Home Equity Loans – Basics

Home equity loans have become increasingly popular in the past few years. With property values rising, more people have realized the benefits. They allow you to borrow a certain amount of money, using your home’s equity as collateral. Collateral is property offered to a lender as security for the loan. It gives the lender a guarantee that you will repay the debt, because if you did not, the lender could sell your property to get the money they lent you back. Equity is the difference between how much the home is currently worth and how much is owed on your mortgage. Home equity loans may seem complicated but they are actually quite simple. You just need to understand a few terms and concepts.

What is a Home Equity Loan?

A home equity loan is a second loan on your property that gives you money based on the amount of equity in your property. You can spend it on anything you want. Most people use it for home improvements, debt consolidation, college educations, vacations or car purchases. The interest that you pay on your home equity loan is typically tax deductible-and that is a huge benefit to this loan. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of home equity loan interest.

What’s the difference between Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit?

There are two ways a lender can loan you money based on your home’s equity. First is a home equity loan which is based on a set loan amount, and second is a home equity line of credit, also known as a HELOC, which is a revolving line of credit. Both are referred to as second mortgages, because they are secured by your property, behind your first mortgage. With home equity loans, you apply for a set loan amount and pay it down based on a fixed interest rate. The maximum amount of money that can be borrowed is determined by several variables such as your credit history (FICO score), income, first mortgage and the recent appraised value of the collateral property.

How much can they loan to me?

The relationship between your loan amount and your home’s appraised value is called the “loan-to-value” ratio, or “LTV”. As LTVs increase, the interest rate of the loan in question usually increases as well. (“Home Equity FAQs”). The maximum amount the lender loans is partially determined by this ratio. The maximum LTV varies per lender. Note that if the LTV is too high, it could affect your approval, interest rate or conditions due to the increased risk for the lender.

Can I get an equity loan on my rental property?

Home equity loans can be taken out on primary residences, second homes, investment properties and vacation homes. However, each property has individual conditions for approval. It is also more difficult to qualify. This is due to the increased likelihood of defaulting. Underwriters prefer applicants with better credit and more assets than they do with applicants purchasing their primary residence.

What if my income is too difficult to determine?

If you have difficulty providing all the income documents necessary for the loan, you can apply under special loan programs such as stated income, “no doc” or “low-doc.” Applicants who are self-employed or commission-based use them often. People who do not want to share their financial history and complicated tax returns with a lender fall into this category as well.

Can you refinance your mortgage with a home equity loan?

If the interest rate or mortgage payment on any property is too high, a home equity loan is also a good way to refinance your existing mortgage loan, take some additional cash and make one easy monthly payment (“Home Equity FAQs”). Refinancing is the process of adding a new first mortgage to replace an existing first mortgage and any other liens you may have. There are two ways to refinance: no cash-out and cash back. No Cash-Out refinancing reduces your monthly mortgage payment and the remaining term of your loan. It can help you save thousands of dollars in interest. Cash back refinancing allows you to borrow money in excess of what you currently owed on your mortgage. You still reduce your interest rate and term, but you also get a hold of the money you earned when your property’s value increased. Cash back refinancing is a smart decision if you have future expenses that will need financing. If you need a new car, you could take an additional $30,000 and add that amount to your loan. The interest rates will likely be lower than your credit cards or car loan, and again, the interest you pay can be tax-deductible.

Refinancing with a home equity loan is similar to refinancing with a traditional mortgage. The main difference is that equity loans are typically repaid in a shorter time than first mortgages. Traditional mortgages are usually repaid over 30 years. Equity loans often have a 15-year repayment period, although it might be as short as five or as long as 30 years (“Home Equity Credit Lines”).

Now that you are familiar with some basic home equity loan terms and concepts, the process should seem straightforward. When you need money, obtaining a home equity loan not only simplifies your life, it also saves you money. It gives you piece of mind through the fixed low interest rate and low monthly payments. The process only takes several days and the funds are transferred into your bank account upon the loan’s closing. It is as easy as pie.

Home Equity Loans Or Equity Line of Credit?

Nowadays it seems that lenders are offering home buyers more choices when it comes to borrowing money. From equity lines of credit to home equity loans to fixed rate home equity loans to mortgage refinancing to adjustable rate mortgages, what does it all really mean? With so many catch phrases and too few definitions lending companies are often only serving to complicate matters instead of clearing things up.

Let’s take a look at the equity line of credit versus a fixed rate home equity loan. The first question to ask is what is the difference? To begin, let’s define what a home equity loan is and how it works. If a home buyer decides to use the equity already built up in his home he may qualify for a large amount of credit with a lower interest rate when needing to borrowing money. Also, depending on the situation the borrower may be able to deduct this interest rate from his taxes since the debt is protected by the home.

A home equity line of credit is a form of credit that is extended with your home being the main source of collateral. This type of credit line is basically what is known as “revolving credit” and it can be utilized for big ticket items such as children’s education, home improvement, medical bills or just to get ahead on monthly bills and expenses. A good idea of what kind of credit you will be given is to figure roughly 75% of your home’s appraised value and then deduct the remaining balanced owed from the existing mortgage.

Of course other factors come into play when applying for this type of credit line. These include any additional outstanding debt, your financial history and your income. However, after you are approved you can borrow money up to the amount of the credit line whenever you need by using a check or credit card that has been furnished to you by the lender.

In some cases with a home equity line of credit you will be given a specific period of time in which to borrow the money. At the end of the “draw period” you might be able to renew the credit line however it is just as possible that you won’t be able to borrow any additional money. This is usually spelled outlined in the lending agreement therefore before any paperwork is signed read the fine print and ask questions. Also, be aware that you might just have to pay the money you borrowed from the home equity loan back in full at the end of the designated period.

Some lenders will offer a discounted interest rate on home equity loans, but chances are good that the lower interest rate will only apply for the first three to six months of the loan. If you opt for what is called a variable interest rate you will find that your monthly payments will change as interest rates change. If you decide to sell your house you will also be expected to pay off the home equity line you have borrowed.

Along the same lines of a home equity loan comes the fixed rate home equity loan meaning the borrower knows what the monthly payments will be and the time period of repayment. The fixed rate home equity loan is typically secured by either a first or second mortgage and the loan can be granted for up to several years or more. First Horizon Home Loans in Memphis Tenn. describes fixed rate mortgages as “featuring an unchanging interest rate, which is determined when you are approved for a mortgage and remains the same for the term of the loan.”

Remember too that there are fees involved for establishing a home equity loan so take that into consideration before making a final decision on a loan overall. The most important factor a person should take into consideration when choosing a loan program whether it be an equity line of credit, a fixed rate home equity loan or something in between depends on your financial portfolio, how you believe your finances will change within the next five years, how long you plan to keep the house you are currently living in and how secure you feel with changing your mortgage payments and increasing your debt. Do you feel more secure with the knowledge that your payments will be the same amount every month for a set number of years (fixed rate home equity loan) or that the amount can fluctuate based on interest rates and how much you borrow within your window of opportunity (equity line of credit). Either way, before securing a loan talk to a financial advisor and determine all your options before making a final decision.