How Do Home Improvement Loans Work?

By David Wolinsky · July 18, 2023 · 9 minute read

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How Do Home Improvement Loans Work?

Whether you’re planning to renovate your kitchen, add a room to your home, or upgrade your backyard, home improvement projects typically require a sizable financial investment. While you might be able to pay cash for small-scale repairs and upgrades, a more substantial project could require funding. That’s where home improvement loans come in.

A home improvement loan is typically a personal loan used to pay for home repairs and renovation projects. These loans aren’t backed by the equity you have in your home, and are generally one of the quickest ways to get funding for a home improvement project. However, they may have higher interest rates and offer lower amounts than other options, such as a home equity loan.

Read on to learn how home improvement loans work, their pros and cons, and how they compare to other home remodel financing options.

What Is a Home Improvement Loan?

Typically, a “home improvement loan” refers to a personal loan that is designed to be used to pay for home upgrades and renovations.

These are unsecured loans — meaning your home isn’t used as collateral to secure the loan. In fact, lenders typically don’t ask for any information about your home with this type of financing. Instead, a lender decides how much to lend to you and at what rate based on your financial credentials, such as your credit score, income, and how much other debt you have.

With a home improvement personal loan, you receive a lump sum of cash up front you can then use to cover the costs of your project. You repay the loan (plus interest) in regular installments over the term of the loan, which is often five or seven years.

One of the advantages of a home improvement loan is that it allows you to access a significant amount of money upfront quickly, often within a day or two. You also don’t need to have built up any equity in your home, or risk losing your home should you default on the loan.

However, personal loans for home improvement tend to be shorter-term and offer smaller loan amounts than other home loan options, making them best suited for small to midsize projects, say renovating a bathroom or repainting the exterior of your home.

Recommended: Can I Pay off a Personal Loan Early?

Alternatives to a Personal Loan

While personal loans can be a quick and convenient way to fund home improvement projects, they aren’t your own option. Here are some alternatives you may also want to consider.

Home Equity Loan

Home equity is the portion of your home that you actually own. More specifically, it is the difference between what your home is currently worth and what you owe your lender. So, for example, if you took out a mortgage for $200,000 and have paid down $50,000 of that loan, you owe the lender $150,000. If your home gets appraised for $250,000, you have $100,000 in equity.

A home equity loan is a loan that utilizes the equity you have built in your home as collateral. Home equity loans often have fixed interest rates and terms that typically range from five to 30 years. These loans provide homeowners with a lump sum of money that can be used for various purposes, including home improvements. As you repay a home equity loan, your payments get added back to your principal, allowing you to build your equity back up.

With a home equity loan, you can often borrow up to 85% of the equity you have in your home.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is similar to a home equity loan, except that the funds are not distributed in a lump sum. The amount of money you can borrow is still tied to the amount of equity you have in your home, but you are given access to a line of credit that you can borrow from as needed.

HELOCs have a draw period, usually 10 years, when you can use some or all of the funds you’re approved to borrow. During that time you typically make interest-only payments on the amount you draw. You then repay the principal later, during the repayment period.

Like a home equity loan, a HELOC is essentially a second mortgage, so you’re using your house as collateral. Unlike a home equity loan, HELOCs have variable rates, which means your annual percentage rate (APR) could go up or down in the future.

One key advantage to a HELOC is its flexibility. This type of financing can be particularly useful for projects you’re doing in stages, or when you don’t know exactly how much the renovation will cost.

Cash-out Refinance

A cash-out refinance involves refinancing your existing mortgage for a higher amount than what you currently owe. The difference between the new loan amount and your current mortgage balance is paid out to you in cash, which you can use for home improvements.

Because cash-out refinancing involves revising your mortgage, it can be a good move if rates have dropped since you financed your home, or you’re in a better financial situation than when you originally took out your mortgage. Lenders typically look at an applicant’s financial history, as well as the appraised value of the home and how long the existing mortgage has been in place.

You’ll want to keep in mind, however, that closing costs can be 2% to 6% of the new mortgage amount, which could potentially be more than you plan to spend on the improvement project.

Construction Loan

If you’re planning significant renovations or an extensive home improvement project, a construction loan may be worth exploring. Construction loans are specifically designed for large-scale projects, such as significant structural changes or additions to a property. These loans usually have variable interest rates and short terms, often just one year.

Unlike mortgages and personal loans that make a lump-sum payment, the lender pays out the money for a construction loan in stages as work on the home progresses. Generally, you make interest-only payments during the construction stage. Once construction finishes, the construction loan needs to be repaid or converted into a mortgage.

Applying for a Home Improvement Loan

Before choosing any type of home improvement loan, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare interest rates, terms, and fees from different lenders to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.

When applying for a home improvement loan, you’ll need to gather all the necessary documentation to support your application. Lenders typically require proof of income, proof of residence, and information about the project you plan to undertake. Some lenders may also ask for estimates or contractor bids to assess the cost of the project.

Your current debts, housing payment, credit history, and total income will all play a role in what rates and terms you qualify for. If possible, take advantage of lenders that offer a prequalification process. This gives you a sense of your approval odds, predicted interest rate, and the total cost of your home improvement loan. Plus, prequalifying doesn’t require a hard credit check, so you won’t have to worry about it impacting your credit score.

Bringing It Home

Home improvement loans allow you to finance a repair or remodeling project for your home. You may be able to get an unsecured personal loan designed to be used for home improvement or, if you’ve built up equity in your home, use a home equity loan, HELOC, or a cash-out refinance, to fund an upgrade. For a substantial structural change, you might consider a construction loan.

The best financing choice for your project will depend on how much money you need, how quickly you want to start work, how much equity you have in your home, your credit profile, and whether or not you want to use your home as collateral for the loan.

Ideally, a home improvement loan should pay for itself over time by increasing the value of your home and improving your overall quality of life.

If you think a personal loan might work well for your home improvement project, SoFi can help. SoFi’s home improvement loans range from $5K-$100K and offer competitive, fixed rates and a variety of terms. Checking your rate won’t affect your credit score, and it takes just one minute.

See if a home improvement loan from SoFi is right for you.


Why are home improvement loans so expensive?

Home improvement loans may have higher interest rates compared to traditional mortgages for a few reasons. One is that these loans are often unsecured, meaning you don’t have to use your home as collateral to get the loan, which poses more risk to the lender. Another is that these loans typically have shorter repayment terms compared to mortgages, resulting in higher monthly payments. Also keep in mind that interest rates can vary based on the borrower’s creditworthiness and prevailing market conditions.

Is a home improvement loan the same as a mortgage?

No. A mortgage is a loan used to purchase a property, while a home improvement loan is specifically used to fund renovations or improvements on an existing property. Home improvement loans are typically smaller in amount and have different terms and repayment options compared to mortgages.

How much debt to income do I need for a home improvement loan?

The specific debt-to-income (DTI) ratio required for a home improvement loan can vary depending on the lender and other factors. Generally, a DTI ratio below 43% is considered favorable for loan approval. This means that your total monthly debt payments, including the new loan, should not exceed 43% of your gross monthly income. However, different lenders may have different criteria, so it’s essential to check with the lender you’re considering for their specific DTI requirements.

What is the average length of a home improvement loan?

The average length or term of a home improvement loan will depend on the type of loan you choose. Personal loan terms can range from five or seven years. Loans based on the equity in your home (such as a home equity loan or line of credit) can have terms up to 30 years.

What is the downside to a home equity loan?

While home equity loans can be a useful option for funding home improvements, there are some potential downsides to consider. One is that these loans use your home as collateral, which means you risk foreclosure if you’re unable to repay the loan. Another is that, should your property value decline, you may owe more on the loan than the home is worth, which is known as being “underwater.” Finally, keep in mind that home equity loans typically come with closing costs and fees, similar to a mortgage, which will add to the cost of your remodel.

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