Key takeaways

  • The interest rate on fixed-rate HELOCs stays the same throughout the draw period
  • In some cases, you can switch between a fixed-rate and a variable rate on these types of HELOCs to take advantage of lower rates
  • Fixed-rate HELOCs may charge higher fees and come with higher starting interest rates

You might know how a home equity line of credit (HELOC) works — a revolving line of credit with a variable interest rate, sort of like a credit card.

That’s your standard HELOC. But there’s a less common variety: a fixed-rated HELOC, whose interest rate can be locked in — so your payments won’t  vary.

Read on to learn more about how a fixed-rate HELOC works and how it differs from a traditional home equity line of credit.

What is a fixed-rate HELOC?

If a regular HELOC is akin to a big credit card, a fixed-rate HELOC is similar to a second mortgage. Actually, it’s a hybrid of a home equity loan (which gives you a lump sum at a fixed rate) and a HELOC. It allows you to freeze a portion or all of your balance at a fixed interest rate, protecting you against market fluctuations that impact rates.

With a fixed HELOC, you can withdraw as much or as little of your credit line as needed, just as with a variable-rate HELOC. Unlike a variable-rate HELOC, though, the interest rate on any amount you use will have the same interest rate applied throughout the draw period.

If this option exists for your HELOC, you can usually do the conversion at closing or during the draw period, says Laura Sterling, vice president of Marketing at Georgia’s Own Credit Union, adding that “some lenders may also allow the borrower to convert back to a variable rate” later on.

The ability to switch back and forth between variable and fixed rates allows you to take advantage of lower interest rates when they become available. At the same time, locking in a fixed interest rate can provide the stability of predictable monthly payments.

The fixed-rate portion of the HELOC can be locked in for terms ranging from five years to 30 years, during which time the loan is paid back like a typical mortgage, says Vikram Gupta, executive vice president and head of Home Equity at PNC Bank.

Pros and cons of a fixed-rate HELOC

As with any financial product, there are both benefits and drawbacks associated with a fixed-rate HELOC. Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind.

Pros of a fixed-rate HELOC

  • Avoid interest rate fluctuations
  • Stable and predictable repayments
  • Potential to lock in interest rate declines

Cons of a fixed-rate HELOC

  • May have a higher initial interest rate than a traditional HELOC
  • There may be more fees and penalties
  • Harder to find: Not all lenders offer fixed-rate HELOCs

Fixed- vs variable-rate HELOC

A variable-rate HELOC translates to some uncertainty when planning your monthly household budget. A fixed-interest HELOC’s payment can’t fluctuate.

So, what’s the down side? For starters, a HELOC with a fixed rate typically has higher initial interest rates than traditional HELOCs, says Sterling. You’re paying for the privilege of that potential rate freeze in other words. Fixed-rate HELOCs might charge higher fees than comparable traditional HELOCs, too.

Generally, the terms — length of draw period and repayment period — are the same on both types of HELOCs. However, the fixed-rate variety might impose limits on borrowing that you won’t have with a variable-rate HELOC.

Factors to consider with a fixed-rate HELOC

Inflation/interest rate moves

In terms of inflation, a fixed-rate HELOC might be the smarter move. That’s because regardless of what happens with the economy, inflation and interest rates, you’ll still have the security of a fixed rate.

Case in point: The Federal Reserve has been raising its key rate throughout 2022 and 2023 in a continued effort to combat inflation. Rates are now at their highest level since early 2001. This led to higher interest on variable-rate financial products, including HELOCs.

The flip side is also true, however—if prevailing market rates drop, you might not be able to easily convert back to a variable rate and get a lower payment. The bottom line: Take your budget and risk tolerance into consideration.

Purpose of the HELOC

A fixed rate can be especially beneficial if you’re using the HELOC to make home improvements. That’s because there’s no hurry to begin remodeling before the rate increases.

“Establishing a fixed-rate lock on a HELOC can often make sense when a customer has a planned expense they need to finance, such as a home renovation project,” says Gupta. “In that scenario, the customer will have full certainty about the cost of their financing.”

A fixed-rate HELOC might also come in handy in an emergency, such as an unforeseen medical bill, or to consolidate debt.

Cost and fees

While a fixed-rate HELOC lends certainty to your budget, there’s no telling how interest rates might change in the future. If rates fall, you might find you were better off with a variable-rate line of credit.

There might also be hidden fees, such as penalties for paying the line off early or a fee for exercising the conversion option.

“Borrowers may want to look out for annual fees and rate locks,” says Sterling. “Some lenders cap the number of fixed-rate locks that a borrower can do annually and may charge a fee for each rate lock. Borrowers should also be aware of minimum withdrawal amounts.”

Minimum borrowing requirements

Some lenders require a minimum balance on the line of credit before you can get the fixed rate. This might not work well for you if you’re trying to stay within a certain budget, forcing you to borrow funds you don’t really need.

They might also restrict how many times you can switch from a variable rate to a fixed one.

Why aren’t all HELOC rates fixed?

Variable rate HELOCs remain the primary HELOC option available. The interest rate on traditional HELOCs increases based on market conditions including the benchmark rate set by the Federal Reserve. They have long been the predominant type of HELOC offered by lenders and continue to be the most widely offered.

However, fixed-rate offerings are becoming more common as lenders look for ways to help consumers save money when borrowing amid the current soaring-interest-rate environment. Fixed-rate HELOCs offer protection in such climates. That was mortgage lender Guaranteed Rate’s thinking in adding a fixed-rate HELOC to its product line in 2022.

Can I convert an existing HELOC to a fixed rate?

If you’ve taken out a variable-rate HELOC and want to convert to a fixed rate, there are a couple ways to go about it:

  1. Open a new hybrid HELOC. The simplest way to get a fixed-rate HELOC is to take out a new HELOC altogether. This is best if you’re near the end of the draw period for your current HELOC.
  2. Refinance your old HELOC. If you open up a new hybrid HELOC, you can use it to refinance your existing HELOC — you’ll simply pay off the balance of your old HELOC using funds from your new line of credit. This will also reset your draw period. For example, Bethpage Federal Credit Union offers the unique option to convert some or all of a variable-rate HELOC to a fixed-rate loan without a fee; you can choose between five-, 10- and 20- year repayment terms.

Is a fixed-rate HELOC best for me?

Whether it’s a home renovation project or a large unexpected expense, it’s a good idea to examine both variable-rate and fixed-rate HELOC options carefully to determine which one makes sense for you. Both have their benefits; it’s just a matter of your needs. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What’s the interest rate environment? “If you are in a rising rate market, a fixed-rate HELOC could be a good option,” says Sterling. “If you anticipate rates remaining low, you may save more with a traditional HELOC.”
  • Is there a set amount you need to borrow? Are you paying off a student loan or financing a large or ongoing home improvement project? Fixed-rate HELOCs might give you more flexibility; however, some lenders require that you borrow a minimum amount to lock in the rate.
  • Are you comfortable with payments that could change over time? “If the answer is no, a fixed-rate HELOC could be a good choice,” says Sterling. If yes, a traditional variable-rate HELOC will work just fine — just be sure to budget for big jumps, especially when your repayment period begins.