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- A home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC) leverages your home’s equity to help you finance large costs over time.
- Home equity financing is often less expensive compared to credit cards or personal loans.
- Some of the most common reasons for using home equity include paying for home renovations, consolidating debt and covering emergency expenses.
Why use home equity?
- Home equity
- Home equity is the difference between what your home is worth and how much you still owe on your mortgage. As you pay down your mortgage and your home's value increases, your equity stake grows.
Tapping your home’s equity can help you cover significant expenses, improve your financial situation or achieve any other money goal. The interest rates on a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC) are usually lower than those on other forms of financing, and you can often obtain more funds with an equity product compared to a credit card, which might have a lower limit, or a personal loan. Home equity loans and HELOCs are also repaid over a longer term, meaning you’ll have more manageable payments. The most common reasons to use equity include:
- Home improvements
- Education costs
- Debt consolidation
- Emergency expenses
- Business expenses
- Investment opportunities
- Retirement income
- Vacation funding
- Other large purchases
Reasons to use a home equity loan
There aren’t any restrictions on how to use equity in your home, but there are a few ways to make the most of a home equity loan or HELOC. Here are 10 ways to use your home equity, along with their pros and cons.
1. Home improvements
Home improvement is one of the most common reasons homeowners take out home equity loans or HELOCs. Besides making the home more comfortable, upgrades could make it more valuable.
“Home equity is a great option to finance large projects like a kitchen renovation that will increase a home’s value over time,” says Glenn Brunker, president of Ally Home. “Many times, these investments will pay for themselves by increasing the home’s value.”
Another reason to consider a home equity loan or HELOC for renovations: You could deduct the interest paid on the loan, assuming you itemize your deductions.
- You can reinvest your home’s equity to increase the value of your property.
- If you itemize your tax return, you could deduct the interest on your home equity loan or HELOC, up to the limit.
- The monthly payments on a home equity loan or HELOC, coupled with your monthly mortgage payments, could stretch your budget too thin.
- Depending on the scope of the remodel, you might need more than what you can borrow from your equity.
- If you can’t repay the home equity loan or HELOC, the lender could foreclose on your home.
2. Education costs
A home equity loan or HELOC can help you fund higher education or continuing education, whether for you, your children or other loved ones. This route typically only makes sense, however, when home equity rates are lower than student loan rates. Consider, too, the type of education you’re financing. Someone obtaining a teaching certification, for example, might be able to get the cost covered by their future employer. Some public service professions are also eligible for student loan forgiveness after a period of time. In these cases, it wouldn’t be smart to put your home on the line with an equity loan.
- Using home equity to pay for college expenses could be a lower-interest option.
- A home equity loan or HELOC only makes financial sense if you can get a lower rate compared to a student loan. That doesn’t happen often.
- Tapping home equity is riskier: If you default, you could lose your home.
- The student might be able to get financial help in other ways, such as from a future employer or via loan forgiveness.
3. Debt consolidation
A HELOC or home equity loan can be used to consolidate higher-interest debt, such as credit card balances, at a lower interest rate. “This is another very popular use of home equity, as one is often able to consolidate debt at a much lower rate over a longer term and reduce their monthly expenses significantly,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at mortgage lender Equity Now.
- If you have a significant amount of debt at a high interest rate, you could save on interest and lower your monthly payments.
- You’re turning an unsecured debt, such as a credit card, into secured debt now backed by your home. If you default on your equity loan, you could lose your house.
- If you haven’t broken the financial habits that got you into debt in the first place, or come up with a plan for repayment, you’re simply swapping one form of debt for another.
- If you default on the equity loan or HELOC, you could lose your house to foreclosure.
4. Emergency expenses
Many financial experts agree you should have an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses, but that’s not the reality for many Americans. If you find yourself in a costly situation — maybe you’re facing large medical bills or emergency home repairs — a home equity loan or HELOC can be one way to stay afloat. However, this is only a viable option if you have a plan for how to repay the debt. While you might feel better knowing you could access your home equity in case of an emergency, it still makes smart financial sense to set up and start contributing to an emergency fund. Plus, the application process for a HELOC or home equity loan takes time. In a true emergency when you need cash fast, you’d need to already have the loan in place to use it.
- If you’re in an emergency situation and have no other means to come up with the necessary cash, a HELOC could be the answer.
- If you don’t have a HELOC or home equity loan already established, you’ll need to complete the application process first. So these loans won’t do you any good in a time-sensitive emergency.
- Your lender could foreclose if you fall behind on payments.
The average cost of a wedding in 2022 was $30,000, according to The Knot. For some couples, it might make sense to take out a home equity loan or HELOC to cover this expense, rather than a wedding loan, a type of personal loan. That’s because the interest rates on personal loans are typically higher than interest rates for home equity loans and HELOCs. The major disadvantage, however: You’d be putting your home on the line for a discretionary expense. This can be risky if you don’t have a solid plan to repay the equity loan. It also tacks on interest to an expense that didn’t have interest to begin with, ultimately costing you more. You’d be repaying that loan for decades after you wed, as well. Be careful not to take out more than you need. If you’re unsure of the total tab for your big day, a HELOC is the better option.
- Using home equity to pay for wedding expenses can be cheaper than taking out another kind of loan.
- It’s a risky move to put your home on the line for what’s essentially a big party.
- You’re paying interest, so your wedding will cost more than you think.
6. Business expenses
Some business owners use their home equity to start or grow their company. If you need capital, you might be able to save money on interest by taking equity out of your home instead of taking out a business loan. Before you commit, though, run the numbers. A return on investment isn’t guaranteed, and you’re putting your house on the line.
- You might be able to borrow money at a lower interest rate with a home equity loan than you would with a small business loan.
- It might be easier to obtain capital with a home equity loan than with a loan tied to your business, especially if you’re just starting out.
- If your business fails, you’d still need to make payments on what you borrowed, regardless of lack of earnings. If you can’t, you could face foreclosure.
7. Investment opportunities
It’s possible to use home equity to invest in the stock market or buy a rental property — though both propositions are risky and require serious care and consideration. A well-qualified borrower might be able to take out a home equity loan on an investment property, as well.
- Investing in the stock market or real estate can be a great way to build wealth.
- Investments always carry risk, but that’s especially true when you’re putting your home on the line. It’s possible that you won’t earn a high enough return to outweigh your loan debt.
- If you default on payments, your house could be foreclosed.
8. Retirement income
If your retirement savings are falling short, tapping your home’s equity can help supplement your income so you can better manage expenses. These funds can be used to cover bills, emergency expenses or even home improvements to make you more comfortable as you age. A big caveat: This strategy relies on your ability to repay the loan or HELOC. If you’re not yet taking Social Security, you might be able to repay HELOC funds with that income later on. If you’re fully retired and struggling to make ends meet, however, it’s possible you won’t have the means to repay the debt, even if you have a HELOC you don’t have to pay back right away. There are other roadblocks to this strategy, too: If you’re still paying your first mortgage, tapping your equity adds to your expenses and puts you in debt that much longer. It might also be harder to qualify for an equity loan if your income has decreased in retirement.
- If you have substantial equity built up in your home, those funds could be a helpful resource for covering retirement expenses while living on a fixed income.
- You’ll need to think through how to repay your loan while retired. Home equity debt doesn’t disappear when you pass away — your heirs will have to work with your lender if they want to keep the home.
- It could be harder to qualify for a home equity loan with a lower retirement income.
- As with a mortgage, if you can’t repay the equity loan, your lender could foreclose.
9. Funding a vacation
Traveling can come with a steep price tag, and tapping your home’s equity could help cover the costs without having to increase your credit card debt. Even the best vacations don’t last forever, though, and home equity debt can linger for decades, so weigh your decision carefully. Is the trip worth potentially risking your house to pay for?
- Home equity loans typically have lower interest rates than credit cards, which could save you money.
- Putting your home on the line is an extremely risky way to finance a trip that will be over in a matter of days — and you’ll still be paying for it many years after it’s over, which could ultimately cost you more in interest.
10. Other large purchases
It’s possible to use your home equity for big-ticket purchases, but it doesn’t add up in many cases. Home equity loans have much longer repayment terms than auto loans, for example, resulting in lower monthly payments, but much more interest over time. Cars are also depreciating assets, meaning your car will be worth much less than you paid for it by the time you finish repaying the equity loan.
- You could finance a larger purchase, like a car.
- Your home’s equity isn’t worth leveraging on an expense that won’t give you a solid return. With the example of buying a car, you’ll be risking your home for an asset that will be worth less than what you paid for it by the time you’ve finished repaying the loan.
Using home equity FAQ
The amount of home equity you can borrow against depends on a number of factors, including how much the home is worth, the outstanding balance on your mortgage and your credit score. Assuming you’re well-qualified, many home equity lenders allow you to tap up to 80 percent of your equity.
As with any loan product, a home equity loan or HELOC can hurt your credit score in the short term, in part because you’re taking on more debt and potentially raising your credit utilization ratio. Over time, however, your credit score could go up as you make regular monthly payments on your home equity loan. It’s possible to get a home equity loan with bad credit, too.
Your home is the collateral for a home equity loan or HELOC, so if you can’t repay either, you could potentially lose your home to foreclosure.
It can be. You can deduct home equity loan interest if you use the funds to “buy, build or substantially improve” the home that was used to secure the loan, according to the IRS. Consult a tax professional for guidance on your specific situation.
Yes. The closing costs for home equity loans and HELOCs can range from 1 percent to 5 percent of your loan amount. These can include many of the same closing costs as a typical real estate closing, such as origination, appraisal and credit report fees. HELOC lenders also often charge annual fees to keep the line open, as well as an early termination fee if you close it within three years of opening. You could also incur a charge if you decide to convert your HELOC balance to a fixed interest rate.