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Understanding Home Equity: Know How Much Your House Is Worth

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Your home is more than a roof over your head — it can be a source of cash, too. Borrowing from your home equity is a fantastic way to pay for renovations or a down payment for a second property. These loans can even help you consolidate debt or pay for unexpected large expenses. Understanding how much equity you have is a simple equation. Here’s how to calculate that number and transform that equity into helpful cash.

What is home equity?

Home equity is determined by a simple calculation: the current value of your property minus the amount you owe on your mortgage.

“It’s basically the part of your house that you ‘own,’ ” said Tendayi Kapfidze, the chief economist at LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney.

As you pay off your mortgage and any other liens against the property, your equity will grow. And if you take out any new loans using your home as collateral, that equity will go down. If the value of your home goes up because the market has improved, your equity will increase as well.

For example, let’s say your home is assessed at $250,000, and you currently owe $100,000. Your home equity would be $150,000. (Although you can’t usually take out that full amount as a loan — more on that later.)

How to estimate how much your home is worth

Don’t just guesstimate your home’s worth — and “guesstimating” applies to online market-price estimates you can find by Googling your property address. These numbers may help you make an initial, very rough guess at your home equity — but making plans with that price in mind may leave you disappointed.

“You can’t know exactly how much your home is worth until you get an appraisal,” Kapfidze said.

Appraisers are experts in evaluating home worth. Not only are they familiar with the local market and comparable properties, but they know exactly how your home’s unique features affect the price. An appraiser will produce a report in which they explain exactly how they calculated your home’s worth and provide corroborating evidence.

You can find an appraiser through the International Society of Appraisers or the National Association of Realtors. But keep in mind: Many lenders request an appraisal during the closing process, and you will likely be responsible for that fee, which typically costs between $300 and $400. Depending on your circumstances, you may want to start the loan process with a lender before hiring your own appraiser.

How to tap into your home equity

Once you know how much home equity you have, you can start taking advantage of that extra cash. Home equity can be used to renovate your house, afford a down payment for a second home, consolidate debt, pay for school and more.

But “make sure you use the loan product that fits your situation,” Kapfidze said. Some loan types may cost more in interest over time, but provide much-needed flexibility. Evaluate your needs to decide if you need a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a cash-out refinance.

Home equity loans

A home equity loan is the simplest way to use your equity. This loan works much like a mortgage: You take out a fixed amount of money, often at a fixed interest rate and repay the loan in regular monthly installments. Fail to repay the loan? Your home is collateral — and the lender can foreclose on the property.

Most lenders will want you to keep at least 15% equity in your home. So, if you have $150,000 in equity for that $250,000 home, your lender will want you to keep $37,500 in equity. The maximum you’ll be able to borrow is $112,500, and that amount may be even less, depending on your finances and credit.

On the surface, the interest rate for home equity loans may seem higher than the rate for comparable HELOCs. But the security of a fixed interest rate — as opposed to a variable rate — is valuable. Getting the money in a lump sum can be helpful if you’re funding a one-time renovation, like a kitchen upgrade.

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)

Lenders’ HELOC loan requirements look very similar to those for home equity loans: Borrowers will often need to keep at least 15% equity, and the exact amount issued will depend on finances and credit. But beyond those basic similarities, HELOCs differ quite a lot.

A HELOC works kind of like a credit card: You withdraw from a revolving line of credit, which can be helpful if you’re funding something like a large, sprawling renovation. You’ll make payments against the amount you’ve borrowed, not the entire loan amount. Most HELOCs set out a fixed “draw time” when you can make withdrawals. After that time ends, you can, depending on your lender, either renew your credit line or enter a repayment period.

How that repayment is structured depends on your lender, too. Some require a single balloon payment — which you should plan ahead for, otherwise you risk a big, expensive surprise that could lead to losing your home. Other repayment periods function much like your mortgage, with monthly payments.

But here’s the big HELOC difference: the interest rate. Whereas most home equity loans offer a fixed interest rate, HELOC interest rates are typically variable. Your initial rate may look low, but it could skyrocket as the loan approaches repayment. Pay attention to a few specific terms to ensure that the loan remains affordable:

  • Periodic cap: How much can the interest rate change in one go? This prevents lenders from dramatically increasing the rate, making an inexpensive rate suddenly unaffordable.
  • Lifetime cap: How much can the interest rate change over the life of the loan? This is your loan’s worst-case scenario — so make sure you can afford repayment, even if the interest rate increases as much as possible.

Cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance is quite different from a home equity loan or a HELOC because you’re “getting a new mortgage on your property,” said Kapfidze. “You’re paying off the old mortgage with the new mortgage.”

Let’s say you still own that $250,000 property and have $150,000 in equity. Many lenders will require you to keep 20% equity in your home — so the most you can refinance is for $200,000. Your new $200,000 mortgage will pay off the old $100,000 mortgage and give you the rest in cash.

Why choose cash-out refinancing over a home equity loan or HELOC? Your new mortgage will be one single payment versus two loans. Depending on your finances, this easier payment may be a blessing. And if you’ve owned your home for a while, interest rates may have dropped dramatically. A cash-out refinance may dramatically lower your mortgage payments.

Home equity and LTV: What to know

To calculate your home’s loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which is written as a percentage, you’ll need to know your home’s appraised value and current mortgage balance. Divide your loan value — say, $100,000 — by the appraised value of $250,000 and then multiply the result by 100 to determine a LTV of 40%.

If you have multiple loans against your property, lenders will look at your combined LTV, or CLTV. This formula adds all loans together and divides that sum by the appraised value. So if you had an existing $40,000 loan on that $250,000 property, your CLTV would be 56%.

Most lenders don’t let homeowners borrow more than 85% of their home’s value, and cash-out finances are often restricted to 80%.

Borrowing from your home equity can be a great way to access cash at a cheaper rate than private loans or credit cards. And if you use the funds to improve your home or buy a new property, you may be able to deduct interest on your taxes. But beware — home equity loans, HELOCs and cash-out refinancing all require you to put your home up as collateral. If you’re willing to bear that risk, these loans can be useful financial options for homeowners.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

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.

Jamie Wiebe
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Jamie Wiebe is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a House

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Buying a House

The housing market is heating up and so is the homebuying competition. Recent data from the National Association of Realtors show that pending home sales are up nearly 5%.

Still, don’t let the increased activity pressure you into getting a mortgage before you’re truly ready. Take inventory of your personal and financial preparedness first.

Step back and ask yourself the following questions before you start your homebuying journey.

Question 1 How much house can I afford?

Prior to your house hunt, be sure you have a concrete understanding of exactly how much house you can comfortably afford. A common way to determine affordability is to get a mortgage preapproval.

A preapproval is a letter from a mortgage lender that tells you how much money you might qualify to borrow for a home purchase along with an estimated interest rate. In order to get preapproved, you’ll need to submit several documents and other pieces of information to the lender, including:

  • A government-issued I.D. (e.g. driver’s license)
  • Social Security number
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Tax returns

The lender will also pull all three of your credit reports and scores to help determine your creditworthiness.

Getting preapproved for a mortgage not only gives you a price range to use when you start shopping for a house; it also gives you an advantage over other buyers, and legitimizes you when it’s time to put in offers.

Question 2 How long do I plan to live in the home?

Homeownership is a commitment. You’re committing to the mortgage you borrow, the home you choose and the surrounding community — this isn’t the case as a renter.

The financial commitment is just as real as the moral one. Financial experts commonly say it takes five years to make the money back you spent on your house, should you decide to sell it. Owners typically stay in their home for a median of 10 years before selling, according to the Homebuyer and Seller Generational Trends Report from the National Association of Realtors.

Question 3 Am I financially secure enough for homeownership?

Don’t focus solely on stashing away just enough cash to cover your down payment. Factor in the many other costs of buying and owning a home.

Before you’re handed the keys, you also have closing costs to pay. This could run you anywhere from 2% to 5% of your home’s purchase price — not to mention all the deposits and expenses related to moving in.

You’ll also want to have a sizable cash cushion for maintenance and unexpected expenses. Aim to have at least three to six months’ worth of your living expenses saved in an emergency fund, such as a personal savings account. Be mindful of how your expenses might change as a homeowner and tweak your savings amount to reflect those changes.

Another consideration is how you’re handling your current debt obligations. If you’re struggling to stay afloat as is, a mortgage lender likely won’t approve you. That’s because one of the main qualification factors a lender pays close attention to is your debt-to-income ratio, or the percentage of your income that is used to pay your debt every month. A good DTI ratio for all your debt payments, including your estimated monthly mortgage payment, is a maximum of 43%.

Question 4 Is my credit history positive enough?

You’ll need to demonstrate your creditworthiness as a potential mortgage borrower before you’re approved. Start by pulling your credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one free report from each bureau once a year.

Review your reports for any negative remarks and errors. Do you have a history of multiple late payments? Are your credit card balances close to the limit? If you see room for improvement, you might need to postpone your homeownership goals until your credit profile is in a better position. Lenders want to see overwhelmingly positive credit habits from mortgage applicants.

You’ll generally want to have at least a 580 credit score to qualify for an FHA loan and a 620 score for a conventional loan. Read our guide on minimum mortgage requirements for more information on credit score specifics for other mortgage products.

Question 5 Which mortgage type is best for me?

There are several different mortgage products available and one may fit your financial situation better than others. For example, if you don’t have a lot of money for a down payment and have a credit score in the 600 to 700 range, you might want to go with an FHA loan, which requires just a 3.5% down payment. On the other hand, if you have at least a 5% down payment and a score above 700, you could benefit from a conventional mortgage.

There are also VA loans, which cater to military service members and veterans, USDA loans that focus on homes in designated rural areas and several other options. Speak with your lender to get a rundown of their available mortgage programs.

The bottom line

It takes some time and effort to decide to buy a home. To help in your decision, it’ll be worthwhile to develop answers to the above questions.

Once you’re ready to take that leap, shop around with multiple lenders to get the best deal. Data show that homebuyers stand to save more than $36,000 in interest on a $300,000 mortgage over a 30-year term by shopping around, according to LendingTree’s Mortgage Rate Competition Index.

Review the Loan Estimates you’ll receive from each mortgage lender after submitting your application to compare interest rates and the many other costs that come with borrowing.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

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.

Crissinda Ponder
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Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Guide to Reverse Mortgages: Is the Income Worth the Risk?

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Real estate investment. House and coins on table
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Although they have received increased attention in recent years, many consumers still have a hard time fully understanding what reverse mortgages are, how they work and who they benefit.

Continue reading for a thorough explanation on the above topics, plus a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of this complex financial product.

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows senior homeowners to borrow money against their home’s equity. Instead of making monthly payments to their mortgage lender, the homeowner receives money every month from their lender — or receives a larger amount in a lump sum. The balance owed to the lender grows over time and isn’t due until the homeowner moves out, sells the property or passes away.

Reverse mortgages are the opposite of a “forward,” or traditional, mortgage, which allows a borrower to purchase a home and repay their lender on a monthly basis. With traditional mortgages, the balance owed reduces over time until it’s completely paid off.

In both forward and reverse mortgages, the property is used as collateral for the loan. Only homeowners who are at least 62 years old can take out a reverse mortgage.

Reverse mortgage types

There are three types of reverse mortgages available to homeowners depending on their situation.

Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM)

This is the most common reverse mortgage and is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). A HECM offers more flexibility in terms of how payments are disbursed to borrowers. Payment options include:

  • A single, lump-sum disbursement.
  • Fixed monthly advances over a specified period of time.
  • Fixed monthly advances as long as you live in your home.
  • A line of credit.
  • A combination of a credit line and monthly payments.

Single-purpose reverse mortgage

As the name suggests, this type of loan is used for a single purpose, such as covering home repairs or property taxes. Loan proceeds are typically distributed in a lump sum to cover the homeowner’s financial need. Single-purpose reverse mortgages are offered by nonprofit agencies and some local and state governments.

Proprietary reverse mortgage

This loan is offered by private lenders and usually benefits borrowers with high-value homes because they may receive bigger advances.

How a reverse mortgage works

A reverse mortgage is a loan that takes a portion of your equity and converts it into payments made to you. The money you receive is typically tax-free, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Unlike a traditional home equity loan, you are not required to pay back a reverse mortgage on a set schedule.

Let’s look at an example of how a reverse mortgage works:

John is retired, has paid off his mortgage and owns his home outright. He wants to stay in his home, but needs to supplement the monthly income he receives from Social Security and his pension.

The total amount John can borrow using a reverse mortgage is based on his age and that of his spouse, current mortgage rates and the home’s value; these limits are imposed by HUD. Here’s how the numbers could possibly work out for him, based on LendingTree’s reverse mortgage calculator:

Value of the home$300,000
Title holder’s age70
Mortgage balance$0
Lump sum estimate$145,902

Based on the calculator, John might qualify for as much as $145,902 if he decides to go the single disbursement route. An advantage of getting a lump-sum payment from your lender is that the interest rate will be fixed, unlike the other options which have an adjustable interest rate.

The reverse mortgage loan limit is $726,525 for 2019, which is 150% of the conforming loan limit of $484,350 for forward mortgages. Still, even if the amount of equity you have is lower than the loan limit, you won’t be allowed to borrow the full amount.

The amount you’re allowed to borrow for a reverse mortgage is determined by the age of the youngest borrower, the home’s appraised value and the anticipated interest rate. Generally, the older you are, the more you can borrow.

Costs and fees

The most common fees associated with a reverse mortgage include:

  • A loan origination fee, which could cost up to 2% of the loan amount.
  • An initial mortgage insurance premium, which is a flat 2% fee.
  • An annual mortgage insurance premium, which is 0.5%.
  • Housing counseling, which usually costs about $125.

There are also additional closing costs and interest fees.

Reverse mortgage requirements

Senior homeowners who are interested in borrowing a reverse mortgage must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least age 62 or older.
  • Own your home outright or have a small remaining mortgage balance. If you still have a loan, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 50% equity in your home, because you’ll first need to use the reverse mortgage funds to pay off the outstanding balance on your forward mortgage.
  • Must be seeking a loan backed by your primary residence.
  • Have no federal debt delinquencies, including student loans and taxes.
  • Proof of sufficient income to cover your property taxes, homeowners insurance and other housing-related expenses.
  • Demonstrate your creditworthiness as a potential borrower. While there isn’t a minimum credit score requirement, it helps your case to be responsible with your credit usage by maintaining on-time payments, keeping your balances low, etc.
  • Participate in an information session with a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counselor.

Most reverse mortgages have what’s called a “non-recourse feature,” which means if the lender takes legal action against you due to default, the lender can only use the home to satisfy the defaulted debt and can’t come after you for any difference between how much you owe and the home’s value. This also applies to your heirs in the event you pass away and the home is sold to repay the debt.

4 things to watch for when taking out a reverse mortgage

Just like all other financial products, a reverse mortgage comes with its share of risks, which typically include the following:

Higher financing costs

Compared with a forward mortgage, the fees associated with a reverse mortgage are more costly. As an example, a HECM lender can charge an origination fee equal to $2,500 or 2% of the first $200,000 of your home’s value, whichever is greater, plus another 1% for any home value amount above $200,000. The maximum allowable origination fee is $6,000. By contrast, the average origination fee for a traditional mortgage is just under $1,000, according to data from Value Penguin, a LendingTree company.

Increase in debt

You receive income from a reverse mortgage, but it’s still a loan that you or your estate will be responsible for repaying. Since you’re borrowing from your home’s available equity, your loan balance increases over time, which adds to your outstanding debt load.

No tax deductibility

The IRS treats the income received from reverse mortgages as loan advances, and for that reason any interest paid on a reverse mortgage isn’t tax-deductible.

Rising interest rates

The majority of reverse mortgage products have an adjustable interest rate, which is subject to market fluctuations. Your rate will be at a high risk of increasing very quickly.

Reverse mortgage pros and cons

Consider the following benefits and drawbacks before applying for a reverse mortgage:

Pros

  • Increase in your monthly income. If you opt for monthly payments from your lender, a reverse mortgage gives you additional income every month on top of any retirement income you already receive.
  • Flexibility to use the funds how you see fit. If you take out a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage, there aren’t restrictions imposed on what the money is used for.
  • Ability to stay in your home. Not only do you get to keep your home, but you can keep it in your family after you pass away if your estate is able to fully repay the reverse mortgage.
  • Free from underwater mortgage stress. If your loan balance becomes greater than your home’s value, you likely won’t be on the hook for the difference between the two.

Cons

  • High upfront costs. There are origination fees, mortgage insurance expenses and closing costs in a reverse mortgage transaction. If you choose to cover these costs with your loan, you’ll receive a smaller payout.
  • Decrease in your home equity. With a reverse mortgage, your loan balance grows and your available equity shrinks over time.
  • Loan becomes due if you have a change of heart. If you decide you want to move out of or sell your home, the outstanding balance on your reverse mortgage becomes due immediately.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage. Most reverse mortgages have adjustable interest rates that will likely increase over time. As of January 2019, the latest month for which data are available, reverse mortgage rates range from 3.583% to 7.019%, according to FHA statistics.

Shopping for a reverse mortgage

The first few steps you should take when you decide you want to apply for a reverse mortgage are to educate yourself on how reverse mortgage programs work, and to determine which loan type works best for your financial situation.

Once you have those details figured out, gather multiple quotes from reverse mortgage lenders and compare the costs and fees to find the best deal available. Ask questions about any and everything that seems unclear, and don’t forget to consult a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counselor for extra help.

Consider the interest rate each lender charges, as well as the origination fee and other closing costs. Additionally, work with each lender to determine how folding the financing costs into your loan will affect the amount you ultimately receive and whether it makes sense to pay those costs out-of-pocket instead.

After you’ve closed on a reverse mortgage and — for some unforeseen reason — decide you no longer need it, you have a “right to rescission,” which means you’re allowed to cancel the deal without penalty. You have a minimum of three business days after the loan closes to notify your lender in writing, and the lender has 20 days to refund any money you’ve paid toward the financing of that loan.

FAQs about reverse mortgages

The timeline varies by lender, but the lending process could take two months or longer. Be sure to ask your loan officer for a rough idea.

No, interest paid on reverse mortgage balances is not tax-deductible.

When you pass away, your reverse mortgage becomes due and payable. If you have a surviving spouse or heirs, they will be responsible for paying back the loan, which might involve selling your house.

For HECM loans, you can find an FHA-approved lender through HUD’s website. For other types of reverse mortgages, a quick online search will reveal public and private lenders in your area.

Reverse mortgage alternatives

A reverse mortgage isn’t the best option for every senior homeowner. If you need money to fund renovations, repairs or other expenses, here are some alternative options.

Borrow a home equity loan or line of credit

If you have a sizeable amount of equity in your home, you might qualify to take out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). You borrow a lump sum of cash with a home equity loan and you’re granted a line of credit, similar to a credit card, with a HELOC. Either of these products might work better if you’re still employed, as they require you to make monthly payments after borrowing the funds.

Refinance your existing mortgage

For those borrowers who still have a mortgage balance, you could refinance your loan by extending the term and lowering your monthly payment amount, which frees up some cash in your budget. You could take advantage of a cash-out refinance, which allows you to borrow a new mortgage that’s larger than what you actually need for your house and pocket the difference.

Rent out a room

Empty-nesters with more home space than they actually need might benefit from renting out one of their bedrooms either through short- or long-term rentals. This generates extra income that can be used for remodeling, traveling or other expenses.

Don’t forget your retirement accounts

As long as you’re old enough to tap your 401(k), IRA or other retirement account without any early withdrawal penalties, going this route is a less costly way to supplement your income. Generally speaking, you can withdraw from your retirement accounts without penalty starting at age 59 ½.

The bottom line

Reverse mortgages come with additional considerations that may not always be a concern for forward mortgages, but they may provide relief for some older homeowners who want to supplement their income and also age in place.

If you can comfortably manage your insurance, tax and other obligations related to homeownership, maintain your property and keep it in good condition, and are confident that your heirs will take care of your home after your passing, a reverse mortgage could work well for you.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

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.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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