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Home Equity Loans: A Complete Guide

March 23, 2024 11-minute read

Author: Miranda Crace

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Home equity loans are a useful way to tap into the equity of your home to obtain funds when your assets are tied up in your property. They’re generally offered at lower interest rates than other forms of consumer loans because they are secured by your home, just like your primary mortgage.

Read on to learn more about home equity loans and other ways to take advantage of your equity to decide if this loan option is right for you.

Table Of Contents

    What Is A Home Equity Loan?

    A home equity loan enables you to use the equity you’ve built in your home as collateral to borrow money. Like a primary loan used to buy a house, your home is used as security to protect lenders if you end up defaulting on your loan.

    Home equity loans are often called second mortgages because you have another loan payment to make on top of your primary mortgage.

    Rocket Mortgage® is now offering the Home Equity Loan, which is available for primary and secondary homes.1 We'll speak about the qualifications throughout.

    How Does A Home Equity Loan Work?

    Home equity loans provide borrowers with a large, lump-sum payment that they pay back in fixed installments over a predetermined period. They are often fixed-rate loans, so the interest rate remains the same throughout the term of the loan.

    Getting Your Money From A Home Equity Loan

    Since home equity loans are lump-sum payments, your lender pays you your entire loan amount after the loan closes. Before you get your money, you should determine your budget. The amount of money you qualify for may be more than you need. Know how much you can repay on a monthly basis.

    Repaying A Home Equity Loan

    After you receive your loan amount, get ready to start paying it back. Your monthly payments will be a consistent amount throughout the term of your loan and include both principal and interest.

    You may think it’s best to choose a shorter loan term, so you can pay off your debt faster. Remember, a 10-year term will have higher monthly payments than a 15- or 30-year term. Rocket Mortgage offers Home Equity Loans with 10- and 20-year fixed terms.

    Pros And Cons Of Home Equity Loans

    Before you decide to get a home equity loan, you should be aware of the pros and cons. Consider your financial circumstances to determine whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

    Pros

    • They are easier to qualify for than many other types of loans.
    • Interest rates are usually fixed and lower than many other consumer loans.
    • Terms are longer than many other consumer loans.
    • There are no restrictions on how you can use the funds.
    • You can access the funds immediately in a lump sum.
    • Monthly payments are fixed, making them predictable.

    Cons

    • You’ll have a second mortgage to pay off on top of your primary mortgage.
    • You risk foreclosure should you default on the loan.
    • If you sell your home, you’ll have to pay off the entire balance of the loan – as well as the remaining balance of your primary mortgage – as soon as you close.
    • You’ll have to pay closing costs, unlike some other consumer loans.

    If a home equity loan doesn't seem quite right for you, you may still have other options for leveraging your home equity. For example, a cash-out refinance might be a better choice for you. Try exploring your options to figure out what financing path works best for you and your current mortgage.

    Turn your home equity into cash.

    See how much you could get. Apply online with Rocket Mortgage® today.

    How To Get A Home Equity Loan

    To get a home equity loan, you’ll need to qualify, which means your lender will examine your equity, credit score and debt-to-income ratio. These three elements are all taken into consideration so if you’re weak in one area, the other two can help boost your qualifications.

    Step 1: Get Your Home Appraised

    To determine whether you qualify and how much money you can borrow, a lender will have your home appraised. The home appraisal will tell the lender how much your home is worth.

    Rocket Mortgage will allow you to borrow up to 90% of the equity in your home (with qualifying credit). To figure out the amount you could obtain through a home equity loan, you’d determine your loan-to-value ratio (LTV). To do this, subtract the remaining balance of your primary mortgage from 90% of the appraised value of your home. For example, if your home is appraised at $400,000 and the remaining balance of your mortgage is $100,000, here’s how you would calculate the potential loan amount:

    $400,000 x .9 = $360,000

    $360,000 – $100,000 = $260,000

    This means you could secure up to $260,000 if you obtained a home equity loan.

    Step 2: Calculate Your Debt-To-Income Ratio

    When deciding whether to provide you with the loan, your lender will calculate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which shows how your monthly debt payments compare to your monthly income. This calculation helps lenders determine whether you can afford to take on more debt.

    To qualify for our Home Equity Loan, your DTI cannot be higher than 50%. To see if you make the cut, you can figure out your DTI yourself, using the following equation:

    DTI = Total Monthly Debt Payments  ∕ Gross Monthly Income

    • Add up all your monthly debt payments, including your primary mortgage, student loans, car loan, minimum credit card payment, alimony, child support, etc.
    • Divide the sum by your gross monthly income, which is the amount of money you earn each month before taxes and deductions.
    • Multiply the result by 100 to find the percentage.

    For example, if your total monthly debt is $1,500 (let’s say $950 for your primary mortgage + $300 for your car loan + $250 for your credit card debt), and you earn $5,000 a month before taxes, your DTI would be 30%. In this scenario, your DTI would be low enough to qualify for a Home Equity Loan.

    Step 3: Check Your Credit Score

    The strength of your credit score also plays a role in determining whether you qualify for a home equity loan. Your credit score is important because it helps lenders understand your credit history. Individuals with higher credit scores often benefit from lower interest rates.

    If you want to obtain a home equity loan, a higher credit score will give you more flexibility on terms. For example, higher scores may allow you to access more of your equity. Here's how things work at Rocket Mortgage.

    With a 680 credit score, you're limited to accessing up to 80% of the equity you have in your home. If your FICO® Score is a median of 700 or better, you can access up to 85%. Finally, you can borrow up to 90% of the available equity in your home if your score is 740 or higher.

    Remember that these LTV amounts combine both your primary mortgage and your new Home Equity Loan. For example, if you have 45% LTV on your primary mortgage, you can only borrow a further 45% of your home value for a total of 90%.

    Getting A Home Equity Loan With Bad Credit

    Those who have had past credit issues know that it tends to be easier and less costly to obtain a home equity loan than a personal loan. The reason for this is there is less risk involved for lenders because home equity loans are secured by your home. On the other hand, if you’re unable to keep up with your monthly payments, the lender can foreclose on your home to recoup costs.

    If you’ve built up a fair amount of equity in your home and have a low debt-to-income ratio, your chances of obtaining a home equity loan will be higher despite a low credit score. If you find yourself in this situation, your home equity loan will likely come with higher interest rates and fees.

    If your finances demonstrate to lenders that you may be unable to repay the money borrowed, you’ll find it more challenging to obtain a home equity loan. Since the housing crisis, more restrictions have been placed on lending practices. What are the home equity loan rates?

    Home equity loan rates are dependent upon the prime rate, credit score, credit limits, lender and loan-to-value (LTV) ratios.

    Home Equity Loans Vs. Other Options

    Home equity loans are a great tool to help you borrow against your home’s equity. However, they’re not the only way you can access the money you’ve built up in your home. Before you can decide if a home equity loan is the right choice for your needs, you need to understand your options. Here are a few alternatives you can look into.

    Cash-Out Refinance

    While home equity loans enable you to take out a second mortgage on your property, cash-out refinances replace your primary mortgage. Instead of obtaining a separate loan, the remaining balance of your primary mortgage is paid off and rolled into a new mortgage that has a new term and interest rate.

    With a cash-out refinance, you receive funds for the equity in your home, just as you would with a home equity loan. Unlike a home equity loan, you only have one monthly mortgage payment.

    If you choose to get a cash-out refinance, you usually can secure a lower interest rate than with a home equity loan. The reason for the discrepancy in interest rates has to do with the order in which lenders are paid in the case of defaults and foreclosures.

    Cash-Out Refinance Rates

    Home equity loan rates are generally higher because second mortgages are only paid back after primary mortgages have been. As a second mortgage lender, there’s a higher risk that the sale price will be too low for the lender to recoup their costs.

    Since you’re able to lock in a new interest rate when you get a cash-out refinance, they are a beneficial option for those who purchased their home when interest rates were high. With a cash-out refinance, you can get cash upfront while also lowering your monthly mortgage payment if rates have dropped since you bought your home.

    Learn more about the differences between home equity loans and cash-out refinances.

    Need extra cash?

    Leverage your home equity with a cash-out refinance.

    Home Equity Lines Of Credit (HELOCs)

    home equity line of credit is another option for converting your home equity into cash. Like home equity loans, HELOCs are second mortgages. However, instead of providing borrowers with a lump-sum payment, HELOCs pay out more like credit cards. Home equity lines of credit provide you with a predetermined amount of money that you can draw from when necessary.

    HELOC Rates

    Unlike home equity loans, HELOCs have variable interest rates, which are similar to adjustable-rate loans. This means your interest rate increases or decreases over the loan term as the market fluctuates, as does your monthly payment, making it difficult to anticipate how much you’ll owe. Rocket Mortgage currently does not offer HELOCs.

    A home equity line of credit is a good choice if you need more flexibility. You can take out up to your max anytime during your draw period. If you want to be able to draw funds as needed over a longer period of time, a HELOC may be right for you.

    Home equity loans are a great tool to help you borrow against your home’s equity. However, they’re not the only way you can access the money you’ve built up in your home. Before you can decide if a home equity loan is the right choice for your needs, you need to understand your options. Here are a few alternatives you can look into.

    When Is A Home Equity Loan The Right Choice?

    Home equity loans aren’t perfect, but they can be a great choice for some homeowners. Here are a few situations where a home equity loan makes the most sense:

    • If you need money fast: A home equity loan is a good choice when you need a large amount of money immediately but want to lock in a lower interest rate than you’d find with a credit card or personal loan.
    • If you have a strict, fixed budget: Home equity loans can be the right option when you have one specific expense and are aware of the full amount that you’ll need to spend on it.
    • If you’re paying off higher-interest debt: They’re also the better choice if you want to use the funds to pay off other debts that have higher interest rates, as you’ll know your rate won’t change.

    How To Choose The Best Home Equity Loan

    Choosing the best home equity loan will require you to do a bit of research. In order to get the best terms and interest rates, be sure to compare different lenders’ loan programs and fee structures.

    When determining which lender to choose, make sure you review the Loan Estimate forms provided by each lender. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requires all lenders to provide you with this standard three-page form to ensure that you understand the differences between what lenders are willing to offer you. Loan Estimates will give you a rundown of the terms of your home equity loan, including the interest rate, and itemize the closing costs and fees you’ll be charged.

    Home Equity Loan FAQs

    Home equity loans make accessing the cash you have tied up in your house easy, but you still need to make sure they’re the right fit for your finances. Here are some other frequently asked questions regarding home equity loans to help you make the right decision.

    How does a home equity loan differ from a home equity line of credit (HELOC)?

    A home equity loan gives you money in a single lump-sum payment. A HELOC allows you to borrow money as needed up to the limit of the line of credit for a predetermined length of time.

    Will taking out a home equity loan hurt my credit score?

    Any time you open a new loan, like a home equity loan, your credit score may drop slightly. The drop will likely be temporary and your score may even increase after opening the loan since your total available credit will go up.

    What should I look for when applying for a home equity loan?

    Look for a home equity loan with a low interest rate, affordable origination fees, fair repayment terms and monthly payments that fit your budget.

    The Bottom Line: A Home Equity Loan Could Be Right For You

    If you’ve built up equity in your home and have a strong credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio, a home equity loan may be beneficial for you. It will enable you to take out a large lump sum that you can pay off over an extended period.

    Since home equity loans come with fixed interest rates, your monthly payments will never change, and you’ll know exactly how much you need to budget to repay the loan.

    If you’re concerned about your ability to juggle two mortgages, you may want to choose a cash-out refinance instead. This allows you to have one payment at the lowest available interest rate.

    Whether a cash-out refinance or Home Equity Loan makes the most sense for you will depend on a blended rate calculation. One of our Home Loan Experts can help you with that. To go over your options, start an application online today.

    Home Equity Loan product requires full documentation of income and assets, credit score and max LTV/CLTV/HCLTV. Requirements were updated 2/5/2024 and are tiered as follows: 680 minimum FICO with a max LTV/CLTV/HCLTV of 80%, 700 minimum FICO with a max LTV/CLTV/HCLTV of 85%, and 740 minimum FICO with a max LTV/CLTV/HCLTV of 90%. Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) must be 50% or below. Valid for loan amounts between $45,000.00 and $350,000.00 (minimum loan amount for properties located in Iowa is $61,000). Product is a second standalone lien and may not be used for piggyback transactions. Product not available on Schwab products. Guidelines may vary for self-employed individuals. Some mortgages may be considered “higher priced” based on the APOR spread test. Higher priced loans are not allowed on properties located in New York. Additional restrictions apply. Not available in Texas. This is not a commitment to lend.

    Need extra cash?

    Leverage your home equity with a cash-out refinance.

    Miranda Crace

    Miranda Crace is a Senior Section Editor for the Rocket Companies, bringing a wealth of knowledge about mortgages, personal finance, real estate, and personal loans for over 10 years. Miranda is dedicated to advancing financial literacy and empowering individuals to achieve their financial and homeownership goals. She graduated from Wayne State University where she studied PR Writing, Film Production, and Film Editing. Her creative talents shine through her contributions to the popular video series "Home Lore" and "The Red Desk," which were nominated for the prestigious Shorty Awards. In her spare time, Miranda enjoys traveling, actively engages in the entrepreneurial community, and savors a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.