Best HELOC Lenders of 2023

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How a HELOC works

A HELOC works similarly to a credit card: you’re able to borrow up to a certain limit as needed, rather than taking out a lump sum all at once. Unlike a credit card, however, you shouldn’t use a HELOC to pay for everyday expenses. Just like with your first mortgage, you could lose your home to foreclosure if you aren’t able to make payments. Because of this risk, it’s best to use your equity to reinvest in your home with projects that will increase its value.

The lender uses your home’s value to set the HELOC limit, and they’ll let you borrow a percentage of what you own. You may borrow during a draw period that lasts for several years (usually 10) and pay interest only on the balance. After the draw period ends, you may no longer take money out, and you pay the principal plus interest.

To obtain the best HELOC rates, make sure you comparison shop, preferably among at least three lenders. By shopping around, you’re likely to find the combination of features and interest rate that make the best home equity line of credit for your needs. The best rates are also typically reserved for borrowers with excellent credit scores and low amounts of existing debt.

Pros and cons of HELOCs

A HELOC can have a variable interest rate, which means it can go up or down over time. When the interest rate rises, the minimum monthly payment may increase, too. Less commonly, some lenders offer a fixed-rate HELOC option, meaning that you can lock in some or all of the loan balance at a specific APR.

There are two major disadvantages to a HELOC: The interest rate can rise, and you can get in over your head if you’re not careful. You may end up borrowing so much that you can’t comfortably afford the principal and interest during the repayment period.Defaulting on a HELOC could put your home at risk of foreclosure.

Alternatives to HELOCs

A HELOC is not your only option for tapping your home’s equity. If you know exactly how much you need to borrow, you may consider a home equity loan, which you receive as a lump sum and pay back at a fixed rate.

While this has less flexibility than a HELOC, payments are predictable.

If you need to borrow more money than you’d qualify for with a HELOC or home equity loan, a cash-out refinance may be the right choice for you. This replaces your original mortgage with a larger one, and you receive the difference between the value of the loan and the amount you currently owe in cash. If rates have risen since you closed on your mortgage, this is unlikely to be your best option.

Finally, if you cannot qualify for a HELOC but absolutely need cash flow, a shared appreciation agreement may be worth exploring. This transaction allows you to sell off a stake in your future equity earnings to a company in exchange for an advance on some of your current equity. This type of agreement is typically for homeowners with a lot of equity but little cash reserves, and most consumers are better served by a HELOC if they can get one. You risk losing out on equity profits by mortgaging the future value of your home, so think carefully before choosing this option.

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