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How to Qualify for a Home Equity Loan

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.

Buying a house is an investment, one that can open opportunities in numerous areas of your life. Not only does it become a home for you and your family, you can also borrow money against the property, creating financial flexibility for a wide range of goals.You can access that flexibility is through a home equity loan (HEL) or home equity line of credit (HELOC).

When you take out a home equity loan, you receive a lump sum that you repay at a fixed interest rate.

With a home equity line of credit, you’re approved to borrow a certain amount, but you don’t need to use it all right away.

If you’re approved for $100,000, you might borrow in increments of $15,000 or $20,000, depending on your needs. Unlike HELs, HELOCs typically come with adjustable interest rates, though there are variations in the product terms you’ll want to compare to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances.

What it takes to qualify for a home equity loan

There are three key factors that impact your chances of being approved for a HEL or HELOC.

Decent credit. The first is your credit score. Because some lenders are more conservative than others, each will have different credit thresholds for approval.

“Getting a home equity is very similar to getting a mortgage,” Kelly Kockos, senior vice president in home equity product management at Wells Fargo, told MagnifyMoney. Borrowers will likely need at least fair to good credit to qualify for a home equity product, she says.

Substantial equity. The second element that needs to be in place is your available equity, which is determined by your existing mortgage balance and the total value of your home. If you’re approved for a loan or line of credit, the lender will decide how much of your equity you can borrow against. Depending how their products are structured, they may allow you to borrow up to 85% of your available equity. Most lenders won’t go above 85%, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, says a good rule of thumb is to have a loan-to-value ratio that’s well below 80% before applying for a home equity product (Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney). He suggests that if a home is worth $100,000, a mortgage balance of $50,000 would be a healthy ratio for taking out a home equity loan or line of credit. Assuming a lender allows you to borrow up to 80% of your home value and that you meet all other criteria, you might be approved for up to $30,000 to use as you see fit.

Kapfidze says the percentage for which you’ll be approved depends on the lender’s criteria and the relationship you have with them. If you hold other assets with them, they may feel comfortable offering a higher loan or line of credit, he says. But regardless of where you apply, equity below 80% will provide enough of a gap between your remaining mortgage and your home’s value to borrow the money you need.

Low debt. Finally, lenders will take your debt-to-income ratio into account. As with other credit decisions, they’ll look at how much you pay each month on your mortgage, student loans, car payments and credit cards, Kockos says. Keeping these as low as possible will boost your chances of approval because a high debt-to-income ratio may raise red flags about your ability to manage another significant payment.

“If your debt is over 43% of your income, then it’s probably not a good thing for you to take on more debt,” Kockos said.

The benefits of home equity loans and lines of credit

Both HELs and HELOCs provide access to funds and offer a means to cover important expenses.

Kapfidze says that because home equity products are backed by your house as collateral, you’ll often secure better interest rates than you would through a personal loan or credit card. That’s why some consumers will use home equity to purchase cars or pay off student loans, because they’re able to secure better interest rates that way.

Whether you choose a home equity loan or line of credit depends on your particular circumstances.

Depending on how you use your loan, you may qualify for a tax deduction. You may choose to limit your home equity spending based on new tax limitations as well. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act stipulates that you can only deduct interest paid on a home equity loan or line of credit if you use the funds to renovate, build or purchase the house that secures the loan, according to the IRS.

Who home equity loans are best for: Kockos says that home equity loans make sense for consumers who know they need a set amount of cash right away. If you’re facing a major expense with a set dollar amount — a medical procedure or a roof replacement, for instance — you may want to take out a loan for the exact amount you want to borrow. You can then lock it in at a fixed interest rate and you’ll know what your monthly payments will be for the duration of the loan.

Who HELOCs are best for: A home equity line of credit may make more sense if you want access to a certain amount of money but don’t necessarily want to use it all immediately. Unlike with an HEL, you’ll only pay on what you’ve already drawn from a HELOC. Kockos offers the example of using a HELOC to cover home remodeling expenses. You might be approved for $100,000 but you may not pay all of your contractors at once. Instead, you might pay $25,000 to one vendor this month and $10,000 to another next month. If that’s the case, you’d use your credit line as each expense comes up, and you only pay interest on the funds you’ve already drawn.

David Gorman, a division executive at Bank of America, says a home equity line of credit has become increasingly popular among both lenders and borrowers. “You very rarely see home equity loans anymore,” he said.

He attributes this shift to the flexibility of HELOCs. Even consumers who want to lock in a fixed rate can do so on their lines of credit, he explains. If you spend $30,000 of an $80,000 line of credit on roof repairs, you can lock in that $30,000 at a fixed rate to avoid significant interest increases during repayment. This provides some of the security of a home equity loan without sacrificing the benefits of the HELOC.

“It acts almost the same, and they don’t have to take it all out upfront,” Gorman said. “It provides you significant flexibility.”

The risks of home equity loans

The number one risk you must be aware of when you apply for a home equity product is that you’re borrowing against your home, and your lender can foreclose on it if you don’t make your payments.

“You’re risking your house, whereas with other types of loans, you may pay a higher interest rate but you’re not putting your house ‘on the line,’” Kapfidze said. Consumers should be well aware of that risk when applying for a home equity product, he added, but if they go into it with a full understanding of the terms, they’ll find that they are likely to get the best rates through these options.

Knowing that your house is at stake makes it vitally important to think carefully about how you spend your home equity funds. You can use the money however you choose, whether that’s to repair your basement after a flood or take a second honeymoon. However, paying for nonessential renovations or family vacations leaves you with less money to cover emergencies, not to mention with potentially significant debt that could become difficult to repay. Gorman says that Bank of America doesn’t advise borrowers on how to spend their money, but he says that misuse of funds is one of the biggest pitfalls that ensnare consumers.

“Should they actually need the equity in their house for other things down the road, they may no longer have it,” he said.

Shopping for a home equity loan

Look beyond the interest rate. The obvious comparison point when comparing HEL and HELOC offers is the interest rate. However, there are several other factors to consider as well. One is the fee — how much is the lender charging on top of your monthly interest payment? Another is whether there are rate caps in place to protect you against future interest rate spikes. Kockos recommends looking at annual and lifetime rate caps to determine which offers provide the best protection features throughout the life of the loan.

Compare flexibility. Kockos also suggests comparing product flexibility among HELOCs. Some lenders will offer lock and unlock features for their home equity lines of credit. This allows you to secure a portion of your spending at current interest rates but unlock it later if rates drop and you want to secure those instead. If your lender offers a lock and unlock option, be sure to ask how many times a year you’re allowed to use that feature so you’ll know how agile you can be based on rate volatility. Kockos notes that some lenders will offer promotions or discounts on fixed-rate home equity loans, so it’s worth inquiring about those as well.

Consider closing costs. Jorge Davila, vice president of sales, consumer direct and digital mortgage lending at Flagstar Bank, says it’s important to compare post-closing services as well. He recommends comparing when and how you’ll be able to access funds, whether there are mobile management options and whether there are prepayment penalties for your loan or line of credit. Factoring in servicing features along with rates and protections will give you a full picture of what you can expect from working with a lender.

What to do if you don’t qualify for home equity products

From a lender’s perspective, issuing a home equity loan or line of credit is riskier than giving someone a mortgage. Kapfidze explains that the mortgage lender has the first lien, meaning that they’ll be repaid first if you default on your loans. Because the home equity lender has the second lien and therefore carries more risk, their approval thresholds are likely higher. This means that your chances of qualifying for a home equity product may be lower.

However, if you still need access to a large sum of money, you may qualify for a cash-out refinance. In this case, you would refinance your current mortgage for a higher dollar amount that includes the remaining balance on the loan plus additional funds you can use for renovations and other needs. The difference between the two is what’s available for spending. Kapfidze notes that consumers can see higher interest rates on their refinanced mortgages than on their existing mortgages, so it’s important to be aware of the additional costs you’ll incur before pursuing this option.

Making the right home equity decision

The first step in applying for a home equity loan or line of credit is meeting with lenders. They can explain the qualification process so you’ll know exactly what to expect. But you’ll also want to dig into the specifics of their offers and get a sense of what it will be like to work with them. As with a mortgage, you may be repaying this loan over decades, so you want to make sure their terms and support options work for your needs. The right lender can help you determine how much to borrow and how to maximize the opportunities associated with home equity borrowing.

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.

Casey Hynes
Casey Hynes |

Casey Hynes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Casey 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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Life Events, Mortgage

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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