Key takeaways

  • A home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum against your home's equity, usually at a fixed interest rate.
  • The combination of growing home equity and a sharp rise in mortgage rates has meant increased demand for home equity loans.
  • If you use a home equity loan to make home renovations or repairs, the interest you pay on it might be tax-deductible.

What is a home equity loan?

A home equity loan is a type of second mortgage secured by the equity in your home. It offers a set amount at a fixed interest rate, so it’s best for borrowers who know exactly how much money they need. You’ll receive the funds in a lump sum, then make regular monthly repayments amortized over the term of the loan, typically as long as 30 years.

Because your home is the collateral for the loan, the amount you’ll be able to borrow is related to its current market value. The interest rate you receive on a home equity loan (as with other loans) will vary depending on your lender, credit score, income and other factors.

Home equity loans in 2023

The U.S. housing market has boomed in recent years, increasing the net worth of American homeowners. In all, U.S. households possessed home equity worth $31.6 trillion as of mid-2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. While that’s off slightly from the record high of $32.2 trillion seen in mid-2022, it’s still up significantly compared to pre-pandemic years.

That means American homeowners are sitting on large piles of equity that can be leveraged in a number of ways, including through a home equity loan.

Demand for home equity loans — along with HELOCs, their line-of-credit cousins — has risen, increasing 50 percent in 2022 compared to two years earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The average size of a home equity loan issued in late 2022 was $61,114, with the average credit score of a home equity borrower at 752.

How does a home equity loan work?

When you take out a home equity loan, the lender approves you for a loan amount based on the percentage of equity you have in your home and other factors. You’ll receive the loan proceeds in a lump sum, then repay what you borrowed in fixed monthly installments that include principal and interest over a set period. Although terms vary, home equity loans can be repaid over a period as long as 30 years.

Since the loan is secured by your home, the property is at risk for foreclosure if you can’t repay what you borrowed. If that happens, it can cause serious damage to your credit score, making it harder for you to qualify for future loans.

You can use the funds from a home equity loan for any purpose, but there’s a possible tax benefit if you use the money to improve your home. You can deduct the interest (up to the limit) if the home equity loan is used to “buy, build or substantially improve” the property. To do this, you’ll need to itemize your deductions.

Home equity loan requirements

Lenders have different requirements for home equity loans, but generally, the standards include:

Home equity loan pros and cons

Pros of home equity loans

  • Attractive interest rates: Home equity lenders typically charge lower interest rates compared to the rates on personal loans and credit cards. This is because home equity loans are a type of secured debt, meaning they’re backed by some sort of collateral (in this case, your house) — which makes them less risky for the lender, compared to unsecured debt, which isn’t backed by anything.
  • Fixed monthly payments: Home equity loans offer the stability of a fixed interest rate and a fixed monthly payment. This might make it easier for you to budget for and pay each month. This also eliminates the possibility of getting hit with a higher payment with a variable-rate product, like a credit card or home equity line of credit (HELOC).
  • Tax advantages: You could be eligible for a tax deduction if you use the loan proceeds to substantially improve or repair the home. Check with an accountant or tax professional to learn more about this deduction and to determine if it’s available to you.

Cons of home equity loans

  • Home on the line: Your home is the collateral for a home equity loan, so if you can’t repay it, your lender could foreclose.
  • No flexibility: If you’re not sure how much money you need to borrow (you’re planning a big remodeling project, say), a home equity loan might not be the best choice. Because home equity loans only offer a fixed lump sum, you run the risk of borrowing too little. On the flip side, you might borrow too much, which you’ll still need to repay with interest (though you might be able to settle the debt early, if that’s the case).
  • Lengthy, costly application: Applying for a home equity loan is akin to applying for a mortgage; though somewhat simpler, it often means lots of paperwork, a long process and closing costs.

Home equity loan alternatives

A home equity loan isn’t the only option for borrowing against your equity. Some other alternatives include:

  • Home equity lines of credit (HELOC): While a HELOC is also secured by the equity in your home and has similar requirements, it operates differently from a home equity loan. With a HELOC, you can borrow money on an as-needed basis, up to a set limit, typically over a 10-year draw period. During that time, you’ll make interest-only payments on what you borrow. When the draw period ends, you’ll repay what you borrowed and any interest, usually over a repayment term of up to 20 years. Unlike home equity loans, HELOCs have variable interest rates. Though average HELOC rates tend to be lower than home equity loan rates, your monthly payments could increase if interest rates increase.
  • Cash-out refinance: Another option to convert a portion of your home equity into ready money is through a cash-out refi. Unlike a home equity loan, a cash-out refi replaces your current mortgage with a new one for a higher amount, with you taking the difference between the outstanding balance and the new balance in cash.

Home equity loans FAQ

  • Taking on any form of debt, including a home equity loan, has an impact on your credit score. After you close on a home equity loan, your score might decrease temporarily. Over time, as you continue to make timely payments on the loan, you might see your score improve, as well.
  • It varies by lender, but most home equity loans come with repayment periods between five years and 30 years. A longer loan term means you’ll get more affordable monthly payments. That said, you’ll also pay far more in interest. If you can afford the higher monthly payments, selecting a shorter term maximizes overall cost. The ideal is to find a compromise between the two: the maximum manageable payments and the shortest loan term.
  • Some home equity lenders require you to pay an origination fee and other closing costs, typically between 2 percent and 5 percent of the loan balance. You might also pay a home appraisal fee. Once the loan proceeds are disbursed to you, late fees could apply if you remit payment after the monthly due date or grace period (if applicable).
  • There are no restrictions on how you purpose your home equity loan. The most common uses include debt consolidation for high-interest credit card balances or other loans; home repairs or upgrades; higher education expenses and medical debts. Some choose to use the funds to start a business, purchase an investment property or cover another major purchase.