If you need cash for a home renovation or other large expense, you might be considering tapping your home equity. Two of the main ways to do that are home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).

Equity loans: Overview

Also known as second mortgages, equity loans allow borrowers to borrow money via their home’s equity, the difference between the home’s current market value and the borrower’s remaining mortgage balance.

Equity loans come in two main forms: Home equity loans and HELOCs. With both, your equity acts as collateral for the lender, so if you fail to make the monthly payments, you run the risk of losing your home.

Home equity loans operate like mortgages with fixed, monthly payments and can be used for any expense, including home improvement projects, financing a college education, debt consolidation or long-term investments. HELOCs are lines of credit, making them useful for larger, long-term renovation projects, and typically come with a variable interest rate, but some lenders offer fixed-rate options.

With either, the amount you can borrow is generally based on loan-to-value ratio (LTV) or combined LTV ratio (CLTV) — how much you’re borrowing compared to the value of the property — with a typical limit of 80 percent or 85 percent of your equity. Your specific limit might be based on factors such as credit score, annual income and payment history. Bankrate’s home equity calculator and HELOC calculator can help you get a sense of how much you can tap.

Because equity loans are secured (backed) by your home, they tend to have lower interest rates than unsecured forms of debt, like credit cards or personal loans.

Eligibility requirements for equity loans

While criteria can vary by lender, these are the general requirements for a HELOC or home equity loan:

  • A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of no more than 43 percent
  • A good credit score, at least in the mid-600s
  • A sufficient, steady income
  • A history of on-time payments
  • At least 15 percent to 20 percent equity in your home

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)

A HELOC is an equity line of credit similar to a credit card — you can borrow up to a certain amount and take out however much you need, when you need it, and for any purpose, though if used for home-related repairs or upgrades, they may be tax-deductible. The interest rates on HELOCs are usually variable, but some lenders allow you to convert some or all of your balance to a fixed rate.

Typically, HELOCs have a draw period of 10 years and a repayment period between 10 years and 20 years. During the draw period, you can access the funds and are only required to make interest payments (though you can also repay principal if you choose). During the repayment period, you can’t access the funds any longer, and are responsible for making both interest and principal payments.

Home equity loans

With a home equity loan, you borrow a lump sum, usually at a fixed interest rate. The repayments, which begin promptly and cover both interest and principal, extend over a term between five and 30 years. The loan is backed by your home — or more precisely, the ownership stake you have in it. Home equity loans can also be used to finance any project, investment or purchase. If used for home improvements, the interest might be tax-deductible (more on that below).

Home equity loans vs. HELOCs

Home equity loans seem similar to HELOCs, but they are different ways to borrow money.

Home equity loan HELOC
Interest rates Fixed Variable
Loan terms 5 years to 30 years 10-year draw period; up to 20-year repayment period
Repayment Begins once funds are disbursed Interest-only payments during draw period; interest and principal payments during repayment period
Funding Disbursed in one lump sum amount Withdraw any amount, up to the limit, when needed
Monthly payments Same payment every month Varies based on interest rate and balance owed
Pros Lower rates compared to credit cards and personal loans; potential interest deduction Can borrow only as much as you need; possible option to convert to fixed rate; potential interest deduction
Cons Can only borrow a fixed sum, which might be more or less than you need; risk of foreclosure if you can’t repay Variable rate means your payments might go up; risk of foreclosure if you can’t repay

Equity loan tax deductions

Joint filers can deduct the interest on up to $750,000 of equity loans, if taken out after Dec. 15, 2017. Single filers can deduct the interest on up to $375,000 worth.

Joint filers whose loans closed before Dec. 15, 2017 can deduct the interest on up to $1 million, while single filers can deduct the interest up to $500,000. These deduction limits apply to all mortgages.

Home Equity

Home equity loans/HELOCs are not the same as refinancing, although both are a form of debt that uses your home as collateral. With the former, you’re borrowing a new sum of money, independent of your existing mortgage. When you refinance, you’re taking out an entirely new mortgage to replace your current one.

Generally, refinancing is best for borrowers who can get a lower interest rate or other better terms with the new mortgage. and plan to stay in their home long enough to recoup the closing costs. An equity loan is best for those who want to retain their existing mortgage (typically because they have an attractive rate or have nearly paid it off) but still need funds.

How to get an equity loan

1. Review your credit and finances

Before applying for an equity loan, check your credit. If you have a lower score or an inconsistent payment history, it’ll be harder for you to get approved. If needed, take steps to improve your score, such as paying down or paying off debt. Speaking of debt, calculate your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, as well. Remember most lenders look for a DTI ratio of no more than 43 percent, though some might allow up to 50 percent.

2. Calculate your equity

To qualify for an equity loan, many lenders require you to have at least 20 percent equity in your home — in other words, a maximum LTV (or CLTV) ratio of 80 percent. To calculate your home’s equity, take your current mortgage balance and subtract that from your home’s value. You can also use Bankrate’s equity calculators:

Note: Lenders rely on an appraiser’s opinion of your home’s value to determine how much equity you’re allowed to tap. If you’re just weighing your options, however, you don’t have to hire an appraiser — you can talk to a real estate agent or use an online home price estimator tool to get a rough idea of how much equity you have.

3. Compare home equity lenders

Not every mortgage lender offers home equity products, and to get the lowest rate, it’s crucial to shop around. Many banks provide home equity loans, and some online lenders do, too. To help narrow down your options, review home equity lender reviews and testimonials. Once you find the lender that meets your needs and offers the best rates, check its eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify.

Equity loan payback help

If you’re having trouble making your equity loan payments, contact your lender as soon as possible. Your lender might offer relief like a lower rate, adjusted repayment terms or forbearance options. Don’t wait to miss a payment before contacting your lender — if you do, eventually, you’ll be given a notice that you’re in default and the lender might begin the foreclosure process.

Alternatives to home equity loans

Cash-out refi

A cash-out refinance is similar to a home equity loan in that you’re tapping into your ownership stake for ready money. But with a cash-out refinance, you are replacing your entire mortgage, exchanging the old loan for a bigger one.The extra amount, which you take in cash, is based on the amount of equity you have built up in your home. However, the terms of your new loan may differ significantly from those of the original.

Reverse mortgage

If you’re a homeowner aged 62 or older, you may be able to take out a reverse mortgage and borrow part of your home’s equity as tax-free income. Your lender will make payments to you, but those payments will need to be repaid when you die, permanently move out or sell the home.

Personal loans

Personal loans pay you money in a lump sum, typically at a fixed interest rate. They are “unsecured,” meaning they have no attached collateral that the lender can seize if you fail to repay. As a result, their interest rates tend to be higher than those of home equity loans, and there’s no possibility of tax deductions for home-related expenditures.

When should you get a home equity loan?

Debt consolidation

A home equity loan can allow you to consolidate high-interest debt at a lower interest rate, or to pay off other personal debts such as car or student loans. The downside is that you’ll turn an unsecured debt into debt that is now backed by collateral — namely, your home. Which means it could be forfeit if you default on your loan.

Home improvement

Many homeowners take out home equity loans to finance large, home-related projects like a kitchen renovation or a new garage. These projects can make a home more comfortable, and when done wisely, will increase the home’s value. Plus, the loan interest will often be tax-deductible. However, you’ll have to make sure that the monthly payments on your additional loan won’t stretch your budget too thin.

Emergency expenses

Maintaining an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses is not viable for many Americans. Tapping home equity may be the answer if you have a sudden, unforeseen need or expense, and have no other source of ready money. But the loan application process is time-intensive — not the best if the need is immediate — and taking out a home equity loan can be a direct route to serious debt.


Financing college with a home equity loan can sometimes be a better deal than using student loans. You’ll save if mortgage rates are considerably lower than student loan interest rates. You may also be able to secure a longer term with lower monthly payments. However, a home equity loan is riskier than a student loan by definition, since your home becomes collateral for the debt — and the lender can seize it if you default.

How much do you pay on a home equity loan?

It depends on several things: the length of the loan, the interest rate and the borrower’s financials and location. Let’s say you take out a $75,000 home equity loan on a property in Louisville, KY worth $300,000. You have a credit score of 740, and you have $160,000 remaining on your mortgage. As of this writing, based on Bankrate’s average home equity loan rate calculator, if you get a loan with a 6.79 percent interest rate and a 30-year term, your monthly payment will be $488. By comparison, you’ll pay $870 per month for a 10-year loan at 6.99 percent interest. And if you opt for a 5-year term with 6.49 percent rate, your payments will be $1,467 each month. However, you’ll pay substantially less in interest over the life of the loan.

These figures don’t account for additional charges like origination fees, appraisal fees and other closing costs. When choosing a home equity loan, you’ll need to consider these upfront expenses, much as you would with a mortgage. With some lenders, you may be able to snag a lower rate on your home equity loan if you set up automatic payments.

How many years do you have to pay off a home equity loan?

Your repayment period will depend on your loan term, which typically ranges from 5 to 20 years and sometimes even 30 years. Bear in mind: the longer the term, the more you’ll pay in interest over the life of the loan.

Your interest rate and monthly payments will be fixed, so your repayment schedule will be predictable. You should check with your lender first if you want to pay off your loan early. Your loan may include an early payoff penalty.

Bottom line

While putting your home up as collateral can be a risky move, if you can afford the payments, equity loans allow you to borrow large sums of money at relatively lower rates than other forms of financing. If you’re unsure whether to take out a HELOC or a home equity loan, talk to a lender. You might also want to speak with a financial advisor to help determine which option best suits your situation.