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What Is a Home Equity Loan and How Does It Work?

By Alene Laney · March 02, 2023 · 9 minute read

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What Is a Home Equity Loan and How Does It Work?

A home equity loan is a way to finance a large purchase, complete home renovations, or consolidate high-interest debt by tapping into the equity of your home. Your home secures the loan, and funds are disbursed all at once.

With your home as collateral, lenders have reason to believe you’ll make on-time, full payments, so they offer a lower interest rate than they would on most unsecured loans. Failing to make the monthly payments could result in foreclosure, however.

Yet for borrowers who are confident they can make the payments, a home equity loan is one of the most affordable financing options on the market. Keep reading to learn more about home equity loans and whether or not one makes sense for you.

What Is a Home Equity Loan?

A home equity loan is typically a fixed-rate loan secured by a home in exchange for a lower interest rate.

Repayment terms are typically between five and 30 years.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


How Do Home Equity Loans Work?

First, you’ll need to have sufficient home equity, which is the difference between the market value and what you owe. You may have built home equity by paying down your mortgage and by seeing your home appreciate.

You’ll go through an application process, and the lender will likely order a home appraisal to ensure that there’s enough value there to lend against.

You’ll have a lot more paperwork than some other loans and will sign mortgage lien documents that give the lender the right to start proceedings should you fail to make payments.

After closing on the loan, you’ll receive all funds upfront. Repayment starts shortly after.

Homebuyers also occasionally use a home equity loan to avoid PMI on a new home. An 80/10/10 piggyback mortgage, for example, consists of a conventional home loan, a second mortgage like a home equity loan, and a 10% down payment. Such buyers are able to put less than 20% down and avoid paying private mortgage insurance.

Types of Home Equity Loans

When you’re looking to use the equity in your home, there are two types of home equity loans to choose from — a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) — and a cash-out refinance.

•   Home equity loan: The loan is disbursed in one lump sum and paid back over time. The interest rate is typically fixed.

•   HELOC: With a home equity line of credit, money can be taken out as you need it, up to the limit you were approved for. HELOCs have a draw period, often 10 years, when you might pay only interest on money borrowed, followed by a repayment period, when principal and interest payments begin. The interest rate is usually variable.

•   Cash-out refinance: A third way of freeing up equity is cash-out refinancing. This means taking out a new mortgage at a lower rate that will pay off your current mortgage and give you a lump sum.

Home Equity Loan Requirements

Home equity loans are contingent on:

•   The amount of home equity a homeowner has

•   Income

•   Credit history

•   Debt-to-income ratio

How to Calculate Your Home Equity

Home equity requires basic math: Subtract the amount you owe from the market value of your home. If your home is worth $500,000 and you owe $350,000, you have $150,000 in equity.

You usually will not get a loan for the total amount of home equity you have, however. When it comes to how much home equity you can tap, many lenders allow a maximum of 85%, although some allow less, and some, more.

Another way of saying that: Your loan-to-value ratio shouldn’t exceed 85% in many cases.

If you’re taking out a second mortgage like a home equity loan or HELOC, your first mortgage and the equity loan compared with your home value is what is called the combined loan-to-value (CLTV) ratio.

Most lenders will require a CLTV of 85% or less to obtain a home equity loan, although some will allow you to borrow 100% of your home’s value.

combined loan balance ÷ appraised home value = CLTV

Example of a Home Equity Loan Payment

One thing that attracts a lot of borrowers to a home equity loan is the long repayment period, which is also why most homebuyers choose a mortgage term of 30 years.

A longer repayment period can make your monthly payment more manageable. For example, if you were to get a $75,000 home equity loan with a repayment period of 20 years, your monthly payment at 8% interest would be $627.33. If you had to repay that same amount in five years, your payment would be $1,520.73.

Here’s a chart comparing examples of monthly payments with different terms:

Loan amount

Interest rate

Term

Monthly Payment

$75,000 8% 5 years $1,520.73
$75,000 8% 10 years $909.96
$75,000 8% 20 years $627.33

A lot of variables will affect the rate you pay, such as your credit score and how much home equity you have. Also, keep in mind that the longer the loan term, the more interest you’ll pay, despite the more affordable monthly payment.

Difference Between Home Equity Loans and HELOCs

Home equity loans and HELOCs both use your home as collateral on a loan. How they differ is in how you receive and repay the money.

Home equity loan

HELOC

Lump sum loan Money as you need it
Start repaying immediately Pay only on the amount you borrowed
Usually a fixed interest rate Often a variable interest rate
Installment loan Credit line

Advantages and Drawbacks of Home Equity Loans

Home equity loans have some advantages, but be sure to consider the drawbacks as well.

Advantages

Drawbacks

Large amounts of money can be borrowed Home is collateral
Low interest rate Repayment begins immediately
Flexible use Loan amount is set, so if you need more money, you will need to apply for another loan

Home Equity Loan Quiz

What Can You Use a Home Equity Loan For?

The great thing about a home equity loan is the wide range of things you can use it for. Once the funds flow to your bank account, they’re yours to use for almost any purpose. Some common uses of home equity are:

•   Home renovations

•   Education

•   Medical expenses

•   Consolidation of high-interest revolving debt

•   Recreational vehicles

•   Vacations

•   Weddings

•   Purchase of an investment property

•   Building an ADU

•   Money in retirement

While you can pay for college tuition with a home equity loan, it might be better to find a student loan for that expense. And vacation expenses and wedding costs might be better addressed by saving and planning than by dipping into home equity.

Why? Because other loan types don’t put your home at risk if you’re unable to pay.

How to Apply for a Home Equity Loan

Step One: Assess your situation. Do you have enough equity to make this happen? How much do you need? Would you prefer a home equity loan or a HELOC? Do you have at least a “good” FICO® score?

If you have an idea of what type of loan you want, how much you want to borrow, and how much equity is available to tap, you’ll be able to shop for what you need.

Step Two: Ask multiple lenders for loan estimates. Getting loan estimates from different lenders can help you find the best terms and rates. Compare the APR of one 20-year loan to another, and so on. The APR will include the loan’s interest rate and any points and fees. Some lenders offer to waive or reduce closing costs on the loan.

All hard credit inquiries made within 14 to 45 days will be counted as one.

Step Three: Find a fitting loan and apply. Submit information about your income, current mortgage, insurance, and other details the lender requests. The lender may require an appraisal of your home.

Step Four: Close on your loan. If everything checks out — including your income, credit history on your credit reports, and home value — you may reach the closing table for your home equity loan. The Federal Trade Commission recommends reading the closing documents carefully and negotiating changes or walking away if something doesn’t look as it should.

Step Five: Receive your funds. Funds are disbursed around three business days after closing on the loan. You’ll receive the amount you were approved for.

Step Six: Begin repaying your loan. On a home equity loan when the funds are disbursed upfront and your interest rate is locked, the first payment will be due around 30 days after you close on the loan.

Is It a Good Idea to Take Out a Home Equity Loan?

Taking out a home equity loan is one of the least expensive ways to finance a large purchase. Because your home is used as collateral, lending institutions are willing to offer a relatively low interest rate on the borrowed amount.

For people who want borrowing flexibility and aren’t sure of the exact amount they will need, a HELOC might be a better option.

While a lower interest rate is great, you should always keep in mind that your home is at risk with a home equity loan. If you’re confident you can make the payments and have a need for a large sum, this may be a financing solution you’ll want to look into.

The Takeaway

With a relatively low rate and a repayment period that can be long, a home equity loan is an attractive way to finance a large purchase or consolidate high-interest debt. A home equity line of credit is a good alternative, and more flexible.

SoFi brokers a HELOC that lets homeowners tap up to 95%, or $500,000, of their home equity.

Need cash? Get a big sum, and then some, with a HELOC through SoFi.

FAQ

How much can you borrow with a home equity loan?

Most lenders limit the amount to 85% of your home equity, though that is not always the case. The loan amount also depends on your income, debt, and creditworthiness.

Can you have multiple home equity loans at the same time?

Yes, but you’ll want to consider all your options before getting another loan that puts your home at risk.

Are home equity loans tax deductible?

Interest on home equity loans is tax deductible if the money is used to buy, build, or substantially improve the home that secures the loan.

Are there costs to getting a home equity loan?

Closing costs for a home equity loan are typically 2% to 5%, but some lenders don’t charge any closing costs.

How do you pay back a home equity loan?

Repayment begins shortly after the funds are disbursed, and monthly payments are made until the loan term ends.


Photo credit: iStock/VioletaStoimenova

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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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