and terms may vary from those advertised on this site. See SoFi.com for details.
SoFi doesn’t provide tax or legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique. Consult with a qualified tax advisor or attorney.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website on credit.

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