5 things to know about unsecured home improvement loans

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It’s the “paper or plastic” of home improvement loans — whether your loan should be secured or unsecured.

Unsecured loans marketed specifically for home improvement are a relatively recent option. Many of the current lenders started making these loans after the home market collapsed over a decade ago, leaving many homeowners with less (or negative) equity.

An unsecured home improvement loan is a personal loan that has no asset attached to it to secure the debt. For example, unlike home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), these loans are not secured by your home and don’t require you to have a certain amount of home equity to qualify. Instead, your loan eligibility is based on factors like your credit score, debt-to-income ratio and income.

A key advantage of using an unsecured home improvement loan rather than a home equity loan or HELOC is that the lender can’t foreclose on your home if you default on the loan unless that lender is awarded a judgment by a court.

1. Unsecured loans come in lower dollar amounts.

Since unsecured loans are more risky for lenders, they usually come with lower maximum loan amounts. Depending on your financial situation, most lenders might allow you to borrow up to $50,000, and a few lenders might let you borrow up to $100,000 if you have a large income.

If you have a lot more than $100,000 worth of equity in your home, you could potentially borrow more money with a home equity loan.

The amount of money you qualify for will be based on your income, debt-to-income ratio and credit score. Taking out a larger loan may mean taking on larger fixed monthly payments, depending on the length of your loan. Use a personal loan calculator to help you estimate what your monthly payments would be so you can decide if the loan fits your budget.

2. Loan terms are usually shorter.

Another factor to consider when deciding how to pay for home improvements or home repairs is that loan terms are usually shorter for unsecured personal loans than for secured loans. While home improvement loans usually have terms that range from two to 12 years, home equity loans have terms that range from five to 30 years.

Having a longer repayment term might be better for your budget since your monthly payments could be lower. However, the downside to this is that you’ll end up paying more in interest during the life of the loan.

3. They are quick to obtain, often with no start-up fees.

Unsecured personal loans are based on your income, debt load and credit history, so they can be as quick and easy to get as a credit card. Also, some lenders offer same-day approval and will deposit your funds into your account as soon as next business day.

In addition, if you search for home improvement loans that have no fees, you can minimize your borrowing costs. Common fees include application fees, origination fees, returned payment fees and prepayment fees, which are penalties for paying loans off before their terms end.

If you get a home equity loan instead, depending on the lender, you may have to pay closing costs.

4. You may pay higher interest rates without collateral.

If you choose an unsecured loan for home improvement, you might pay a higher interest rate since these loans are riskier for the lender. As of April 2021, rates for home improvement loans range from 3 percent to 36 percent. By contrast, the average home equity loan rate ranges from 3.25 percent to 7.11 percent and the average HELOC rate ranges from 1.99 percent to 6.85 percent.

The rate you receive on your home improvement loan depends on factors including your credit score — in general, you’ll receive a lower rate if you have a higher credit score. To get an estimate of what your rate might be, get prequalified for a loan with multiple lenders if possible.

5. Unsecured borrowers need good credit.

Want to get an unsecured home improvement loan? If you want to get a large sum, you’ll need good credit — a credit score of 670 or more, according to the FICO credit scoring model. If you have poor or bad credit, you might not meet the lender’s minimum credit scoring requirements. Also, even if you’re approved, you’ll most likely qualify for a lower loan amount with a higher interest rate.

If you have bad credit and you’re willing to pay more for a home improvement loan, consider applying for a home improvement loan for bad credit. Some lenders might approve you for a loan with a credit score as low as 580.

To improve your chances of qualifying, you can apply with a co-borrower or co-signer if the lender lets you. Alternatively, you can take steps to improve your credit score before applying, such as paying down debt.

Written by
Jerry Brown
Contributing writer
Jerry Brown is a contributing writer for Bankrate. Jerry writes about home equity, personal loans, auto loans and debt management.
Edited by
Associate loans editor