Home Equity Line of Credit

Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are popular ways to pay for home improvements because they have long repayment periods, which means the monthly payments are low. They also have low interest rates, as they’re secured by your home, and the interest is tax deductible if you itemize. But there is a small risk of losing your home when you take out this type of loan, because if you default, the lender can foreclose. Also, you take 20 to 30 years to repay your home equity loan or HELOC; it can actually cost you more in interest than a shorter-term loan with a higher interest rate, such as a traditional home improvement loan or a personal loan.

A home equity loan lets you borrow a lump sum all at once, while a HELOC lets you draw on a line of credit as needed for a certain number of years, called the draw period. During the draw period, you only have to repay interest on the loan, which makes monthly payments quite small but can result in payment shock later when the draw period ends and the borrower has to start repaying principal too. In addition, a HELOC has a variable interest rate, while a home equity loan has a fixed interest rate. A HELOC’s initial rate may be lower than a home equity loan’s, but over time it can become higher if market conditions push interest rates up.

Some local governments offer loans to help homeowners, especially those with low income and the elderly, pay for home improvements. Here are two examples of such programs

Boulder, Colo. – The city offers loans at 1% or 3% interest on up to $25,000 for single-family homes that need health and safety repairs or energy conservation improvements. The homeowner must have assets of less than $50,000. The loan doesn’t have to be repaid for 15 years or until selling the home, whichever comes first.

St. Paul, Minn. – Subject to income limits, homeowners can get a loan of $2,000 to $50,000 at 4% interest for a room addition or a new garage, a new furnace or an air-conditioning installation, a roof replacement and a few other items. Another option is a loan of $1,000 to $25,000 with deferred payment for basic and necessary improvements that directly affect the home’s safety, habitability, energy efficiency or accessibility. These loans aren’t due until the borrower sells, transfers title or moves, and they may be forgiven after 30 years of continued ownership and occupancy.

Such programs aren’t available everywhere, but there are quite a few out there. Check with your local government to see if one exists in your area and what the requirements are.

If you have very good to excellent credit, you can probably get approved for a new credit card that will charge you no interest on new purchases for nine to 18 months. Cards that have such an offer as of Dec. 5, 2016, include Chase Slate (0% APR for 15 months, no annual fee) and Capital One QuicksilverOne (0% APR for 9 months, $39 annual fee). Many other offers are available from both credit unions and banks.

The catch is that to keep the 0% rate, you will likely be required to make minimum monthly payments on time every month, even during the 0% introductory period. You need a clear plan for repaying the full amount you borrow before the introductory period ends, or else you will have to pay interest on the remaining balance, usually at a much higher rate.

If you tend to have trouble getting out of debt, keeping your finances organized or meeting deadlines, this isn’t a good option for you. Borrowers who are disciplined, detail oriented and spend within their means could find this to be the least expensive option. However, it may not be possible to borrow as much with a credit card as you could with a home equity loan or cash out refinance, depending on how much equity you have and how good your credit is.

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