Key takeaways

  • It's possible to get a home equity loan with a fair credit score, defined as a FICO score between 580 and 669. You won't get the lowest interest rate, however, if your score isn't as high.
  • If you have steady income and an existing relationship with a lender, you might have a better chance at getting a home equity loan with bad credit.
  • To get the best possible rate and terms on a home equity loan, take steps to improve your credit.

Can you get a home equity loan with bad credit?

A lower credit score doesn’t necessarily mean a lender will deny you a home equity loan. Many home equity lenders allow for FICO scores as low as 620, considered “fair,” as long as you meet other requirements around debt, equity and income.

Requirements for home equity loans with bad credit

Not all home equity lenders have the same borrowing criteria. The general requirements include:

  • A minimum credit score of 620
  • At least 15 percent to 20 percent equity in your home
  • A maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43 percent, or up to 50 percent in some cases
  • On-time mortgage payment history
  • Stable employment and income

To learn the requirements for a home equity loan with a specific lender, you’ll need to do some research online or contact a loan officer directly. If you aren’t ready to apply for the loan just yet, ask for a no-credit check prequalification to avoid having the loan inquiry affect your credit score.

How to apply for a bad credit home equity loan

Before applying for a home equity loan, first determine whether you’d qualify — remember, many lenders allow a credit score as low as 620 — and how you can overcome a lower credit score to get the best possible rate. Here are some steps to take:

1. Check your credit report

While it’s possible to get a home equity loan with bad credit, it’s still wise to do all you can to improve your score before you apply (more on that below). A better credit score gets you a better rate. It can also help you borrow more (up to the tappable amount).

Check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to get a sense of where you stand. If there are any errors, like incorrect contact information, contact the credit bureau — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — to get it updated as soon as possible.

2. Determine your equity level

To qualify for a home equity loan, lenders typically require at least 15 percent or 20 percent equity. The amount of equity you have, your home’s appraised value and combined loan-to-value (CLTV) ratio help determine how much you can borrow.

Dollar
Bankrate insights
Use Bankrate’s home equity loan calculator to quickly get an estimate of your potential home equity loan amount.

To estimate your home’s equity, take the value of your home and subtract the balance left on your mortgage. While lenders will only consider the official appraised value of your home when determining how much you can borrow, you can get an idea of your home’s value through Bankrate or a real estate listing portal or brokerage. Let’s say your home is worth $420,000 and you have $250,000 to pay on your mortgage:

Calculator
Example of calculating home equity
$420,000 – $250,000 = $170,000

In this example, you’d have $170,000 in home equity. That doesn’t mean you can borrow $170,000, however. If the lender requires you to maintain at least 20 percent equity, you’d need to preserve $84,000 ($420,000 * 0.20). That leaves you with a home equity loan of up to $86,000 ($170,000 – $84,000).

Say you want to add a $60,000 home equity loan to the mix. That would increase your total mortgage debt — for both your first mortgage and the home equity loan — from $250,000 to $310,000.

That 20 percent equity requirement also means you’d need a CLTV ratio of 80 percent or lower. To calculate your CLTV ratio, divide the total mortgage debt ($310,000) by the value of your home ($420,000):

Calculator
Example of calculating CLTV
($250,000 + $60,000) / $420,000 = 73.8%

In this example, you’d be under the lender’s 80 percent CLTV requirement.

3. Find out your DTI ratio

The DTI ratio is a measure lenders use to determine whether you can reasonably afford to take on more debt. To calculate your DTI ratio, simply divide your monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income. For example, say you bring in $6,000 a month in income and have a $2,200 monthly mortgage payment and a $110 monthly student loan payment:

Calculator
Example of calculating DTI ratio
$2,310 / $6,000 x 100 = 38.5%

To make things even easier, you can use Bankrate’s DTI calculator.

For a home equity loan, most lenders look for a DTI ratio of no more than 43 percent.

4. Consider a co-signer

If your credit disqualifies you for a home equity loan, a co-signer with better credit might be able to help, in some cases.

“A co-signer can help with credit and income issues for an applicant who has a lower credit score, but ultimately the main applicant or primary borrower will have to have at least the bare minimum credit score that is required based on the bank’s underwriting guidelines,” says Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified, a real estate platform for buyers, sellers and investors.

A co-signer is just as responsible for repaying the loan as the primary borrower, even if they don’t actually intend to make payments. If you fall behind on loan payments, their credit suffers along with yours.

5. Try a lender you already work with

If your bank, credit union or mortgage lender offers home equity products, it might be able to extend some flexibility, or at least help with your application, since you’re an existing customer.

“A loan officer familiar with the details of an applicant’s situation can help them present it to an underwriter in the best possible way,” says DiBugnara.

6. Write a letter to the lender

Write a letter of explanation describing why your credit has taken a hit. This letter should matter-of-factly explain credit issues — avoid catastrophizing — and include any relevant paperwork, like bankruptcy documentation. If your credit score was impacted by late payments due to job loss, for example, but you’re employed now, your lender can take this context into consideration.

Lenders that offer home equity loans with bad credit

There are home equity lenders that offer loans to borrowers with lower credit scores. Here are some to consider, along with requirements:

Lender Bankrate Score Loan types Credit score minimum Maximum CLTV Maximum DTI
Figure 4.7/5 HELOC 640 75%-90% Undisclosed
Guaranteed Rate 4.6/5 HELOC 620 90%-95% 50%
Spring EQ 4.3/5 Home equity loan, HELOC 620 for home equity loans, 680 for HELOCs Up to 97.5% 43%
TD Bank 4.3/5 Home equity loan, HELOC 660 Undisclosed Undisclosed
Connexus Credit Union 4.1/5 Home equity loan, HELOC 640 90% Undisclosed
Discover  4.1/5 Home equity loan 620 90% 43%

Pros and cons of getting a home equity loan with bad credit

Getting a home equity loan with bad credit has its benefits and drawbacks. You can tap your equity to help with expenses, but it’s also risky.

Pros

  • You’ll pay a fixed rate: Home equity loans are for a fixed sum at a  fixed interest rate, so you’ll know exactly how much your payment is each month. This can help you budget for and reliably pay down debt, which can help boost your credit score.
  • You could get out of costlier debt: If you have high-interest debt — like credit card debt — you could pay it off with a lower-rate home equity loan, then repay that loan, with one payment, for less.

Cons

  • You’re taking on more debt: If you’ve had trouble managing money in the past, it might not be wise to take on more debt with a home equity loan, even if you qualify.
  • It’ll be more expensive: A lower credit score won’t qualify you for the best home equity loan rates, meaning you’ll pay more in interest.
  • You could lose your home: If you fall behind on loan payments, you’ll further damage your credit. Even worse: If you’re eventually unable to pay back the loan, your home could go into foreclosure.

Home equity loan alternatives if you have bad credit

If you need cash but have bad credit, a home equity loan is just one option. Here are some alternatives:

Personal loans

Personal loans can be easier to qualify for than a home equity product, and they aren’t tied to your home. This means that if you fail to repay the loan, the lender can’t go after your house. Personal loans have higher interest rates, however, and shorter repayment terms. This translates to a more expensive monthly payment compared to what you might get with a home equity loan.

Cash-out refinance

In a cash-out refinance, you take out a brand-new mortgage for more than what you owe on your existing mortgage, pay off the existing loan and take the difference in cash. Most lenders require you to maintain at least 20 percent equity in your home in order to cash out.

A caveat, however: A cash-out refi makes the most sense when you can qualify for a lower rate than what you have on your current mortgage, and if you can afford the closing costs. With bad credit, getting that lower rate might not be possible.

Reverse mortgage

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners over the age of 62 to tap their home’s equity as a source of tax-free income. These types of loans need to be repaid upon your death or when you move out or sell the home. You can use reverse mortgages for anything from medical expenses to home renovations, but you must meet some requirements to qualify.

Shared equity agreement

Home equity investment companies might work with you even if you have a lower credit score, often lower than what traditional lenders would accept. These companies offer shared equity agreements in which you receive a lump sum in exchange for an ownership percentage in your home and/or its appreciation.

Unlike with home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or home equity loans, you don’t make monthly repayments in a shared equity arrangement. Some companies wait until you sell your home, then collect what they’re owed; others have multi-year agreements in which you’ll pay the balance in full at the end of a stated period.

Make sure you understand all the terms of this complex arrangement. Technically, you’re not borrowing money, you’re selling a stake in your home — to a financial professional who naturally wants to see a return on their investment.

How to get a HELOC with bad credit

Applying for a HELOC is pretty much the same as applying for a home equity loan, but if you have bad credit, a loan might have a slight edge over the line of credit. That’s because home equity loans have fixed interest rates and fixed payments, so you’ll know exactly what you need to repay each month. This predictability could help you better manage your budget and keep up with payments.

A HELOC, on the other hand, has a variable rate, which can cause unexpected increases in your monthly payments. For this reason, lenders often have higher credit score criteria for HELOCs than home equity loans.

Tips for improving your credit before getting a home equity loan

To increase your chances of getting approved for a home equity loan, work on improving your credit score well before applying — at least several months. Here are three tips to help you improve your score:

  • Pay bills on time every month. At the very least, make the minimum payment, but try to pay the balance off completely, if possible — and don’t miss that due date.
  • Don’t close credit cards after you pay them off. Either leave them open or charge just enough to have a small, recurring payment every month. That’s because closing a card reduces your credit utilization ratio, which can decrease your score. The recommended utilization ratio: no more than 30 percent.
  • Be cautious with new credit. Getting a higher credit limit on a card or getting a new card can lower your credit utilization ratio — but not if you immediately max things out or blow through the bigger balance. Treat the newly available funds as sacred savings.

FAQ before getting a home equity loan with bad credit

  • In general, it’s better to get a home equity loan with bad credit. A home equity loan often has a lower credit score requirement compared to a HELOC, and it comes with a fixed interest rate, so your payment will be the same every month, making it easier to plan for.
  • What’s considered “good” and “bad” credit scores vary slightly by credit scoring system. For FICO scores, a “good” score is between 670 and 739, a “fair” score is between 580 and 669 and a “poor” score is between 300 and 579.
  • Yes — in fact, this is the rule for any type of loan, including a home equity product. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate.