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- Refinancing your HELOC can help you lower your monthly payment or reduce the interest rate.
- It's often smart to try to refinance as the draw period is coming to an end and if you have built up a substantial outstanding balance.
- You can refinance your HELOC into a new line of credit, a fixed-rate home equity loan, a mortgage or a fixed-rate HELOC.
When you take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you often have the option to pay only the interest on your withdrawals for a set number of years. After this draw period ends, however, you begin paying off your principal balance plus interest — resulting in a larger monthly payment.
Sure, you should have seen it coming, but you didn’t — and these larger payments are a real burden. Solution-wise, we have one word for you: refinance.
Refinancing your HELOC can make your monthly payments more affordable, either by reducing your interest rate or the payment size (or possibly both). And there are several ways to do it. Here are six of those ways to refinance your HELOC.
What is a HELOC and how does a HELOC work?
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a type of financing that allows you to borrow against the value of your home. Lenders approve you for a certain balance amount, aka a line of credit. You can draw on this in varying amounts, just as you would use a credit card. During this draw period, which typically lasts around five to 10 years, you’re often responsible for interest-only payments — although you can make more substantial payments toward your principal, too — and then re-borrow the replenished funds.
Once the draw period ends, you enter a 10- to 20-year repayment period, during which you can no longer withdraw funds, and you’ll be obligated to payments on interest and the principal.
Unlike some other types of loans, a HELOC is secured, meaning it uses your home as collateral for the loan. This allows the HELOC to have a lower interest rate than unsecured debt, like a personal loan. However, it also means that if you fall behind on payments, the lender may be able to foreclose on your home.
Homeowners often take out a HELOC to pay for major home renovations or repairs (the interest can be tax-deductible if the money’s used this way). But they can be used for any purpose.
When is it a good time to refinance a HELOC?
Just about any point in your repayment period can be a good time to refinance the HELOC, unless the thing’s almost entirely paid off (and it wouldn’t be worth the hassle and expense to refi). However, it’s often especially smart to try to refinance as the draw period is coming to an end and you have built up a substantial outstanding balance. Your repayments are bound to become bigger than they were, because they’ll now include the principal.
You might also consider refinancing if your credit score and income have substantially improved — meaning you’ll qualify for a better interest rate or terms now than when you established the HELOC. Also keep an eye on interest-rate trends. HELOCs’ rates fluctuate, so if the trend is downward, you’ll benefit no matter what. But there may be some especially appealing deals/teaser rates on new lines of credit.
Why should I consider refinancing a HELOC?
If you choose to pay only the interest on your HELOC — instead of paying down a part or all of the principal — during the draw period, you may be in for a shock when you reach the end of it and the repayment period begins— especially if interest rates have risen since you first took out the loan. But even if rates haven’t substantially changed, your payments will likely be larger, since they will now include principal as well.
If you think you won’t be able to manage the payment increase, or if you have some additional projects you’d like to fund, you can refinance your HELOC. Even if the new interest rate is higher than that of your original loan, this might be the best option for you because it could give you the extra time you need to repay the funds.
5 ways to refinance a HELOC
If you think that you may not be able to cover your monthly bill during the repayment period, there are a few ways to refinance your HELOC:
1. Talk to your lender
Some banks offer home equity assistance programs and will adjust your interest rate, loan period or monthly payments if you don’t think you will be able to afford the payments. If you have a good relationship with your lender, there’s a good chance they’ll work with you. Since HELOCs are often portfolio loans — meaning the lender doesn’t sell them on the secondary market, but retains ownership of them — if you ask for a modification, the lender might listen.
“It’s always a good idea to speak with your existing HELOC lender since they do not want to lose your business,” says Kevin Walton, a residential mortgage loan officer with C2 Financial, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. HELOC modifications aren’t super-common, he notes, but the room for flexibility exists, especially since the lender’s alternatives — like foreclosing on a home and advertising to drum up new HELOC customers — are expensive propositions. So, “hopefully the lender can accommodate the borrower by modifying the HELOC monthly payment.”
2. Open a new HELOC
Some lenders will let you open a new HELOC and roll some or all of the old one’s balance into it. You’ll have to pay interest on the balance, but you’ll be back in the line of credit’s draw period, meaning you can avoid principal payments. While this may be delaying the inevitable, starting a new line of credit, with a new draw period, may make the most immediate sense.
Keep in mind: Be aware, however, that interest rates may rise, meaning you could pay even more money in the long run.
This option may make the most sense if you are young and have years to build up more home equity. If you’re nearing retirement or want to avoid paying more in interest, it’s probably not a good idea.
3. Pay your HELOC off with a home equity loan
Though it also draws on your ownership stake, a home equity loan differs from a line of credit: It pays the money out in one lump sum, and you immediately start repaying it at a fixed interest rate. A steady monthly payment, a fixed interest rate and potentially a longer repayment period may make this an affordable option for you. Keep in mind that if you go this route, you may increase the amount you pay in interest overall.
4. Refinance your HELOC and mortgage into a new mortgage
Consider refinancing into a 15-year mortgage or 20-year mortgage to reduce total interest payments. While interest rates on primary mortgages could be favorable, you have to consider closing costs when you take this approach.
Unfortunately, this strategy is usually more complicated and involves a lot of paperwork. Also, you have to consider closing costs when you take this approach. That’s why taking out a new mortgage to include your HELOC is generally only best if you can get a lower interest rate in doing so.
5. Explore a cash-out refinance
Cash-out refinancing is the process of taking out a new mortgage for more than you currently owe on your home and receiving the difference in cash (hence the name). You can use that extra money to pay off some or all of your HELOC balance.
However, keep in mind that refinancing your mortgage means paying closing costs and fees. You also need to consider whether interest rates have risen substantially since your original mortgage. If you refinance at a higher rate, you could wind up losing money and increasing the size of your monthly payment rather than saving money.
Ask the lender for a HELOC modification. They may not be very common, but the last thing a lender wants to do is foreclose on a home.— Kevin Walton, Residential mortgage loan officer, C2 Financial
6. Take out a personal loan to refinance a HELOC
If you qualify for a large enough personal loan, you can use it to refinance your HELOC. An excellent credit score could mean you’ll get a competitive rate on the loan, but borrowers with lower credit scores generally get less favorable terms and steeper borrowing costs. Still, a personal loan is unsecured, so defaulting won’t put your home at risk of foreclosure.
You’ll also get a predictable monthly payment since personal loans come with fixed interest rates. But if you experience financial hardship and fall behind on the loan payments, your credit rating will likely suffer.
Not all lenders offer personal loans in high enough amounts to refinance a HELOC and, even with sterling credit, you may pay a higher interest rate. But it may still be worth looking into
What are the requirements to refinance a HELOC?
To be able to refinance a HELOC, you’ll need to meet a few requirements.
First, most lenders will want to make sure you have sufficient equity in your home. If you don’t own at least 15 percent or 20 percent of your home outright (based on its current fair market value), it might be hard to get approved.
Lenders will also look at your credit score. You’ll need a score of 600+ to have a chance of qualifying, though many lenders only give the best rates to borrowers in the mid-to-high 700s.
Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is another key metrics lenders will look at. This is the percentage of your monthly income that you spend on loan payments. Most lenders prefer DTIs of 43 percent or less.
How often can I refinance a HELOC?
Like a mortgage, you can refinance a HELOC as frequently as you want to, assuming you can find a willing lender.
However, realistically, refinancing a HELOC on a regular basis isn’t a good idea. Each refinance comes with fees and closing costs, so you’ll pay a lot of money if you refinance too often.
Alternatives to refinancing
There are other ways to get help with HELOC payments:
- Fixed-rate HELOC: Some lenders offer the option to convert some or all of your variable rate line of credit into a fixed-rate credit line. This may be a good move if you spot a low rate and want to ensure more predictable payments.
- Reverse mortgage: Generally available to homeowners aged 62 and up, a reverse mortgage lets you borrow part of your home’s equity as tax-free income (the lender’s paying the homeowner — hence, the name). You can use a reverse mortgage to pay off your HELOC, and don’t even have to pay interest on the money until you die or move out of the home. However, reverse mortgages can have unexpected consequences, and it’s mandated you receive counseling before taking one out.
- HUD assistance programs: The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers several programs designed to help homeowners struggling with housing payments — including HELOCs.
Yes, you can refinance a HELOC into a mortgage. You can do this by getting a cash-out refinance and using the funds to pay off the line of credit, or by consolidating the outstanding balance on a HELOC into a traditional refinance of your home’s primary mortgage. The latter route will result in a single, fixed monthly payment.
HELOCs usually come with a draw period and a repayment period.
During the draw period, which is usually the first five or 10 years, you can take money out of the HELOC when you need to. You’re required to make interest payments on the amount you’ve borrowed, but have no obligation to pay back principal.
Once the draw period ends, your HELOC enters the repayment period. During this time, you’ll have to make full principal and interest payments.
Refinancing involves taking out a new loan to pay off the balance of one or more other loans. This gives you the opportunity to adjust things like the repayment term and interest rate of a loan, swap from a fixed-rate to a variable-rate loan or vice versa, or move your loan to a different lender.
Additional reporting by Allison Martin