Many people turn to home improvement loans even though saving up and paying cash for home improvements is often the least expensive option. After all, when you pay cash, you don’t have to pay interest. However, sometimes home improvements come in the form of emergency repairs, and paying interest on a loan is less costly than saving up to pay cash while your roof leaks for months and causes mold, rot and damaged ceilings that will cost even more to repair later.
What’s more, sometimes making a necessary change to a house to keep it livable makes more sense than moving, even if you have to borrow. And some people just won’t want to wait to make upgrades; they’ll prefer to borrow now for that nice kitchen and pay off the project over time. Whatever the reason, if you’re going to borrow money for home improvements, you should know what your options are and which ones might be best for your situation.
Traditional Home Improvement Loans
A traditional home improvement loan lets homeowners borrow a lump sum to pay for the necessary labor and materials to complete projects such as remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, adding a swimming pool to the backyard or replacing an aging HVAC system. Credit unions, traditional banks and online lenders offer home improvement loans. These are unsecured loans, meaning the homeowner doesn’t provide any collateral for the loan. As a result, the interest rate will be higher than it would be for a secured loan, such as a home equity loan.
The interest rate will also depend on the borrower’s credit score, the loan term and the amount borrowed. For example, SunTrust Bank offers home improvement loans for $5,000 to $9,999 with terms of 24 to 36 months and interest rates of 6.79% to 12.79% (rates include an autopay discount of 0.50%), while a loan of $50,000 to $100,000 for the same amount of time comes with an interest rate of 4.79% to 10.29%.
Personal Loans and Personal Lines of Credit
A personal loan gives borrowers an unsecured lump sum that can be used for any purpose. People use personal loans to start businesses, pay for vacations, consolidate debt and more. Like a home improvement loan, but unlike a home equity loan, a personal loan doesn’t require collateral and doesn’t put your home or other assets at risk. That being said, a lower interest rate and/or larger loan amount may be available by getting a secured personal loan rather than an unsecured one. Borrowing minimums are low, as are loan fees, and you can get a personal loan even if you don’t have any home equity. These loans are also typically funded quickly. (For more, see 8 Possible Risks of Unsecured Personal Loans and 6 Ways to Get the Best Personal Loan Rate.)
A personal line of credit is similar to a personal loan, except that instead of borrowing a lump sum all at once, the borrower can draw upon a line of credit as needed for a certain number of years. A line of credit can help homeowners avoid borrowing more than they need to by letting them access cash only as they need it. But for homeowners who don’t carefully track their borrowing, a line of credit can make it easy to borrow more than intended. Many small draws on the credit line over time can add up to a large total amount borrowed.
The repayment period for a traditional home improvement loan, personal loan or line of credit is usually shorter than the repayment period for a home equity loan or line of credit. The borrower may pay less in interest over time as a result, although monthly loan payments may be higher.
With peer-to-peer borrowing, you can get an unsecured loan for your home improvement project. Your loan will be funded by numerous investors who typically provide small amounts of money to many different loans to diversify their risk. You’ll make one monthly payment that will feel like repaying any other loan.
As with other lenders, your interest rate will be based on your credit score, how much you want to borrow and your repayment period. Because these loans have relatively short repayment periods of three to five years, you’ll get out of debt quickly and won’t be paying interest for years. And you may be able to get a peer-to-peer loan even though you have less-than-stellar credit, though you can expect to pay a high interest rate if you’re approved.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it makes sense to pay 30% interest to make a home improvement. But if you’re desperate, a peer-to-peer loan with a high interest rate can be a better option than charging the expense to a credit card with a high interest rate because you’ll be forced to repay the peer-to-peer loan within a few years, unlike a credit card balance, which you can drag out and pay interest on forever.
Lending Club, Prosper and Peerform all offer home improvement loans with fixed interest rates. They also let you find out what interest rate you’re eligible for without impacting your credit score by filling out a short online form. (For more see The 7 Best Peer-to-Peer Lending Websites.)
Home Equity Loan, Home Equity Line of Credit or a Hybrid
Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are popular ways to pay for home improvements because they have long repayment periods, which means the monthly payments are low. They also have low interest rates, as they’re secured by your home, and the interest is tax deductible if you itemize. But there is a small risk of losing your home when you take out this type of loan, because if you default, the lender can foreclose. Also, you take 20 to 30 years to repay your home equity loan or HELOC; it can actually cost you more in interest than a shorter-term loan with a higher interest rate, such as a traditional home improvement loan or a personal loan.
A home equity loan lets you borrow a lump sum all at once, while a HELOC lets you draw on a line of credit as needed for a certain number of years, called the draw period. During the draw period, you only have to repay interest on the loan, which makes monthly payments quite small but can result in payment shock later when the draw period ends and the borrower has to start repaying principal too. In addition, a HELOC has a variable interest rate, while a home equity loan has a fixed interest rate. A HELOC’s initial rate may be lower than a home equity loan’s, but over time it can become higher if market conditions push interest rates up. (For more, see Choosing a Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit.)
Some HELOCs offer the best of both worlds, allowing you both to draw upon a line of credit as needed but also to lock in a portion of what you’ve borrowed at a fixed interest rate, giving you greater repayment certainty. (For more, see How a HELOC Fixed-Rate Option Works.)
In a cash-out refinance, you get a new loan to replace your mortgage, but instead of borrowing the same amount you currently owe, you borrow more. Let’s say your home is worth $240,000 and you owe $120,000 on your mortgage. If you did a cash-out refinance, you could get a new loan for $192,000. After paying off your $120,000 mortgage, you would have $72,000 to put toward home improvements (or any other purpose, such as sending your child to college).
Doing a cash-out refinance means it will take you longer to pay off your home, but it also gives you access to the lowest possible borrowing rates to pay for home improvements. Lenders typically require homeowners to retain some equity after the cash-out refinance, commonly 20%, so you’ll need to have plenty of equity if you want to pursue this option. You’ll also need to be employed, have a good credit score and meet all the usual requirements to get a mortgage. (For more, see When (And When Not) to Refinance Your Mortgage)
Local Government Loans
Some local governments offer loans to help homeowners, especially those with low income and the elderly, pay for home improvements. Here are two examples of such programs
- Boulder, Colo. – The city offers loans at 1% or 3% interest on up to $25,000 for single-family homes that need health and safety repairs or energy conservation improvements. The homeowner must have assets of less than $50,000. The loan doesn’t have to be repaid for 15 years or until selling the home, whichever comes first.
- St. Paul, Minn. – Subject to income limits, homeowners can get a loan of $2,000 to $50,000 at 4% interest for a room addition or a new garage, a new furnace or an air-conditioning installation, a roof replacement and a few other items. Another option is a loan of $1,000 to $25,000 with deferred payment for basic and necessary improvements that directly affect the home’s safety, habitability, energy efficiency or accessibility. These loans aren’t due until the borrower sells, transfers title or moves, and they may be forgiven after 30 years of continued ownership and occupancy.
Such programs aren’t available everywhere, but there are quite a few out there. Check with your local government to see if one exists in your area and what the requirements are.
FHA Title I Property Improvement Loans
Homeowners with limited equity can get an FHA Title I loan for improvements that make a home more livable and useful, including accessibility improvements and energy conservation improvements. These loans can’t be used for luxury items such as swimming pools or outdoor fireplaces, however. Loans for less than $7,500 are usually unsecured; the most a homeowner can borrow is $25,000 for 20 years to improve a single-family home. The lender determines the interest rate. You’ll need to find an FHA-approved Title I lender to get this type of loan. As with any loan, you’ll need good credit and a demonstrated ability to repay the loan.
0% Introductory Rate Credit Card
If you have very good to excellent credit, you can probably get approved for a new credit card that will charge you no interest on new purchases for nine to 18 months. Cards that have such an offer as of Dec. 5, 2016, include Chase Slate (0% APR for 15 months, no annual fee) and Capital One QuicksilverOne (0% APR for 9 months, $39 annual fee). Many other offers are available from both credit unions and banks.
The catch is that to keep the 0% rate, you will likely be required to make minimum monthly payments on time every month, even during the 0% introductory period. You need a clear plan for repaying the full amount you borrow before the introductory period ends, or else you will have to pay interest on the remaining balance, usually at a much higher rate.
If you tend to have trouble getting out of debt, keeping your finances organized or meeting deadlines, this isn’t a good option for you. Borrowers who are disciplined, detail oriented and spend within their means could find this to be the least expensive option. However, it may not be possible to borrow as much with a credit card as you could with a home equity loan or cash out refinance, depending on how much equity you have and how good your credit is.
The Bottom Line
There are many ways to pay for home improvements, from traditional home improvement loans to personal loans to home equity lines of credit to government programs to credit cards. Regardless of which type of loan you’re considering and what type of lender you want to work with, shopping around will help you make sure that you’re getting the best rate and terms on your home improvement loan. If you apply with several lenders within a short period, the impact on your credit score will be minimal. (For more, see The 5 Biggest Factors That Affect Your Credit, An Introduction to the FHA 203(k) Loan and Applying for an FHA 203(k) Loan.)