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You finally own your home free and clear. And now, you want to put that ownership stake to use. Is this even possible?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. You can take equity out of your home even after your mortgage is paid off. One of the easier ways to do this is to sell your home, but there are also financial products that allow you to extract equity from your paid-off home quickly without having to pick up and move.
Each has its pluses and minuses. So let’s look at the options.
Can you take equity out of a paid-off house?
“It is definitely possible to take equity out of your home after you’ve paid off a previous mortgage,” says Jeffrey Brown, branch manager with Axia Home Loans in Bellevue, Wash. “Assuming you qualify, you can access that equity at any time.”
Actually, those means of access are pretty much the same for a paid-off house as for one that still has a mortgage on it. You can take equity out of your home using one of these tools:
- home equity loan
- home equity line of credit (HELOC)
- reverse mortgage
- cash-out refinance
- shared equity investment
When should you tap equity on a paid-off house?
Why would anyone pursue fresh financing after finally paying off a mortgage? There are many viable reasons, from funding a home improvement project or investing in a business to purchasing more property. Two good rules to follow: Use your equity for long-term projects that create more value than the cost of the loan, and don’t take out more than you can afford to lose.
There are rewards and risks involved with refinancing a paid-off home in order to access home equity. It’s important to get clear on your goals so you’re making a sound financial decision.
Pros of tapping equity on a paid-off house
Easier to get approved
On the plus side, it can be relatively easy to qualify for a home equity loan on a paid-off house since you already have a solid track record of paying off your first mortgage, which likely means you’re older and have good credit and possibly a higher income. This ups your creditworthiness as a borrower, making you a preferred candidate to lenders and lowering the interest rate you’ll pay.
You also won’t have to worry about the size of your ownership stake or loan-to-value ratio, two other criteria that lenders often look at.
Furthermore, you can use your equity for any reason. Most lenders won’t care, for instance, if the money will be put toward funding retirement, seeding a new business or making a down payment on an investment property.
“Many seek to pay for their children’s educational expenses, fund their retirement or pay for an unexpected medical emergency like cancer care for a loved one,” says Kelly McCann, an attorney specializing in construction and real estate with Burnside Law Group in Portland, Ore.
Avoid capital gains taxes
In addition to being able to use the money for nearly any purpose and being more likely to qualify, tapping into your home equity also has the potential to save you money on your income tax.
“It may be smarter to tap into your equity than selling your home and downsizing,” says McCann. “If you have capital gains on your home of more than $250,000 (or more than $500,000 if you are a married couple) you must pay taxes on that gain after the sale of your home. However, if you borrow against your home by, for example, taking out a home equity loan, you don’t have to pay taxes on the loan proceeds — you get the money tax-free.”
Cons of tapping equity on a paid-off house
Risk of losing your home
Of course, if you choose a form of financing wherein your home is used as collateral, like a cash-out refinance or home equity loan, there’s always the risk that you could lose your home if you can’t repay.
While they often carry lower interest rates than unsecured loans, home equity products aren’t free. Most have upfront expenses and many of those good old closing costs that you remember all-too-well from your first mortgage. You’ll have to come up with the funds to pay for expenses like origination fees and a home appraisal, to name a few. The whole process could be paperwork-heavy and time-consuming, too.
Being frivolous with funds
You’ve got a tempting chunk of change there in your home. But you’ve worked long and hard to acquire this asset, so don’t blow it on one-time, discretionary expenses. Buying a car (a depreciating asset), paying for a wedding or taking a vacation — these are not-so-good reasons to deplete your equity stake.
How to get equity out of a paid-off house
Cash-out refinance on a paid-off home
Let’s say you were still paying off your mortgage, had adequate equity and needed cash. You’d likely do a cash-out refinance, which typically has a relatively lower interest rate compared to other types of loans.
You can do the same now, even though you’ve paid off your mortgage. You’ll simply take out a new mortgage and pocket the equity in the form of cash at closing. Like any refinance, however, you’ll be on the hook for closing costs, which can run 2 percent to 5 percent of the amount you’re borrowing and any escrow payments.
“A cash-out refinance generally results in the lowest interest rate and offers the highest loan amounts you can borrow,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager for Equity Now, a mortgage lender headquartered in Mamaroneck, New York. “It can be a fixed- or adjustable-rate loan, and it is fairly straightforward to apply and qualify for.”
Home equity loan on a paid-off home
Alternatively, you could apply for a house-paid-off home equity loan.
Like a cash-out refinance, a home equity loan is secured by your property (the collateral for the loan) and enables you to extract a large amount of equity because you have no other debt attached to the residence. You’ll also likely need to pay closing costs, and as with any mortgage, you risk losing your home if you can’t pay it back.
The upsides: Home equity loans typically come with fixed interest rates, which are usually much lower than personal loan rates. Plus, if you use the money on home improvements, you can deduct the interest on your taxes.
HELOC on a paid-off home
Many homeowners like the flexibility of a HELOC, which works more like a credit card you can use when you need it.
“HELOCs come with adjustable interest rates, often based on the prime rate,” says Hackett. “They offer the opportunity to draw funds and pay back funds during the initial draw period, which is more flexible than a standard first mortgage.”
What’s more, you’re only responsible for repaying the amount you use versus the fixed obligation of a cash-out refinance or home equity loan, says Vikram Gupta, executive vice president and head of home equity for PNC Bank.
Do read the fine print of your agreement, though. “Additionally, some HELOCs may have various fees associated with them such as annual fees, early closure fees, and origination fees, so borrowers should pay close attention to these when evaluating their total financing costs,” says Gupta.
HELOCs aren’t as easily attainable, however, have smaller loan limits in general and are subject to increasing market rates.
Reverse mortgage on a paid-off home
If you’re 62 or older, you could be eligible for reverse mortgage. This financing vehicle gets you regular payments from a mortgage lender in exchange for your home’s equity.
“A reverse mortgage can be a great way for seniors to access the equity in their homes to pay for monthly living expenses and keep them living independently, especially if they don’t have monthly income in retirement,” says Brown.
Reverse mortgages have pros and cons, though. You’ll still need to keep up with homeowners insurance, property tax and HOA dues payments to avoid foreclosure, and there’s a limit to how much money you can get. You can’t let the home fall into disrepair either — you’ll still be responsible for maintenance.
Most of all: “It’s important for the borrower’s survivors to understand that the entire [reverse mortgage] balance, plus interest and fees, is due if the borrower passes away,” says Gupta. “The borrower’s house may need to be sold if their estate cannot repay the reverse mortgage loan.”
Shared equity investment on a paid-off home
With a shared equity investment — a newer method of liquidating equity — you’ll sell a portion of your future home equity in exchange for a one-time cash payment.
“The details on how this works and what it costs will vary from investor to investor,” says Andrew Latham, CFP, CPFC, content director and managing editor for SuperMoney.com. “Let’s say you have a property worth $600,000 with $200,000 in equity built up. A home equity investor might offer you $100,000 for a 25 percent share in the appreciation of your home.”
If your home’s value increases to $1 million after 10 years — the typical term for a home equity investment — you’d have to return the $100,000 investment plus 25 percent of the appreciation, which in this case would be $100,000. You’d also need to return the investment plus the share of appreciation if you sell the home.
“The advantage here is that you can tap into your home’s equity without getting into debt,” says Latham, “and there are no monthly payments, which is a great plus for homeowners struggling with cash flow.”
In effect, you’ll have a silent partner in your home, so you’ll need to be comfortable with that and the rights that partner has to protect their investment.
Bottom line on getting equity out of a paid-off home
Determining whether it makes sense to pull equity out of a house you’ve already paid off really comes down to your unique circumstances and financial picture, as well as your short- and long-term goals. It’s also important to consider whether you’d be able to make the payments on the loan if your financial circumstances were to change unexpectedly.
“Homeowners should ask themselves: ‘What is the purpose of the funds needed?’ They also need to assess their individual financial situations to ensure they have the cash flow to pay off the loan in the future, particularly as they approach retirement,” says Gupta.
If you decide to proceed, make sure to practice the due diligence you would apply to any other financial transaction—shop around with several lenders and find the best terms for your needs.
A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is typically the most inexpensive way to tap into your home’s equity. When opening a HELOC, you only pay interest on the money you actually use. As an added bonus, when using a HELOC, you won’t pay the closing costs that come with a home equity loan or a cash-out refinance on a paid off home.
Generally, lenders will allow for borrowing between 80 to 85 percent of a home’s appraised value. However, the specific limit varies by lender.
Lenders typically look for credit scores of at least 620 on home equity loan applications. You’ll qualify for an even better rate with a score of 700 or above.