Key takeaways

  • Tapping your home equity to cover some or all of your child's higher education can be a viable option.
  • Home equity loans and HELOCS can be more affordable and flexible than other financing, and they don't saddle your child with debt, unlike student loans.
  • On the downside, HE loans and HELOCs do require putting your house up as collateral and lack student loans' tax advantages.
  • Make sure you think about your own financial needs, including your other outstanding debts and your retirement plans, before hocking your house to cover kids' college costs.

If you’re gearing up to send a child to college, the cost can feel overwhelming. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) or home equity loan could help pay for it — but before leveraging your home ownership stake in this way, you’ll need to balance a number of considerations. Here’s our crash course in the pros and cons of using your home to pay college tuition or other educational bills.

Can I use home equity to pay for college?

Homeowners can tap their equity and use it for a variety of big expenses, including major home improvement projects, large medical bills, debt consolidation — and yes, higher education costs.

Home equity represents the portion of your home that you own outright — equivalent to the initial down payment, plus any mortgage payments made since then. Another way to look at it: Home equity is the difference between what your home is worth and what you still owe on your mortgage.

Your home equity isn’t just a theoretical amount, though. It can be turned into cash (as the ads say) — or, strictly speaking, as collateral for a cash loan. You can borrow against your home equity in two basic ways: home equity loans and HELOCs.

A home equity loan is a type of second mortgage that provides a lump sum at a fixed rate. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is also a second mortgage, but it operates more like a credit card. You access the money as needed, instead of receiving one large loan, paying variable interest rates on the amount you borrow.

Home Equity
For example, if you were to have $170,000 remaining to pay off on your mortgage and your home was worth $400,000, you’d have $230,000 in home equity. Since lenders typically require you to maintain some equity in your home, and that your overall debt be well below the home’s worth, you could probably take out around $150,000 of this ownership stake. This could go a long way towards college funding.

Pros and cons of using home equity loans for college tuition

Advantages of using home equity loan to pay for college

  • Potentially cheaper: Home equity loans and HELOCs typically offer lower interest rates private student loans and personal loans, because your home is backing the loan.
  • Large borrowing capacity: Depending on your home’s equity, you often can access a larger sum of money compared to most student loans, potentially covering all or most of your child’s college expenses.
  • Pay as you go: With HELOCs, you can withdraw funds as you need them, only paying interest on the actual withdrawals. You can also repay the principal in stages, rather than having a mountain of debt after graduation day.
  • No debt for your child: Using a home equity loan to pay for college means your child can start their post-graduation life without the burden of student loan debt, improving their financial outlook from the outset.

Risks to using home equity loan to pay for college

  • You’re adding to your debt. Taking on more debt can strain your finances and add to your stress. You need to make sure you’re comfortable sleeping at night knowing your monthly obligations are getting bigger. HELOCs’ variable interest rates can mean increases in monthly payments, too.
  • You’re putting your home at risk. Unlike credit card debt or personal loans, when you take out a home equity loan, your property is on the line as collateral. If you fall on hard times and can’t afford to make your payments, your lender could foreclose.
  • Your property value could decrease. Losing value in your home might seem unlikely right now, but prices don’t always follow the rapid upward trajectory we’ve seen in recent years. Indeed, some local real estate markets have experienced softening already. If your home value drops significantly, you could find yourself underwater — that is, owing more than it’s worth.

Paying for college

College isn’t cheap. In 2023-24, the average published tuition and fees for full-time students at four-year institutions are $11,260 for public schools in-state; $29,150 for public schools out-of-state; and $41,540 for private nonprofit schools, according to the College Board. These figures represent year-over-year increases ranging from 2.5% to 4%.

Home Equity
  • 41% of families borrow money to cover college expenses, while 72% use parental savings and income, according to data from Sallie Mae.
  • The trend of using a home equity loan for student loans is catching on. Among those in education-related debt, 9% used home equity loans to fund a child or a grandchild’s college costs, according to The Education Data Initiative.
  • The average homeowner has an equity stake worth more than $300,000 as of Q3 2023, according to data from CoreLogic.
  • According to the Federal Reserve, collective home equity in the U.S. stood at $32.6 trillion in the third quarter of 2023.
  • Since 2021, homeowners have been tapping more into their home’s equity. The average balance on a home equity line of credit (HELOC) increased to $42,139 in Q3 of 2023, a 3% rise over 2022, according to Experian.
  • The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,718,according to The Education Data Initiative.

Comparing home equity loans and student loans

While you can access your home’s equity for any purpose, student loans are solely for covering the costs related to earning a degree.

Student loans can come from either federal or private sources. On the private lending side, rates can be very high and/or fluctuating, while federal lending programs offer lower fixed rates. You can borrow a loan in the student’s name or in the parent’s name. They are unsecured loans — that is, there is no collateral backing them. Private student loans are issued by banks or companies like Sallie Mae. They require credit checks and some lenders require a cosigner.

You should always consider federal student loans first. They usually offer the best interest rates. Just remember that federal student loans are exclusive to accredited financial institutions. If you’re eyeing an unaccredited trade school or online course, you’ll need to explore alternative funding options.

HELOCs and home equity loans are secured loans issued by private lenders. Using a home equity loan to pay off student loans or fund education directly places the financial responsibility on the parents, as they own the home that’s backing the debt. In contrast, student loans can be taken out in either the student’s or the parent’s name.

There are benefits and drawbacks to either option.



Student loans

  • Rates may be lower than home equity loans and HELOCs
  • Potential to be forgiven for certain borrowers
  • Ability to deduct up to $2,500 of interest each year
  • Potential for excessively high interest rate with private option
  • Often saddles your child with a big debt load
  • Income-based repayment option only available to certain borrowers

HELOCs/home equity loans

  • Can often be approved even if you have subpar credit
  • Can choose from a range of repayment options
  • Borrow funds as you need them, owing interest only on what you use (HELOC)
  • House is collateral
  • Interest not tax-deductible if loan’s used to pay for college
  • Limited borrowing amounts: Most lenders require you to maintain 20 percent equity in your home

Alternatives to using home equity for college

If tapping your home equity doesn’t feel like the right choice, consider these other routes to come up with the necessary funds. These options can also complement student or parent loans. Make sure to explore all options thoroughly before using home equity, as inability to make payments might cause the lender to foreclose on your home.

  • Grants and scholarships Don’t assume that grants and scholarship opportunities are only for low-income students. Many universities offer merit-based scholarships that reward academic performance, and there are other places to turn for financial assistance, as well. Some scholarships are small —  just $500 — but they can add up to cover the entire bill. Discover’s Scholarship tool includes more than three million scholarships for just about every kind of student.
  • Financial aid Make sure you complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application, which can help your student qualify for monetary assistance based on your income. Again, don’t assume aid is only for those with extremely low incomes. This form is important for loans as well (see below).
  • Work-study programs Monitor the computer lab, grade papers, lead campus tours: Many colleges offer work-study positions for students who qualify for financial assistance. Students will earn at least the federal minimum wage (and much more in some cases).
  • Payment plans – Many colleges now offer their own monthly payment plans, which might be easier to manage than handing over a large check at the beginning of the semester — and a better deal than home equity loan repayments.

Considerations for using home equity for college funding

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer regarding whether a home equity loan is the right choice to cover college costs. Ask yourself these key questions to determine if it’s the best option for you and yours:

What are your student loan options?

If you’re going to borrow, you have to compare home equity financing with student loan financing. Be sure to check out options for federal student loans (the traditional go-to) and private student loans. Bear in mind students rarely have much credit, so if your child is borrowing without you as a co-signer, their rate can be high, and paying off the debt can be daunting.

Consider these parent loan options to fund your child’s college education:

  • Parent PLUS Loans: These are federal loans that parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to help pay for college or career school. Parents need to have a good credit history to qualify for these loans. The interest rate for a Direct PLUS Loan disbursed between July 1, 2023 and July 1, 2024 is 8.05 percent. This rate is fixed for the life of the loan, and is currently lower than the 8.78 percent average rate for home equity loans. But consider that Parent PLUS loans come with a loan fee of 4.228 percent, a one-time fee deducted from the initial disbursement of funds.
  • FAFSA Application: Parents can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their child’s eligibility for government student loans.
  • Private Parent Loans: For people with poor credit, this is a feasible option, although it comes with higher interest rates and no federal loan protections.

What are current home equity rates?

While rates on home equity loans and HELOCs have historically been competitive with other financing (since they’re secured loans, with your house as the collateral), they rose fast in 2023, as the Federal Reserve has upped the federal funds rate to fight inflation — and, while they’ve stabilized this year, they can no longer be considered cheap . So crunch the numbers carefully: For a similar financing cost, it might make more sense to go with a student loan at this time, depending on the deal you or your child can get.

How close are you to retirement?

You also need to think about the big picture for you. If you’re nearing the end of your working years, you’ll need to be laser-focused on your budget to ensure you can pay back the debt while covering your own expenses.

How many college tuitions do you need to cover?

If you have more than one child heading off to college, a home equity loan might not provide enough money to handle both sets of tuition, room and board, unless you own a high-priced home and have a significant amount of equity built up.

What does your student’s future look like?

It might be too early to know, but if your child has a set career path already, they might be eligible for student loan forgiveness in the future. Teachers, government employees and employees at some non-profit organizations can eventually have a portion of remaining debt canceled after a certain point. In contrast, with a home equity loan, you’ll need to pay every dollar back.

Should you use this opportunity to help your child grow?

As your child begins college, now might be the time to help them understand what it takes to make an investment in their higher education. By opting for a traditional student loan with their name on it, you might instill a deeper sense of responsibility in your offspring to go to class, apply for that internship and find gainful employment to pay all that money back.

How to tap home equity for college

If you feel like tapping your home equity is the right decision, here’s how to get started:

  1. Estimate your equity. Your home’s value is not the number you initially paid for it. Home prices tend to appreciate, and they have done so at a frenetic pace over the past two years. Estimate what your house is worth to get a sense of how much equity you really have to tap. Bear in mind that a large outstanding mortgage balance eats into your available equity.
  2. Know your credit score (and take steps to improve it if necessary). While you can get a home equity loan with bad credit, you won’t qualify for the lowest interest rates. Most lenders reserve the best loan terms for borrowers with scores of 740 and above. Check your credit score before you apply, and see if you can boost it.
  3. Compare lenders. Consider at least three home equity lenders and compare rates, fees, term lengths, maximum loan amounts, credit requirements and more. Consider other features you might need down the line, as well, such as the ability to convert a variable-rate HELOC to a fixed-rate version.
  4. Decide which financing method you prefer. HELOCs and home equity loans each have their pros and cons. In the case of college funding, HELOCs might have an edge, as they’re well-suited to expenses that extend over a long time period: You can withdraw money in installments — per year or per semester — only owing interest on the amount you actually borrow.