What Is a Home Equity Loan? Putting Your Home to Work

By: Valencia Higuera Updated By: Ryan Tronier Reviewed By: Jon Meyer
May 1, 2023 - 12 min read

Leverage home equity without refinancing

A home equity loan is a type of loan that lets you borrow against your home’s cash value, often at a low fixed interest rate. As a “second mortgage,” it is typically a smaller, second loan taken out in addition to your existing mortgage. This lets you tap your home’s value without changing the rate or terms on your primary mortgage. You can also take one out if your home is fully paid off and borrow only the amount you need.

It’s a popular way to unlock your home’s equity without selling or refinancing the property.

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What is a home equity loan?

A home equity loan is secured by your home equity. Equity is the difference between your home’s value and what you owe the mortgage company. If you owe your mortgage lender $100,000 and your property appraises for $250,000, you have $150,000 in equity.

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Unlike a cash-out refinance, you can take out a home equity loan for the sole purpose of borrowing cash. It does not refinance your existing mortgage balance or change the rate and term on your primary mortgage. Rather, it’s a separate loan with its own interest rate and monthly payment. That’s why a home equity loan is known as a “second mortgage.”

Smart uses for a home equity loan include debt consolidation, home improvements, paying for college, and starting a business. These loans aren’t typically recommended for luxury items, vacations, or risky real estate investments.

How do home equity loans work?

A home equity loan is a lump sum installment loan. You’ll receive the entire loan amount upfront and pay it off in equal monthly installments, until the balance is zeroed out.

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Home equity loans work a lot like standard home loans. They typically have fixed rates and fixed monthly payments, with loan terms ranging from 10 to 30 years. You can deduct interest paid on this loan type, but only when using funds to buy or build a property or “substantially improve” a property you already own.

Home equity loans differ from home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), which allow borrowers to access a line of credit on an as-needed basis. They’re also different from cash-out refinancing, which replaces an existing mortgage with a new one.

Since you’re taking another loan against the property, home equity loans are also known as second mortgages. Your primary mortgage remains as the “first lien,” and your second mortgage is the “junior lien.” If you sell the property before repaying a home equity loan, you’ll pay off the balance with proceeds from the sale.

Home equity loans can be attractive options because they typically have lower interest rates than other debt types, such credit cards and personal loans. But since your home acts as collateral, missing loan payments could result in foreclosure.

Home equity loan pros and cons

Home equity loans are often well-suited for homeowners who know the amount of money they’ll need for home renovations. But before you decide whether to get one, evaluate the pros and cons of home equity loans.

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  • Generally easier to qualify for than a cash-out refinance or other home loans
  • Fixed interest rates and monthly payments
  • Few rules about how to use funds


  • Your home is the collateral for the loan. This means you risk foreclosure if you default on the loan
  • You’ll pay two monthly payments unless you own your home outright
  • You must repay the loan balance in full if you sell your home

If you’re concerned about needing additional funds for your home improvements, a HELOC may be a better option for your needs.

How much of a home equity loan can I get?

The amount of money you can borrow with a home equity loan depends on how much equity you’ve built up in your property and what you own on your primary mortgage. Most lenders cap your combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV) around 80%. This means that your primary mortgage and home equity loan together can’t be more than 80% of the home’s value.

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For example, say your home appraises for $400,000. But you currently owe $150,000 on your primary mortgage. Here’s how to find your maximum amount:

  • Home value: $400,000
  • Maximum combined loan amount: $320,000 (80% of value)
  • Existing mortgage balance: $150,000
  • Maximum home equity loan: $170,000 (maximum CLTV minus existing mortgage)

The amount you can borrow also depends on your credit score, interest rate, and debt-to-income ratio (DTI).

When it comes to DTI, your lender will review your monthly loan and credit card payments. They then compare this figure with your income to determine affordability. For this reason, two borrowers with similar incomes and the same amount of equity can qualify for different size home equity loans — especially if one borrower has more debt than the other.

Home equity loan requirements

Having a lot of equity doesn’t qualify someone for a second mortgage. Home equity loan requirements differ from one lender to the next, but they typically include the following:

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  • More than 20% equity in the home
  • A loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of 80% to 85%
  • A debt-to-income ratio of 43% or lower
  • Meet the lender’s minimum credit score requirement
  • Proof of income or ability to repay

Credit score requirements for home equity loans vary heavily by lender. Some lenders allow credit scores as low as 620, whereas others require a score in the mid-600s or higher.

If you have a lower score, you’ll need to shop around and compare lenders. Qualifying might be easier if you have compensating factors, such as low debts or extensive assets.

Do home equity loans have closing costs?

Many home equity loans have closing costs, but not all. Whether or not you pay any will depend on your lender. For example, Regions Bank does not charge closing costs. However, borrowers must pay for items such as prepaid interest, state or federal taxes, and title insurance.

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Still, Frost Bank claims you won’t pay any fees on home equity loans under $500,000, including closing costs, annual fees, or prepayment penalties. Keep in mind that loans without closing costs often charge higher interest rates.

On the other hand, you’ll likely pay closing costs between 2% to 5% of the loan amount with traditional lenders like US Bank or Connexus Credit Union.

Be sure to read your loan disclosures carefully when evaluating whether or not this type of solution is right for your financial situation.

Costs of a home equity loan

Your lender may require you to pay all or some of the costs associated with underwriting a home equity loan. These fees will vary from one lender to another, but here are a few you will likely see.

  • Origination fee: Upfront fee to cover the administration costs of underwriting a loan
  • Appraisal fee: Having a home appraiser determine the value of your home. This is a third-party fee that is usually non-negotiable
  • Closing costs: Fees for pulling credit reports and document preparation, to name a few
  • Title fees: Costs for title search and/or title insurance
  • Prepayment penalty: Fees charged for paying your loan balance in full too early
  • Annual fee: A yearly cost to keep your loan with a lender

You may even be required to pay for additional items like flood insurance, depending on your state of residence and the location of your home. Be sure to speak with your mortgage originator to fully understand the costs of this loan type.

Home equity loans vs. HELOCs

Home equity loans provide an individual lump-sum payment that you repay over a period of time. You’ll pay interest on the loan at a fixed rate. So the monthly payments never change. However, if you sell the home before the loan term concludes, you’ll need to repay it in full.

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Alternatively, HELOCs are a revolving credit line. Rather than an upfront lump sum of cash, HELOCs allow you access to a pre-approved credit limit based on your home’s value. You can repay any borrowed money and reuse the HELOC as often as you like during its draw period.

A HELOC’s draw period is typically between five to 20 years, with a 10-year term being the most common. Following the draw period is the “repayment period” when you can no longer withdraw funds. Most HELOCs charge a variable interest rate, but some lenders offer them as fixed-rate loans.

How to get a home equity loan

In many ways, the requirements for a home equity loan are the same as those for a primary mortgage. But because you won’t be borrowing the entire cost of a home, there are a few important differences. Here are seven steps to apply for one:

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1. Review your finances

A home equity loan adds to your monthly debt, so review your financial situation to see if you can handle the additional payment. Also, review your credit report and credit score. You typically need a minimum 620 credit score to qualify. Paying your bills on time, paying down credit cards, and disputing errors on your credit report can raise your score.

2. Determine how much to borrow

Your lender ultimately decides the amount of money you can borrow against your equity. Even so, have a figure in mind so that you don’t borrow more than necessary. Consider how much cash you need for home renovations or to accomplish a financial goal. Also, pre-determine what monthly payment you’re comfortable with — especially if you’re still paying down your first mortgage.

3. Gather your paperwork

You’ll need to submit supporting documentation such as paycheck stubs, tax returns, W-2s, and bank statements. Lenders use this information to calculate your debt-to-income ratio and creditworthiness. Having your paperwork ahead of time will help your application get approved more quickly.

4. Compare home equity loan lenders

Requirements and terms can vary by lender. Get at least three quotes from different lenders and compare rates, origination fees, terms, and credit score requirements. You can get a quote from your current lender and other banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, and online lenders.

5. Go through the underwriting process

Your lender will carefully review your income statements, bank statements, credit history, and debts to see if you qualify for a home equity loan and determine how much you can borrow.

6. Wait for the appraisal

Your mortgage lender will order a home appraisal to assess your home’s market value. This is required before approving your application.

7. Close on the loan

Once your lender completes the underwriting process and receives the appraisal report, the final step is closing. You’ll sign the loan paperwork and receive the lump sum payment.

After closing on the loan, you’ll begin making regular monthly payments. If you currently have a mortgage, your this loan will be a second payment on top of your regular mortgage payment. If your property is paid off, you pay’ll only the home equity loan.

Home equity loan FAQ

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Is a home equity loan a mortgage?

A home equity loan is a type of mortgage loan. It isn’t a primary mortgage, like the one you use to buy a home, but rather a secondary mortgage secured by the property. This junior lien is also called a second mortgage. Since your property serves as collateral for a home equity loan, not repaying the loan could result in foreclosure.

How long does it take to get a home equity loan?

On average, closing on a home equity loan can take two to six weeks. But initial loan approval can occur within several business days. The process of getting a home equity loan can vary from lender to lender. Factors influencing the timeline include a lender’s underwriting process, appraiser schedules, scheduling conflicts, and delays with submitting documentation.

What are average home equity loan rates?

Home equity loans usually have higher interest rates than standard home loans. However, they tend to be substantially lower than other, unsecured forms of borrowing like credit cards and personal loans. Home equity loan rates are fixed, meaning your interest rate and payment will stay the same throughout the loan term. Furthermore, the rate you’ll pay is based on the prime rate. But your creditworthiness, loan-to-value ratio (LTV), and lender will also affect the rate you’re offered.

Is a home equity loan tax-deductible?

Home equity loans are only tax-deductible under special circumstances. Currently, you can deduct interest on a home equity loan only when using the funds to buy or build a primary residence or second home, or when using funds to substantially improve a primary residence or second home. As of 2022, married couples filing jointly can deduct interest on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt, and married couples filing separately can deduct interest on up to $375,000 of mortgage debt. But you should always check with a tax advisor before making any decisions that could impact your annual tax filings.

Can you get a home equity loan with bad credit?

Most lenders require a minimum credit score in the mid- to high-600s for a home equity loan, but getting approved with a lower score may be possible. Some lenders will approve homeowners with scores as low as 620. However, you’ll need to shop around to find these lenders. It’s easier to get approved with bad credit when you have compensating factors. This includes stable income and little consumer debt.

What lenders do home equity loans?

Home equity loans are widely available and many lenders offer this option. These include banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, and online lenders. To get started, contact your current mortgage lender and bank or credit union. Compare their rates, terms, and requirements. Get at least three rate quotes before choosing a lender.

Find out if you qualify for a home equity loan

If you meet the basic requirements for a home equity loan, you stand a good chance of approval. But you’ll need to reach out to a lender to know for sure.

If you’re ready to get started, check out rates with a few different lenders to find the most affordable option.

Time to make a move? Let us find the right mortgage for you

Valencia Higuera
Authored By: Valencia Higuera
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Valencia Higuera is a freelance writer from Chesapeake, Virginia. As a personal finance and health junkie, she enjoys all things related to budgeting, saving money, fitness, and healthy living.
Ryan Tronier
Updated By: Ryan Tronier
The Mortgage Reports Editor
Ryan Tronier is a personal finance writer and editor. His work has been published on NBC, ABC, USATODAY, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, and more. Ryan is the former managing editor of the finance website Sapling, as well as the former personal finance editor at Slickdeals.
Jon Meyer
Reviewed By: Jon Meyer
The Mortgage Reports Expert Reviewer
Jon Meyer is a mortgage loan officer (NMLS #1590010) with over five years in the lending industry. He currently works at Supreme Lending in Mill Valley, CA (NMLS #2129) and has served as an expert adviser for The Mortgage Reports’ editorial team.