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Ask Our Home Buying Expert

Have a question? Ask our Home Buying expert.

Have questions? Email Send your question to mlerner@smartasset.com

Home Equity Loan

If you’re getting hounded by debt collectors or your monthly minimums are eating up a huge chunk of your budget, consolidating your bills can give you a little more breathing room. Transferring your high interest credit card debt to a card with a lower rate or taking out a personal consolidation loan are two options to consider but homeowners also have a third choice in the form of a home equity loan. Going this route can be cost-effective in the long run but it’s not without its dangers. How does a home equity loan work? Here are some pros and cons to keep in mind if you’re planning on using your equity to eliminate debt.

Find out now: How much house can I afford?

Pro #1: You’ll save on interest.

Often, the number one reason people choose to consolidate their debts is because they’re tired of throwing away hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on interest. Home equity loans typically have a much lower fixed rate and come with a set repayment period which helps to keep the amount you spend on interest to a minimum. As an added bonus, interest you pay on a home equity loan is usually tax-deductible since it’s essentially the same as taking out a second mortgage on your home.

A home equity line of credit or HELOC works a little differently in terms of the interest, since they tend to come with a variable rate. The other major difference is that with a home equity line, you’re allowed to just make payments towards the interest for a certain period of time. If you’re thinking of using a HELOC to consolidate your debt, you want to make sure you get a capped lifetime rate and make payments toward the principal to keep the costs as low as possible.

Pro #2: You’ll have fewer monthly payments.

Home Equity Loan

When you’re juggling multiple payments to several different creditors each month it’s easy to lose track of when things are due. If you end up paying something late, you’ll likely have to fork over a fee and there’s also a chance that your credit might take a hit. When you consolidate everything into a home equity loan, you only have one payment to worry about so there’s less of a chance of overlooking something.

Pro #3: Loan limits are higher.

If you’ve got a large amount of debt you’re trying to consolidate, you may run into trouble getting a lender to approve you for a loan or trying to transfer it all to a single low interest credit card. One of the nice things about a home equity loan is that the amount you can borrow is usually much higher. Depending on the lender, you may be able to borrow as much as 85% of the value of your home, minus anything you still owe on the mortgage. If you’ve built up a lot of equity, you could use a chunk of it to pay off all your debts and still have room to borrow again if need be.

Con #1: It doesn’t necessarily solve your debt problem.

A lot of people have the misconception that a home equity loan is a magic bullet for getting rid of debt but it’s really more of a band-aid than a cure. When debt is created because of something unforeseeable, like a job loss or major illness, using your home equity to keep the collectors are bay may be the best solution. On the other hand, if you’re thousands of dollars in credit card debt because you have a shopping addiction or you just never learned to budget, borrowing against your home doesn’t address the real issue and may just perpetuate the problem.

Con #2: It puts your home equity on the line.

Home Equity Loan

Unsecured debts, like credit cards, aren’t tied to any specific collateral. If you don’t pay, there’s the chance that you could end up getting sued but no one is going to come in and try to seize your personal property. A home equity loan, however, is backed by your property and if you find yourself unable to make the payments, there’s the possibility that you could lose the home. If your income takes a hit and you don’t have anything in savings to cover the gap, you could find yourself out on the street if the bank decides to foreclose.

Related Article: Why You Shouldn’t Count on Your Home Equity for Retirement

A home equity loan can be a useful tool for consolidating debt but it’s not always the right choice. Before you tap your home’s equity, it’s worth it to look at every possible avenue to minimize the risks.

Update: Have more financial questions? SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: © iStock.com/MachineHeadz, © iStock.com/i_frontier, © iStock.com/Kirby Hamilton

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake has been writing about the nuts and bolts of personal finance for nearly a decade. She is an expert in investing, retirement and home buying topics. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, CBS News, U.S. News & World Report and Investopedia. As a homeschooling mom of two, she's always looking for ways to make the most of every dollar.
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