If you need cash and have a sizable amount of home equity built up, you may want to tap into it for the funds. Both a cash-out refinance and a home equity loan allow you to borrow against your ownership stake, using your home as collateral.

A cash-out refinance is the process of replacing your existing mortgage with a new one, while a home equity loan is a second mortgage you take out on top of your primary one.

Here are the benefits and risks of both options.

Key takeaways

  • A cash-out refinance and home equity loan are both strategic ways to access the equity you've built in your home.
  • A cash-out refinance is the process of replacing your existing mortgage with a new one, while a home equity loan is a second mortgage you take out on top of your primary one.
  • A home equity loan could work if you have a big ownership stake and wish to pull out a large, fixed lump sum.
  • A cash-out refinance may be the smarter option if you want to reduce your mortgage payment and pull funds from your equity using a single loan product.

What are the similarities of a cash out refinance and a home equity loan?

A home equity loan and a cash-out mortgage refinance can be used for similar purposes, like funding a major home improvement project or paying off high-interest debt. Both base the amount you can borrow on your home’s worth and the amount of equity you have in it.

Both also use the property as collateral for your debt. Securing the loan in this way helps you borrow larger amounts and at lower interest rates than through unsecured loans. However, it also puts you at the risk of foreclosure if you default.

What are the differences between a cash-out refinance and a home equity loan?

While cash-out refinances and home equity loans are both secured debt, there are some important differences.

A cash-out refinance is the process of taking out a loan to pay off the remaining balance on your mortgage, effectively replacing your mortgage with a new loan. A home equity loan is a second mortgage that comes with a separate set of terms and its own interest rate.

Cash-out refinance vs home equity loan

Cash-out refinance Home equity loan
Fixed or adjustable interest rate Fixed interest rate
Lower interest rates, comparable to mortgage rates Higher interest rates, 2-3% above mortgage rates
Must maintain 15%- 20% home equity Must maintain 15% – 20% home equity
Mortgage interest is tax-deductible (on original principal; cashed-out portion deductible if used on the home) Tax-deductible, provided funds are used to “buy, build, or substantially improve” the home
Longer application process Shorter application process

What is a cash-out refinance?

A cash-out refinance pays off the remaining balance on your first home loan and replaces it with a new mortgage. The newly refinanced loan amount is for the remaining debt owed on the first mortgage, plus the amount you’re “cashing out” from the equity. The loan term is generally up to 30 years, and the interest rate — which can be fixed or variable — will reflect prevailing market rates. Cash-out refi rates tend to be a bit higher than traditional rate-and-term refinance rates.

Some lenders and federal programs may set lower credit score requirements for cash-out refinancing. Because the refinancing lender assumes the first mortgage during a cash-out refi, that lender becomes the primary lien-holder in the event of a default. With easier access to your home as collateral, lenders might be willing to offer lower rates compared to what you’ll get with a home equity loan.

Pros Cons
Lower credit requirements Risk of foreclosure
One loan rather than multiple loans Long application process
May boost credit score 20% home equity required
Lower interest rates than other types of debt Closing costs can be high
Can be used for any purpose Low debt-to-income ratio required

What is a home equity loan?

A home equity loan is often regarded as a way to fund big-ticket purchases, make costly home upgrades and consolidate high-interest debt.

It’s a second mortgage against your home with its own terms and interest rate that are separate from your first mortgage. By refinancing using a home equity loan, you’re borrowing against the home’s equity — the difference between the market value of your home and what you owe on your mortgage. You can typically borrow up to 85 percent of your home’s equity. However, your loan amount is also contingent on other financial factors, like your income and credit history.

Home equity loan rates may be higher than other refinancing options. The differences, however, vary significantly from bank to bank and over time. Home equity loans typically have a repayment period of up to 30 years.

Some lenders may not charge origination fees, which results in lower (or no) closing costs. Home equity loans also don’t require mortgage insurance, unlike some cash-out refinance mortgages.

Pros Cons
Fixed rates offer certainty Foreclosure risk: home is collateral
Lower rates than unsecured debt Higher credit requirements
Long repayment terms/low monthly payments 15%-20% home equity required
Interest can be tax-deductible Must be paid off when home is sold
Use the cash for almost any purpose Easy to overborrow due to lump sum distribution

When does a cash-out refinance make sense?

Cash-out refis generally have lower rates and are easier to qualify for, making them appealing for people who have less than perfect credit scores. They offer an option for homebuyers to borrow a lump sum for planned expenses, with only a single repayment to track.

However, they replace your existing mortgage with a new one, meaning a new payment term and interest rate. If you got a great deal on your initial mortgage, you might not want to give it up if rates have risen lately.

Cash-out refinancing makes sense if you were thinking of swapping out your current mortgage anyway. Also if you can get a better rate on a new mortgage than you have on your existing one or, you want to adjust the repayment term of your loan.

When does a home equity loan make sense?

Home equity loans let you keep your existing mortgage and add a new loan on top. That can be helpful if you got a good deal on your original mortgage and want to keep it for as long as possible. Or just don’t want to mess with it, in general.

A home equity loan is an option for those who’ve built up a lot of equity in their homes, and who have a strong credit history and score. The overall process can be simpler and quicker than a refinancing, too.

Refinancing with a 15-year cash-out refi vs a 15-year home equity loan

In this scenario, the cash-out refinance loan is cheaper, despite its higher closing costs and loan amount. This is because the cash-out refinance interest rate is significantly lower than the home equity loan rate.

Refi with 15-year cash-out refi Refi with 15-year home equity loan
Loan amount $150,000 $150,000
Closing costs $2,400 $600
Interest rate 5.5% 7.25%
Monthly principal and interest $1,225 $1,369
Total cost in first 24 months $31,800 $33,456
Total cost in first 48 months $6,200 $66,312
Total cost in first 60 months $75,900 $82,740

The above scenario illustrates the potential benefits of a cash-out refinance over a home equity loan. Cash-out refinancing tends to come with a lower interest rate than home equity loans. While home equity loans have lower closing costs, they are typically more expensive over time due to their higher interest rates.

If you have good to excellent credit and are able to find a home equity loan with a low interest rate or a lender that waives closing costs, a home equity loan could be the right choice. However, the lower interest rates associated with cash-out refinance is a major advantage.

How to decide which is right for you

Bottom line on cash-out refi vs home equity loan

A cash-out refinance and home equity loan are both strategic ways to access the equity you’ve built in your home. However, you have to consider your financial situation, goals and how you plan to use the funds to determine the best approach. It’s equally important to consider the qualification criteria for both options to gauge which you’re most likely to get approved for.

A home equity loan could work if you have a strong credit score and wish to pull out a large, fixed lump sum. Still, a cash-out refinance may be the smarter option if you want to reduce your mortgage payment and pull funds from your equity using a single loan product.

Always shop around and compare offers from multiple lenders regardless of which path you choose. Also, request an itemized list of lending fees from the lender you choose so you can calculate how much the loan will cost.

Frequently asked questions

  • There is no limit on how many times you can refinance your home, but you typically have to wait at least six months between cash-out refinances. This is called a “seasoning” period. Different lenders have different requirements.
  • A cash-out refinance is considered a loan, not income, so you will not have to pay taxes on the money you receive. Your cash-out refinance may be eligible for a tax deduction if you use the money to make permanent improvements to the home. This could include projects like putting in a swimming pool, adding a bedroom or bathroom or upgrading the heating and air conditioning system.
  • A no cash-out refinance is the process of refinancing your home for less than or the same amount that you owe on your mortgage, plus closing costs on the new mortgage. This type of refinancing allows you to transfer to a loan with better terms and a lower interest rate, but you do not get new money.
  • Getting a home equity loan can take anywhere from one week to two months, but most lenders advertise an average window of two to six weeks.
  • A home equity loan can be used for virtually anything you want, but it is most commonly used to consolidate debt or finance big purchases. Because these loans tap into your home’s equity, it is smart to use the funds for home improvement, increasing the value of your home. However, it is important to use the funds wisely and make sure you don’t take out more than you need. If you can’t pay back the loan, you may lose your home.
  • One other option that relies on your home equity is a home equity line of credit (HELOC). HELOCs give you more flexible access to your equity, letting you draw funds multiple times whenever you need to. However, they usually have variable interest rates, which means your payments can be unpredictable.You can also consider unsecured loans, like personal loans. These have faster application and approval processes but lower limits and higher interest rates.