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Can I Get a Home Equity Loan with Bad Credit?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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A less-than-perfect credit score isn't necessarily a barrier between you and a home equity loan (definition courtesy of MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree). Why? Because unlike unsecured debts, such as personal loans or credit cards, you actually have some valuable collateral to offer the lender — your home. So while you may still face a difficult road ahead in pursuit of such a loan, for many it's more than doable.

When applying for a home equity loan (HEL), you're essentially leveraging the equity you've built up in your home. By equity, we mean the difference between the value of the home and whatever's currently left on your mortgage. If, for example, an appraisal finds that your home is worth $150,000, and your mortgage balance is $100,000, then you have $50,000 of equity. (You can find a handy LendingTree equity calculator here.)

Generally speaking, more equity translates to more robust financing options, even if you have poor credit. That's not to say you'll get the best terms and interest rates. (We’ll get back to that.) But even if you’re squarely in this camp, there are options out there.

The application process for a HEL, which isn't unlike that of a mortgage, can be lengthy. Get ahead of the game by gathering up all the relevant financial documentation. This includes your latest tax returns, proof of income and employment, home insurance documents, your home value estimate and the like. Any co-applicants ought to do the same.

What's considered a "bad credit score" for a home equity loan?

Getting a home equity loan with bad credit is possible, but as with any other type of financing option, a good score is bound to work in your favor.

"Anything under 680 is going to be where things get a little difficult," Nathan Pierce, a certified residential mortgage specialist and vice president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB), tells MagnifyMoney.

Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule Discover, for example, offers HELs to consumers with credit scores as low as 620.

If your score is on the lower side of the 600s, you aren’t necessarily out of the game. Lenders look at other factors besides your score. They also consider whether you have a history of responsible credit use, solid employment and income, and sufficient equity in your home.

Other factors that can impact your quest for a HEL

Debt-to-income ratio: Aim for 43 percent or less

Qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit is about more than just your credit score. During the process, a number of factors come into play. Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a biggie. This basically provides a snapshot of what you owe versus what you earn.

Many lender sites specify the 43 percent threshold. According to Pierce, a DTI that exceeds 45 percent will likely work against you when applying for a home equity loan.

"You may see some lenders that may go up to 48 percent or 50 percent, but that's on the rare side," he adds.

In general, lenders tend to lean more conservatively here. And, as we said, 43 percent is a big number for many lenders. The maximum DTI for applying through both Chase and TD Bank, for example, is 43 percent.Let's say your monthly gross income stands at $4,000 and all your monthly debt payments (from your mortgage to credit cards to student debt to auto loans) adds up to $3,000. When we divide your debt by your income, it reveals a 75 percent DTI. That is an amount that's considered high by HEL standards, which will probably impact your ability to qualify for a home equity loan in spite of bad credit.

Loan-to-value ratio: Aim for 85 percent or less

How much equity you have in your home is another big piece of the puzzle, as it affects how much money you'll be able to borrow. Since you're using the home itself as collateral, owing less makes you more desirable to lenders.

It'll also help you get approved for a larger loan amount. If your mortgage debt exceeds 85 percent of the home's value, qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit might prove tricky. This calculation is called the loan-to-value ratio. (You may encounter the acronym LTV.)

"For most lenders, that's the bottom number," says Pierce. "When you get up to 90 percent, it gets a little bit thinner, but there are some institutions out there that are going to 100 percent these days.”

Most of these will be credit unions and small community banks, as opposed to traditional banks and mortgage companies. The big guys, according to Pierce, are usually limited to 85 to 90 percent.

Low equity, when coupled with poor credit, is likely to make qualifying for a HEL an uphill battle. That's not to say you're out of options; you just might have to take a different financing route.

Your credit report: Getting it right

That said, you'll definitely want to take a good look at your credit report before applying for a HEL. According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, roughly one in five Americans has potential errors on his or her credit report. If you're one of these people, disputing errors with credit bureaus can give your credit score a nice boost in the right direction. Indeed, 13 percent of consumers experienced a change in score due to their dispute, the report said.

Legitimate red marks on your report, like delinquent accounts or a past bankruptcy, could indeed makes things harder, but every lender is different.

How to shop for a HEL with bad credit

Before making any big financial decision, it's in your best interest to shop around. Don't let having poor credit score or disempower you or make you feel like you need to jump at the first offer. Instead, leverage what equity you have in your home to negotiate multiple offers and try to score the best terms you can.

"With a home equity loan, there could be large variations between lenders, so I'd definitely suggest checking with multiple places, as you could get pretty different options from each," says Pierce.

Just remember that the qualifying criteria for one lender might not match another’s. But that’s all the more reason to do your homework. (Oh, and by the way: if you sign loan papers and then change your mind, the Federal Trade Commission says you have the right to cancel the deal for any reason, without penalty, within three days.)

Additionally, Pierce says that large banks and mortgage brokers might not be your best option. So check out your local community banks and credit unions, which will likely be more open to working with people who have less-than-perfect credit.

What to expect during the HEL application process

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After submitting the necessary paperwork, the application process typically takes a few weeks. This may vary depending on the complexity of the application, underscoring the importance of being prepared. If a lender needs to dive deeper to verify your income or look into other properties or assets you have, it'll draw out the timeline.

That said, folks with good credit are more likely to snag financing options with better terms and lower interest rates. This doesn't mean you're out of luck if your credit score is on the lower end, but applying for a home equity loan with bad credit may result in being offered less or paying a bit more in the long run because of higher interest rates. This is when you really need to compare your options, which is why shopping around can pay off big time.

You also need to think about why you're seeking the loan in the first place. For example, a home equity loan with a 10 percent interest rate that's used for a home renovation — which could ultimately boost your home value — might make sense if you have room in your budget to easily absorb the monthly payment. But the same loan doesn't add up if you're looking to consolidate lower-interest debt. Sure, you might boost your credit score a bit, but you'll pay more over the long haul.

Either way, be sure to really pay attention to the loan terms, especially the monthly payments. The good news is that HELs come with fixed rates, and the repayment window seem to fall in the five- to 30-year range. But if the payments are going to strain your budget, you might be better off going with an unsecured line of credit. You'll pay more in interest, but defaulting on a HEL could result in you losing your house — no small thing.

The application process for someone with poor credit might also involve lenders limiting the amount of money they'll let you borrow. And while hashing out loan terms and interest rates, Pierce adds that many lenders will set minimum loan amounts as well.

"You may have lenders that say they want a $25,000 minimum loan amount [if] they're not interested in $10,000 or $15,000, which may be another factor that stops somebody from getting it,” he tells MagnifyMoney.

How to improve your chances of a HEL approval with bad credit

Reduce your DTI

If you've got a few strikes against you, rest easy; there are a number of things you can do to improve your odds of qualifying for a HEL. As we mentioned, reducing your debt-to-income ratio is a big one. Take a look at your monthly budget to see where you can free up extra cash to redirect toward your debt. Minor tweaks, from shrinking your cable bill to eating out less, can make a big difference; $50 here and $25 there, when used to accelerate your debt payments, will supercharge your efforts to improve your score.

While it may not be as easy to dramatically increase your salary, you can give your income a nice boost by picking up a side gig or taking on a roommate to reduce your monthly mortgage burden. The idea is to get creative and find something that works for your lifestyle. The freed-up cash can help dig you out of debt faster, which will also improve your credit score and bolster your chances of being approved for a HEL.

Bring on a co-signer

As with applying for a student loan or a traditional mortgage, introducing a co-signer can be a game changer.

Pierce says bringing a co-signer with good credit on board is a good move because lenders will feel a little safer taking a chance on you. Just do your homework, as different lenders have different qualifying options.

Wait until you have more equity

This might take a bit more time, but remember: More equity translates to a higher LTV (loan-to-value) ratio, which tips the scale in your favor when shopping around for a home equity loan.

Just as we discussed upping your take-home pay and trimming your budget to accelerate your debt payments, the same can be said for fast-tracking mortgage payments. Hacking away at the principal balance will cut the loan down quicker — and grow your equity at a faster clip. This tactic may prove tricky if you're also tackling high-interest debt, but if you have the wiggle room in your budget, it could help reduce your timeline.

Alternatives to a HEL

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If you’re having trouble qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit, you also have some other financing options to explore:

Cash-out Refinance

  • What it is: A cash-out refinance lets you start over with a new mortgage that replaces your old one while letting you borrow extra that you can use as you wish.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? You'll have one new monthly mortgage payment. If you refinance to a longer-term mortgage, that'll also improve your credit utilization ratio, which can help boost your credit score.
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? It depends on the situation. You may qualify, but with a higher interest rate. Pierce adds that, when compared with a HEL, there may be more limits in terms of how much cash you can take out

Personal loan

  • What it is: A personal loan is an unsecured loan. If you qualify, a lender will deposit cash right into your account that you can use any way you wish. It can be a good way to consolidate and pay off debt, so long as you can afford the monthly payment.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? No collateral. If keeping up with HEL payments means stretching your budget (and potentially defaulting), this option has an advantage: You won't risk losing your home.
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? Probably, but think carefully. Interest rates for people with bad credit can in some instances be upward of 35 percent. Lenders may also tack on an origination fee and/or prepayment penalty

Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

  • What it is: A little different from a HEL, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a revolving credit line extended to you by the lender.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? Your equity level dictates your credit limit, but you can borrow against a HELOC as much as you need to during what's called the "draw period," which usually lasts five to 10 years. (Side note: you'll be on the hook for making interest payments during this time.)
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? If you don't have a lot of equity and/or you have a spotty credit history, getting approved for a HELOC is apt to be as challenging as snagging a HEL, Pierce says.

Last words

Getting approved for a home equity loan with bad credit is tough, but it is not impossible. The most powerful tool in your arsenal: to gradually improve your score by making consistent, on-time payments. This, in turn, will reduce your debt while improving your debt-to-income ratio. Keeping up with your mortgage payments will also help you steadily build more home equity.

Plus, you've got other options. Aside from potentially bringing on a co-signer, a cash-out refinance, personal loan or HELOC all represent viable alternatives, depending on what you need the money for and what terms and interest rates you can snag.

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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Pay Down My Debt

How to Choose the Right Type Of Debt Consolidation

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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If you’re feeling buried by what you owe, debt consolidation could provide you with both immediate relief and a quicker path to debt-free.

Debt consolidation is the process of taking out a new loan and using that money to pay off your existing debt. It can help in a number of ways:

  • A lower interest rate could save you money and allow you to pay your debt off sooner
  • A longer repayment period could reduce your monthly payment
  • A single loan and single payment could be easier to manage than multiple loans

But debt consolidation isn’t without its potential pitfalls. First and foremost: Consolidating your debt doesn’t address the behavior that got you into trouble in the first place. If you’re in debt because of overspending, consolidating may actually exacerbate your problems by opening up new lines of credit that you can use to spend even more.

And every debt consolidation option has its own set of pros and cons that can make it a good fit or a bad one, depending on your circumstances.

This post explains all of those pros and cons. It should help you decide if debt consolidation is the right move for you, and, if so, which option is best.

Six Consolidation Options to Choose From

1. Credit card balance transfers

A credit card balance transfer is often the cheapest debt consolidation option, especially if you have excellent credit.

With this kind of transfer, you open a new credit card and transfer the balance on your existing card(s) to it. There is occasionally a small fee for the transfer, but if you have excellent credit, you can often complete the transfer for free and take advantage of 0 percent interest offers for anywhere from 12-21 months. None of the other debt consolidation options can match that interest rate.

There are some downsides, though:

  • You need a credit score of 700 or above to qualify for the best interest rate promotional periods.
  • Many cards charge fees of 3 to 5 percent on the amount that you transfer, which can eat into your savings.
  • Unless you cancel your old cards, you’re opening up additional borrowing capacity that can lead to even more credit card debt. Let’s put that another way: Now that you’ve paid off your old cards, you might be tempted to start using them again. (Don’t!)
  • If you don’t pay the loan back completely during the promotional period, your interest rate can subsequently soar. Some balance transfer cards also charge deferred interest, which can further increase the cost if you don’t pay your debt off in time.
  • This just isn’t for people with high levels of debt. Credit limits are relatively low compared with those tied to other debt consolidation options.

Given all of that, a credit card balance transfer is best for someone with excellent credit, relatively small amounts of debt and strong budgeting habits that will prevent them from adding to their burden by getting even further into debt.

2. Home equity/HELOCs

Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) allow you to tap into the equity you’ve built in your home for any number of reasons, including to pay off some or all of your other debt.

The biggest benefit of this approach is that interest rates are still near all-time lows, giving you the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of your debt. You may even be able to deduct your interest payments for tax purposes.

But again, there are perils. Here are some of the downsides to using a HELOC/home equity loan for debt consolidation:

  • Upfront processing fees. You need to watch out for upfront costs, which can eat into or even completely negate the impact of lowering your interest rate. You can run the numbers yourself here.
  • Long loan terms. You also need to be careful about extending your loan term. You might be able to reduce your monthly payment that way, but if you extend it too far, you could end up paying more interest overall. Home equity loans typically have terms of five to 15 years, while home equity lines of credit typically have 10-to-20-year repayment periods.
  • You could lose your home. Finally, you need to understand that these loans are secured by your home. Fail to make timely payments, and you put that home in jeopardy. This is why, though the interest rates are lower than with most other debt consolidation options, there’s also added risk.

Home equity loans and HELOCs are generally best for people who have built up significant equity in their home, can get a loan with minimal upfront costs, and either don’t have excellent credit or need to consolidate more debt than is possible with a simple balance transfer.

You can ask your current mortgage provider about taking out a home equity loan or line of credit. Also, compare offers at MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, here and here.

3. Personal loans

Personal loans are unsecured loans, typically with terms of two to seven years. Interest rates typically range from 5 to 36 percent, depending on your credit score and the amount you borrow.

The advantage of a personal loan over a credit card balance transfer is that it’s easier to qualify. While you typically need a credit score of 700 for a balance transfer, you can get a personal loan with a credit score as low as 580. You can also qualify for larger loan amounts than the typical balance transfer.

And the big advantage over a home equity loan or line of credit is that the loan is not secured by your house. This means you can’t lose your home if you have trouble paying back the debt. You can also apply for and obtain a personal loan very quickly, often at a lower cost than a home equity loan or line of credit.

The biggest disadvantage is that your interest rate will likely be higher than either of those options. And if your credit score is low, you may not find a better interest rate than what you already have.

Generally, a personal loan is best for someone with a credit score between 600 and 700 who either doesn’t have home equity or doesn’t want to borrow against his or her home.

You can shop around for a personal loan at LendingTree here. It’s important to compare offers to get the best deal possible.

4. Banks and credit unions

In addition to shopping for a personal loan online, you can contact your local banks or credit unions to see what types of loan options offer.

This is more time-consuming than applying online, and it can be harder to compare a variety of loan options. But it may lead to a better interest rate, especially if you already have a good relationship with a local bank.

One strategy you might try: Get quotes online using a service like LendingTree’s, then take those quotes to the bank or credit union and give it a chance to do better.

This strategy is best for anyone who already has a good and lengthy banking relationship, particularly with a credit union. But if you’re going the personal-loan route, it’s worth looking into in any case.

You can find credit unions in your area here.

5. Borrowing from family or friends

If you’re lucky enough to have family members or friends who have ample assets and are happy to help, this could be the easiest and cheapest debt consolidation option.

With no credit check, no upfront fees and relatively lenient interest rate policies, this might seem like the best of all worlds.

Even so, there are some things to watch out for.

First: A loan fundamentally changes your relationship with the person from whom you borrow. No matter what terms you’re on now or how much you love and trust this person, borrowing money introduces the potential for the relationship to sour in a hurry.

Consequently, if you do want to go this route, you need to do it the right way.

Eric Rosenberg, the chief executive of Money Mola, an app that lets friends and family track loans and calculate interest, suggests creating a contract that outlines each party’s responsibilities, how much money will be borrowed, the timeline for repayment, the payment frequency and the interest rate. He also suggests using a spreadsheet to keep track of the payments made and the balance due.

And Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and the founder of Credit Pilgrim, suggests adhering to the current guidelines for Applicable Federal Rate (AFR), which as of this writing require a minimum interest of 1.27 to 2.5 percent, depending on the length of the loan. Otherwise, you may have to explain yourself to the IRS and the person lending you the money could be charged imputed interest and have to pay additional taxes.

If you have a family member or a friend who is both willing and able to lend you money, and if your credit isn’t strong enough to qualify favorably for one of the other options above, this could be a quick and inexpensive way to consolidate your debt.

6. Retirement accounts

Employer retirement plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s often have provisions that allow you to borrow from the accumulated sums, with repayment of the loan going right back into your account.

And while you can’t borrow from an IRA, you can withdraw up to the amount you’ve contributed to a Roth IRA at any time without penalties or taxes, and you can withdraw money from a traditional IRA early if you’re willing to pay both taxes and a 10 percent penalty (with a few exceptions).

The biggest advantage of taking the money out of a retirement account is that there is no credit check. You can get the money quickly, no matter what your credit history looks like. And with a 401(k) or 403(b), you are also paying interest back to yourself rather than giving it to a lender.

Still, while there are situations in which borrowing from an employer plan can make sense, most financial experts agree that this should be considered a last-resort debt consolidation option.

One reason is simply this: Your current debt is already hindering your ability to save for the future, while taking money out of these accounts will only exacerbate the problem. Another is that tapping a retirement account now may increase the odds that it will happen again.

“I’d stay away from a 401(k) loan like the plague,” says Ryan McPherson. McPherson, based in Atlanta, Ga., is a certified financial planner and fee-only financial planner and the founder of Intelligent Worth. “With no underwriting process, and because you’re not securing it with your house, you’re more likely to do it again in the future.”

If you are in dire straits and cannot use any of the other strategies above, then borrowing or withdrawing from a retirement account may be the only consolidation option you have. Otherwise, you are likely to be better off going another route.

Things to consider before picking a debt consolidation strategy

With all these debt consolidation options at your disposal, how do you choose the right one for your situation? To be sure, it’s a key decision: The right option will make it easier for you to pay your obligations, and less likely that you’ll fall back into debt.

Here are the biggest variables you should consider before making the choice:

  1. Have you fixed the cause of the debt? Until you’ve addressed the root cause of your debt, how can any consolidation option help you get and stay out of debt?
  2. How much debt do you have? Smaller debts can be handled through any of these options. Larger debts might rule out balance transfers or borrowing from relatives or friends.
  3. What are your interest rates? You need to be able to compare your current interest rates with the interest rates you’re offered by the options above, if you want to know whether you’re getting a good deal.
  4. What is your credit score? Your score determines eligibility for various debt consolidation options, as well as the quality of the offers you’ll receive. You can check your credit score here.
  5. When do you want to be debt-free? Shorter repayment periods will cost less but require a higher monthly payment. Longer repayment periods will cost more but with a lower monthly payment. With this in mind, you need to decide both what you want and what you can afford.
  6. Do you have home equity? This determines whether a home equity loan or line of credit is an option. If it is, you should decide if you’re comfortable putting your home on the line.
  7. Do you have savings? Could you use some of your savings, outside of retirement accounts, to pay off some or all of your debt? That may allow you to avoid debt consolidation altogether and save yourself some money.

So … what’s the best consolidation strategy?

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this tough question. The right answer for you depends the specifics of the situation.

Your job is to know what you currently owe and understand the pros and cons of each option we’ve outlined above. In this fashion, you can make an informed choice, one that’ll get you out of debt now and keep you out of it forever.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt at matt@magnifymoney.com

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