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Home Equity Loan vs. Home Equity Line of Credit

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Looking to borrow against the equity in your home? Maybe you have heard the terms home equity loan and home equity line of credit (HELOC) before and wondered what the difference really is. This article will compare the two types of borrowing and take you through the pros and cons of each one.

Home equity loan vs. HELOC: What’s the difference?

Home equity loan. With a home equity loan, you borrow a lump sum of cash using the value in your home as collateral. The loan will have a fixed schedule for repayment, usually lasting between 5 and 15 years. They often have a fixed interest rate as well, though adjustable rate versions are available.

HELOC. A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is an ongoing line of credit that’s backed by your home’s equity — think of it a bit like a credit card. Your bank will authorize a certain dollar amount (similar to a credit card’s credit limit) and period of time during which you can access the line of credit, known as the draw period. Within this time, you borrow only what you need as you need it, though some banks do set a minimum withdrawal. You can make interest-only payments only on the amount you choose to borrow or pay more to start contributing towards the principle.

Next comes the repayment period, where you can’t take out any new funds and need to start repaying the amount you’ve borrowed, if you have not already. Interest rates on HELOCs are variable and often pegged to the prime interest rate.

Comparing home equity loans and lines of credit

 

HELOC

Home equity loan

Interest rate

Variable

Fixed, but sometimes variable

Funds access

Withdraw funds as needed

Lump-sum disbursement

Funds use

No restrictions

No restrictions

Monthly payments

Varies, based on how much you withdraw and interest rate at the time

Fixed for the life of the loan

Closing costs

Yes, but not always

Yes

Collateral

Home equity

Home equity

The two types of borrowing do have two major things in common: They are backed by the equity in your home, and there are no restrictions on what you can do with the cash.

With both home equity loans and HELOCs, the maximum amount you can borrow varies depending on your credit and the lender, but generally tops out at 80% to 95% of the your home equity. To calculate your home equity, start with the valueof your house (from an appraisal, if available) and subtract the amount remaining on your loan. You can also use LendingTree’s home equity calculator to estimate how much you can borrow. (Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.)

Since the loans are backed by your home equity, the interest rates are usually lower than for unsecured forms of credit like credit cards or personal loans.

It’s up to you what you do with the money from either type of loan. You can make improvements to your home, pay for a vacation or put your kids through college.

However, Brett Anderson, a certified financial planner and president of St. Croix Advisors, said it’s important to think carefully about borrowing against your home equity, which is likely one of your largest assets.

“Remember these are loans that need to be paid back. A home equity loan isn’t free money, even with these low interest rates,” he said.

Tax changes’ impact home equity loans and HELOCs

New laws have changed tax deductions related to home equity loans and HELOCs. From the 2018 tax year until 2026, the IRS says borrowers cannot deduct interest payments on these types of loans, “unless they are used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.”

In addition, starting in 2018, taxpayers may only deduct interest on $750,000 of qualified loans, or $375,000 for a married taxpayer filing separately. If you have a HELOC or a home equity loan and a regular mortgage, this limit applies to the combined amount of both loans. This limit is lower than it was previously.

So for example, if you take a $100,000 home equity loan and spend $75,000 on a kitchen renovation and $25,000 paying off credit card debt, only 75% of your interest payments is tax-deductible.

Randy Key, home loan specialist at Churchill Mortgage, told MagnifyMoney he’s seen interest in home equity loans and HELOCs drop after the tax changes.

Benefits and risks of a home equity loan

Given the current economic environment of rising interest rates, one of the main benefits of a home equity loan is having a fixed interest rate for the term of the loan — you get a lump sum upfront and have the same steady payment, even if the Federal Reserve continues to hike rates. That makes a home equity loan easier to budget for, said Anderson.

A home equity loan does have some drawbacks. If you already have a mortgage, you’ll have to keep track of two loans and make two seperate payments every month. A home equity loan also has the same sort of closing costs as a regular mortgage. Those costs can take their toll, especially if you aren’t looking to borrow that much money, Key said.

The rate the lender offers you for a home equity loan depends on your credit score. If your score is under 700, you’ll pay a higher rate to compensate for the risk the bank feels it’s taking on, Key said.

Benefits and risks of a HELOC

A big advantage of a HELOC is the flexibility. You get to withdraw the cash when you need it and only pay interest on the amount you use — however, be aware that most lenders require a minimum withdrawal at the closing.

HELOCs can have lower upfront costs than home equity loans, with some lenders offering to pay for closing costs. Key said if you are willing to base your line of credit off the tax appraisal value of your house, most lenders will do a HELOC without a new appraisal.

The major downside of HELOCs is that they use a variable interest rate pegged to the prime rate, which is set to go even higher this year. This means if you have a HELOC, your interest payments are going to get bigger. You’ll also need a strong credit score to qualify; according to Key, a score around 650 is often required, though it depends on the lender.

Equifax data shows that interest in HELOCs is going down, which Key attributed to both the tax changes and the rising interest rates. He said many of his customers are choosing to refinance to combine an existing first mortgage with a HELOC into one loan.

“With a rising rate market, people are seeing that HELOC rate could be 1% higher next year and thinking, ‘I have to do something about this,’” he said.

Which loan type is right for you?

When choosing between a HELOC or a home equity loan, experts say it is important to consider why you need the money: Is it a set project or a variable need?

Going with a home equity loan instead of a line of credit is usually the best choice to pay for a specific plan, like remodeling a kitchen or buying a vacation house.

“[If] you have a purpose for these dollars today, and you know the amount you’ll need, a home equity loan might be a better alternative,” Anderson said.

A HELOC is generally a better choice if you need some added cash but not a fixed amount or fixed timeline. Key recommends them for customers looking to cover “a tight month in the budget or maybe they are investors who want to be able to tap money quickly.”

The third option: a cash-out refinance

If you are considering a home equity loan or a HELOC, you might want to look at a third option: a cash-out refinance.

A cash-out refinance is designed to improve on the terms of an existing mortgage and provide additional cash at the same time. You’ll be refinancing and taking equity out your home at the same time, leading to one new loan with a larger balance than your previous one.

A cash-out refinance is a good option if you need money and at the same time want to improve the terms of your current mortgage by securing a better interest rate or converting an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate one. But be mindful of the fees involved, which can be high depending on the circumstances.

Key has recommended these to a lot of borrowers at the moment who need big chunk of cash for a project like a renovation or putting a pool. With interest rates heading higher, he said, if a borrower needs $100,000 to $300,000, “a HELOC is not a good place to park that much in debt.”

Closing thoughts

Any decision to borrow against the equity in your home should not be taken lightly. The overall volume of both home equity loans and HELOCs has declined since the 2008 financial crisis, when falling property prices burned some borrowers who had borrowed too much against the equity of their homes.

If you need cash and choose to use your home as collateral, a home equity loan is generally the best choice for financing a project with a set cost. A HELOC provides more flexible access to money, but rising interest rates will make these a more expensive choice in the coming year. It’s also worth considering a cash-out refinance, which could potentially improve the terms of your current mortgage while also giving you extra cash to spend.

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Pamela Boykoff
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Pamela Boykoff is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Pamela here

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Mortgage

Should You Save for Retirement or Pay Down Your Mortgage?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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On the list of financial priorities, which comes first — paying off your mortgage or saving for retirement? The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, owning a home with no mortgage attached to it provides long term security knowing you’ll have a place to live with no monthly payment except property taxes and insurance. However, you’ll also need income to live on if you plan to retire, and how much you save now will have a big impact on your quality of retirement life.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of whether you should save for retirement or pay down your mortgage, or maybe a combination of both.

Pros of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

The faster you pay your mortgage off, the sooner you own the home outright. However, there are other benefits you’ll realize if you take extra measures to pay your loan balance off faster.

You could save thousands in long-term interest charges

Most homeowners take out a 30-year mortgage to keep their monthly payments as low as possible. The price for that affordable payment is a big bill for interest charged over the 360 payments you’ll make if you’re in your “forever” home.

For example, a 30-year fixed $200,000 loan at 4.375% comes with a lifetime interest charge of $159,485.39. That’s if you never pay a penny more than your fixed mortgage payment for that 30-year period. Using additional funds to pay down your mortgage faster can significantly reduce this.

Even one extra payment a year results in $27,216.79 in interest savings on the loan we mentioned above. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to throw your mortgage-free party four years and five months sooner.

You’ll build equity much faster

Thanks to a beautiful thing called amortization, lenders make sure the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest rather than principal in the beginning of your loan term. Because of that, it’s difficult to make a real dent in your loan principal for many years. You can, however, counteract this by making additional payments on your mortgage and telling the lender to specifically put those payments toward your principal balance instead of interest.

Not only do you pay less interest over the long haul with this strategy, but you build the amount of equity you have in your home much faster. And to homeowners, equity is gold — you’re closer to owning your home outright, and equity can also be a resource if you need funds for a home improvement project or another big expense.

You can access that equity as your financial needs change by doing a cash-out refinance or by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HEL or HELOC).

You won’t lose your home if values drop

When you contribute extra money into a retirement account, there is always the risk that you’ll lose some or all of the money you invested. When you contribute money to paying off your mortgage, even if the values drop, you still have the security of a place to live, and are increasing the equity in the home, no matter how much it’s ultimately worth.

Making extra payments ensures you’ll eventually have a debt-free asset that provides shelter to you and your family, regardless of what happens to the housing market in your neighborhood.

Cons of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

There are some cases where paying down your mortgage faster might actually hurt you financially. Before adding extra principal to your mortgage payments, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing damage to your financial outlook with an extra contribution toward your mortgage payoff.

You might end up paying more in taxes

The higher interest payments you make during the early years of your mortgage can act as a tax benefit, so paying the balance down faster could actually result in you owning more in federal taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket in the early (first 10 years) of your mortgage repayment schedule, it may make sense to focus extra funds on retirement savings, and let your mortgage interest deduction work for you. Of course, everyone’s tax situation is different, so you’ll have to decide (with help from an accountant ideally) if it makes sense to itemize your taxes in order to claim mortgage interest payments as a deduction.

You won’t get to enjoy the return on your paydown dollars until you sell

The only real benchmark for figuring out the value of paying down your mortgage is to look at how much equity you’re gaining over time. However, the equity doesn’t become a tangible profit until you actually sell your home. And the costs of a sale can take a big bite out of your equity because sellers usually pay the real estate agent fees.

Home equity is harder to access

The only way to access the equity you’ve built up is to borrow against it, or sell your home. Borrowing against equity often requires proof of income, assets and credit to confirm you meet the approval requirements for each equity loan option. If you fall on hard financial times due to a job loss, or are unable to pay your bills and your credit scores drop substantially, you may not be able to access your equity.

Pros of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

Depending on your financial situation and savings habits, it may be better to add extra funds monthly to your retirement account than to pay down your mortgage. Here are a few reasons why.

You may earn a higher return on dollars invested in retirement funds

The growth rate for a stock portfolio has consistently returned more than housing price returns. The average return in the benchmark S&P stock fund is 6.595% for funds invested from the beginning of 1900 to present, while home values have increased just 0.1% per year after accounting for inflation during that same time period.

Assuming your portfolio at least earns 7%, if you consistently invest your money into a balanced investment portfolio, you can expect to double your money every 10 years. There aren’t many housing markets that can promise that kind of growth.

Retirement funds are generally easier to access than home equity

Retirement funds often give you a variety of options for each access, with no income or credit verification requirements, and only sufficient proof of enough funds in your account to pay it back over time. For example, a 401k loan through the company you work for will just require you to have enough vested to support the loan request, and sufficient funds left over to pay it off over a reasonable time.

Just be cautious about making a 401k withdrawal, which is treated totally differently than a loan. You aren’t expected to pay it back like you would a 401k loan, but you could get hit with taxes and penalties.

Cons of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

You’ll need to weather the ups and downs of the market

Most people who have invested money in the stock market or tracked the performance of their 401k over decades have stories about periods when the value of those investments dropped substantially. While the 7% return on investment is a reliable long term indicator how much your retirement fund might earn, the path to that return is hardly linear.

For example, if you were considering retirement between 1999 and 2002, you may have had to delay those plans when the S & P plummeted over 23% in value in 2002. If you look at each 10-year period since the 1930s, every decade has been characterized by periods of ups and downs.

Calculating the benefit of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

If you’re torn as to what to do with that extra cash or windfall, let’s look at an example of someone who has an extra $200 to put into either their nest egg or their mortgage each month for the next 30 years.

For this scenario, we’re going to assume their retirement account earns an average 7% rate of return and that their mortgage loan balance is $200,000.

Here’s how much they’d save:

Savings From Paying $200 per Month Down on Your Mortgage
Years PaidMortgage Interest SavingsExtra Equity in HomeTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$6,040$30,039$36,079
20 years$28,529$76,529$105,058
22 years 6 months$50,745$200,000$250,745

One thing you may notice about the mortgage savings chart — it includes how much extra equity you’re building. Often only the mortgage interest savings is cited when people look at how much you save with extra payments, but that ignores the fact that you’re building equity in your home much faster as well. So not only do you save over $50,000 in interest with your extra contribution, you replenish $150,000 of equity that was used up by your mortgage balance.

As you can see, adding that extra $200 to their mortgage principal each month saved them about $200,000 in the long haul — but the real savings don’t stop there.

By adding an extra $200 to their mortgage payment each month, this borrower turned their 30-year loan into a 22-and-a-half year loan and became mortgage debt-free seven years faster.

That means, in addition to saving $50,000 in interest savings and gaining $200,000 of equity, they also no longer have a mortgage payment. That frees up $998.57 per month that they can now use as discretionary income. That’s an extra $89,871 they could potentially save over that 7.5 year period.

When you add that to the $250,745.41 they saved on mortgage interest and earned in home equity, they’re looking at a total savings of $340,616.

That gives the mortgage paydown a $54,000 net positive edge over saving that extra $200 for retirement, as you can see in the table below.

Savings From Contributing $200 per Month to a Retirement Fund
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$34,404
20 years$102,081
30 years$235,212

The one caveat for this retirement calculation is we assumed the saver was starting at a $0 investment balance. If they already had a healthy balance in their nest egg, they might actually come out in better shape than paying down their mortgage.

There are clearly benefits to each option, and you should consider running your own calculations with your real numbers to get the best answer for yourself.

Paying down your mortgage and saving for retirement at the same time

There’s a fair case to be made for both paying down your mortgage and saving more for retirement, but why choose? If you’re somewhat on track with your retirement savings goals, and like the idea of having your mortgage paid off quicker, you could allocate a certain amount to each.

Pick a number you feel comfortable paying to your principal every month, and then to your 401k, and put it on autopilot for a year. Any time your income increases, or you get bonuses, divide up the amount between principal pay down and retirement additions.

Let’s look at what happens if you evenly divide up your $200 per month between investing your retirement and paying down your mortgage. We’ll use the same $200,000 loan at 4.375% referenced above, and look at the lifetime results.

Savings From Paying $100 Down on Your Mortgage Until Paid Off
Years PaidInterest SavingsExtra Home EquityTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$3,020$15,020$18,040
20 years$14,265$38,265$52,350
25 years$30,534$200,000$230,534
Savings From Contributing $100 to a Retirement Fund for 30 Years
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$17,202
20 years$51,401
30 years$117,607

Balancing the $100 investment in both strategies still yields a six-figure retirement balance after 30 decades, a debt-free house after 26 years, and shaves off $30,000 in mortgage interest expense. If you don’t like putting all your eggs into one financial basket, this may balance the risks and rewards of each option.

Final thoughts

Looking at the short term and the long term may provide you with the best framework for making a good decision about how to spend dollars on retirement versus extra mortgage payments. Be wary of any financial professional that tells you one path is absolutely better than another.

Having a stable source of affordable shelter is equally as important as having enough income to live when you retire, so a balanced approach to paying down your mortgage and savings for retirement may help you accomplish both goals.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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What Is Mortgage Amortization?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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