What you need to know about home equity loans

Bizhen Fu
Oct 18, 2017

1. What is a home equity loan?

A home equity loan — or HEL — is a loan in which a borrower uses the equity of their house as collateral. These loans allow you to borrow a large lump sum amount based on the value of your home, which is determined by an appraiser, and your current equity.

Equity loans are available as either fixed- or adjustable-rate loans and come with a set amount of time to repay the debt, typically between 5 and 30 years. You’ll pay closing costs, but it’ll be much less than what you pay on a typical full mortgage. Fixed- rate HELs also offer the predictability of a regular interest rate from the start, which some borrowers prefer.

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2. What are home equity loans best for?

A home equity loan is generally best for people who need cash to pay for a single major expense, like a specific home renovation project. Home equity loans are not particularly useful for borrowing small amounts of money.

Lenders typically don’t want to be bothered with making small loans — $10,000 is about the smallest you can get. Bank of America, for example, has a minimum home equity loan amount of $25,000, while Discover offers home equity loans in the range of $35,000 to $150,000.

3. What is a home equity line of credit?

A home equity line of credit — or HELOC — is a lender-set revolving credit line based on the equity of your home. Once the limit is set, you can draw on your line of credit at any time during the life of the loan by writing a check against it. A HELOC is similar to a credit card: you do not need to borrow the full amount of the loan, and the available credit is replenished as you pay it back. In fact, you could pay back the loan in full during the draw period, re-borrow the total amount, and pay it back again.

The draw period typically lasts about 10 years and the repayment period typically lasts between 10 and 20 years. You pay interest only on what you actually borrow from the available loan, and you usually don’t have to begin repaying the loan until after the draw period closes.

HELOC loans also sometimes come with annual fees. Interest rates on HELOCs are adjustable, and they are generally tied to the prime rate, although they can often be converted to a fixed rate after a certain period of time. You are also often required to pay closing costs on the loan.