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The Difference Between Cash-Out Refinance And Home Equity Loan

Kevin Graham4-minute read

December 27, 2021


Your home is an investment, and the equity in your home is something you can and should use to reach your financial goals. Cash-out refinances and home equity loans are both ways you can get cash from your home to do things like renovate your home, pay for tuition or consolidate debt.

Let’s look at the differences between cash-out refinances and home equity loans so you can pick the one that’s right for you.

What Is A Cash-Out Refinance?

A cash-out refinance is a new first mortgage with a loan amount that’s higher than what you owe on your house.

You might be able to do a cash-out refinance if you’ve had your loan long enough that you’ve built equity. But most homeowners find that they’re able to do a cash-out refinance when the value of their home climbs. If you suspect that your home value has risen since you bought your home, you may be able to do a cash-out refinance.

How It Works

When you do a cash-out refinance, you replace your existing mortgage with a new one. The loan amount on the new mortgage is higher than the amount you currently owe. After loan funds are disbursed, you pocket the difference between your new loan amount and your current loan balance (minus the equity you’re leaving in your home and any closing costs and fees, of course).

Here’s an example: Your home is worth $200,000 and you owe $100,000 on your mortgage. To take cash out, you usually need to leave 20% equity ($40,000) in the home. If you were to refinance your home with a new loan amount of $160,000, you’d get to pocket $60,000, minus closing costs and fees.

Equity Needed For Cash-Out Refi

When you do a cash-out refinance, you usually can’t get a loan for the entire value of the home. Many loan types require that you leave some equity in the home.

To qualify for a cash-out refinance, FHA and conventional loans require that you leave 20% equity in your home. VA loans are an exception, as they allow you to get a cash-out loan for 100% of the value of the home.

Using Your Refi Funds

The cash you get from a cash-out refinance is tax-free and can be used in any way you like. Most homeowners who do a cash-out refinance use the money for renovations, but the money is yours to use however you see fit.

What Is A Home Equity Loan?

A home equity loan is a second loan that’s separate from your mortgage and allows you to borrow against the equity in your home.

Unlike a cash-out refinance, a home equity loan doesn’t replace the mortgage you currently have. Instead, it’s a second mortgage with a separate payment. For this reason, home equity loans tend to have higher interest rates than first mortgages. Rocket Mortgage® doesn’t offer home equity loans at this time.

How It Works

Because a home equity loan is an entirely separate loan from your mortgage, none of the loan terms for your original mortgage will change. Once the home equity loan closes, you’ll receive a lump sum payment from your lender, which you’ll be expected to repay – usually at a fixed rate.

Restrictions On Your Loan

Lenders will rarely allow you to borrow 100% of your equity for a home equity loan. The maximum amount you can borrow varies depending on the lender, but it’s usually between 75% and 90% of the value of the home. As with a cash-out refi, the amount you can borrow will also depend on factors like your credit score, debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and loan-to-value ratio (LTV).

Similarities Between Cash-Out Refinances And Home Equity Loans

  • You get your money almost immediately. Whether you choose a cash-out refinance or a home equity loan, you walk away with a lump sum cash payment within 3 business days after you close. The waiting period is because you have a right of rescission on a refinance, meaning you can change your mind. You can spend the money on anything you need.
  • You borrow against the equity in your home. Both these loans use your home as collateral, which means you can get lower interest rates for cash-out refinances and home equity loans than other types of loans.
  • You usually can’t take 100% equity from your home. Most lenders and loan types require borrowers to leave some equity in the home.

Differences Between Cash-Out Refinances And Home Equity Loans

  • Cash-out refinances are first loans, while home equity loans are second loans. Cash-out refinances pay off your existing mortgage and give you a new one. On the other hand, home equity loans are a separate loan from your mortgage and add a second payment.
  • Cash-out refinances have better interest rates. Since cash-out refinances are first loans (meaning they’ll be paid first in the case of a foreclosure, bankruptcy or judgment), they typically have lower interest rates.

When A Home Equity Loan Makes Sense

If refinancing your mortgage would force you to get a significantly higher interest rate, it might make sense to look at alternatives like home equity loans. However, the higher interest rate on the home equity loan might not be worth it either. It’s important to crunch the numbers to determine if a home equity loan makes sense for you. You may also want to look into a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to determine whether a HELOC or cash-out refi makes more sense for you.

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When A Cash-Out Refinance Makes Sense

If your home value has climbed or you’ve built up equity over time by making payments, a cash-out refinance might make sense for you.

Cash-out refinances are a very low-interest way to borrow the money you need for home improvements, tuition, debt consolidation or other expenses. If you have big expenses that you need to borrow money for, a cash-out refinance can be a great way to cover those expenses while paying little in interest.

The Bottom Line

While both loan options allow you to borrow against the equity in your home and access the cash immediately, the loan type and interest rates may make one a better choice over the other for you.

Ready to get started? Estimate your new monthly payments with a refi calculator, or  apply online to see how much cash you could get from your home. Just submit information about your home, income and assets, and we’ll give you mortgage solutions that show your cash-out options.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Mortgage, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.