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Hard Money Loans: What To Watch Out For

Molly Grace5-minute read

October 22, 2021

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If the phrase “hard money loan” makes you think of quick and easy business deals that end in “cold, hard cash,” you’re not too far off the mark. However, just because this type of loan offers fast financing doesn’t mean it’s a good, safe option for everyone.

What are hard money loans and are they something to be wary of? Let’s take a look.

What Is A Hard Money Loan?

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A hard money loan is a short-term loan that does not come from traditional lenders, but rather individuals or private companies that accept property or an asset as collateral. Borrowers may turn to hard money loans after a loan or mortgage application is denied, or to avoid the lengthy process of getting approved for a loan through traditional means.

Like a traditional mortgage, a hard money loan is a secured loan, guaranteed by the property it is being used to purchase. When a person defaults on a secured loan, the lender can take over ownership of the asset to recoup its losses.

Unlike traditional mortgages or other types of secured loans, hard money loans come with a fast and typically less stringent approval process, making them ideal if you need to make the purchase happen fairly quickly.

With a mortgage, it often takes more than a month, from application to close, to purchase a property. With hard money loans, it’s possible to close in just a few days.

Hard Money Lenders

Hard money lenders are generally private investors or companies that deal specifically in this type of lending. You won’t find hard money loan options at your local bank.

Hard money lenders aren’t subject to the same regulations that traditional, conforming loan lenders are. This means that they are, for the most part, free to make their own rules about what credit scores or debt-to-income ratios they expect their borrowers to have.

It’s possible to find a hard money lender who will give you a loan even if you’ve been denied by more traditional lenders. For hard money lenders, the most important factor isn’t the borrower’s creditworthiness, but the value of the property being purchased.

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How Does A Hard Money Loan Work?

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Let’s take a look at how hard money loans work compared to more traditional forms of financing.

Traditional Loan

Though not a formally defined category, in this context “traditional” refers to loans that are taken out through a process most people are familiar with: you apply for a loan, the lender checks your credit and ensures you have the ability to repay them and, if they determine that your finances meet their standards, you’re approved for the loan.

There are many different types of loans that fall under this umbrella, including mortgage loans, auto loans, personal loans or home equity loans. Though it’s usually possible to get these types of loans from private lenders that don’t have the same requirements that traditional lenders do, these private loans can be more expensive and less advantageous for borrowers because the risk is much higher.

Traditional loan lenders will take a thorough look at your entire financial situation, including your income, the amount of debt you currently owe to other lenders, your credit history, your other assets (including cash reserves) and the size of your down payment.

These lenders go through this sometimes lengthy process to minimize the amount of risk they take on when they lend money to an individual. By ensuring their borrowers are creditworthy, lenders can offer better rates and overall more affordable financing.

Hard Money Loan

With hard money loans, the lender approves a borrower based on the value of the property being purchased.

The lender may do a quick check of your credit or finances, but in general, the process will be much less rigorous than it is with a traditional loan. This allows the process to happen more quickly, so borrowers can get their money in a matter of days as opposed to weeks or even months.

The downside of this process is that the lender takes on significantly more risk, which translates to a more expensive loan for the borrower. Hard money loans typically come with high interest rates, and lenders might require larger-than-average down payments (though this isn’t always the case).

Hard money loans also tend to have short repayment periods – often just a few years. Compare this to traditional mortgages, which commonly come with 15- or 30-year terms.

What Are Hard Money Loans Used For?

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Here are some common reasons individuals seek out hard money loans.

Flipping A House

Real estate investors who make money by purchasing low-cost properties in need of fixing up, making value-boosting repairs and renovations and then flipping the homes for profit may utilize hard money loans.

Because these projects typically happen fairly quickly, professional flippers often prefer faster forms of financing. Additionally, because house flippers generally try to sell the home within a short period of time – typically less than a year – they don’t need a lengthy loan term like you’d get with a traditional mortgage.

Purchasing Investment Property

Individuals who want to invest in rental property but don’t qualify for traditional financing might seek out a hard money loan to pay for their investment.

This method can be useful for those who either can’t get approved for a traditional loan due to their credit history or those who need more money than what a traditional lender will let them borrow.

Purchasing Commercial Property

Similarly, a business owner might use a hard money loan to fund the purchase of commercial real estate if they’re unable to secure traditional financing. Hard money loans can be useful for entrepreneurs purchasing a unique property that doesn’t qualify for conventional financing or those who find traditional commercial loan limits to be insufficient for their needs.

What Are Hard Money Loan Rates Like?

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As we’ve said, hard money loans are expensive. Just how expensive are they? Let’s compare interest rates on these loans to more traditional loan types.

In January 2020, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.62%, according to Freddie Mac. By contrast, hard money loans can have interest rates that are much higher, often between 8% - 15%.

Hard money loans can also be more expensive depending on the preferred loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of the lender. If a lender will only finance 70% – 80% (or less) of the property’s value, you’ll likely have to bring a pretty sizeable down payment to the closing table. If you don’t have the cash available to do this, you might have a hard time finding a hard money lender who will work with you.

Pros And Cons Of Hard Money Loans

Pros

As we’ve discussed, some of the pros of using a hard money loan include:

  • Faster approval process

  • Approval based on property, not credit history

  • More flexible

Cons

Some of the drawbacks of hard money loans include:

  • High interest rates

  • Often require large down payments

  • Shorter terms give you less time to repay

  • Riskier than traditional financing

  • May need to have proven track record of successful house flips

Bottom Line

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Hard money loans can be a useful tool for those in need of financing through less traditional routes. However, they come with high rates and a significant amount of risk if your investment isn’t as successful as you’d hoped. In general, these types of loans are best left to the pros.

If you’re looking for alternate financing because your mortgage application has been denied, it’s a much safer bet to look into other options, such as working on rebuilding your credit or applying for a mortgage program that accepts those with less-than-stellar credit histories, such as the FHA loan program.

Get approved to buy a home.

Rocket Mortgage® lets you get to house hunting sooner.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.