Home equity loans are a great way for property owners to turn the unencumbered value of their home into cash. For homeowners with bad credit, these loans provide a way to borrow money that is more likely to get approved and offers lower interest rates than traditional loans or revolving credit lines. 

The home serves as the security or collateral. Also, the equity in the property may make up for the shortfall in your credit history. This is especially true for homeowners who have a large amount of equity in their home.

The Downside of Bad Credit Equity Loans

The downside is that you can expect to attract less favorable terms on your home equity financing, and the financing will come at a higher cost. Two examples: You may be forced to borrow a lower amount to minimize risk to the lender, and more collateral (greater equity) may be required to secure it. 

Lenders typically lend up to 80% of a home’s equity value. However, the more equity you’ve established, the more appealing your application will be. Given that your home is being used as collateral, you will be viewed as a lower-risk candidate if you own 20% or more of your home. This can be particularly helpful when you have a poor credit score. Here is what you need to know to secure the financing you need.

Key Takeaways

  • Home equity loans are a great way for property owners to turn the unencumbered value of their home into cash.
  • The downside is that you can expect to attract less favorable terms on your home equity financing, and the financing will come at a higher cost.
  • There are two main types of home equity finance, a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

Home Equity Loans vs. HELOCs

There are two main types of home equity finance. The first is a home equity loan, whereby a single lump sum is borrowed and repaid in regular installments, typically with a fixed interest rate over 25 to 30 years. The second is a home equity line of credit (HELOC), where the lender authorizes the borrower to withdraw money as needed. Most HELOCs have an adjustable rate, interest-only payments and a 10-year “draw” period, during which the borrower can access the funds. After the draw period ends, the outstanding balance must be repaid over a repayment period (typically 15 years).

1. Study Your Credit Report

Get a copy of your credit report, so you know exactly what you’re up against. (You’re entitled to a free one every year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.) Check the report thoroughly to ensure there are no inaccuracies that are causing more harm to your score (you should do this routinely). 

2. Prepare Your Financials

Gather your financial information, such as proof of income and investments, so it’s ready to present to lending institutions. They’ll want to see in black and white that you’re financially stable enough to support your loan, especially if you’ve got bad credit. If possible, pay off any outstanding debt that could adversely impact your application. 

3. Compare Rates

It’s logical to head straight to your existing lender for home equity finance, and, given that you’re already a client, the lender may offer a more appealing rate. However, this isn’t guaranteed, particularly if you have a bad credit report. Consumers with good credit often get the best rate offers, so it always makes sense to shop around, particularly when poor credit is involved. Experts say it’s a good idea to work with a mortgage broker, who can help you evaluate your choices and guide you to reputable lenders. 

4. Consider How Much Cash You Need

What is the purpose for which you are borrowing? And how much do you need to borrow? It can be tempting to shoot for the stars to maximize your loan amount, perhaps to provide a financial cushion, but this comes with the temptation to spend it. If your spending habits are under control, it can make sense to “borrow up,” and by using a HELOC, you’re only paying interest on funds as they’re spent. However, in the case of a home equity loan, you’ll be paying full interest (and principal) on the entire loan lump sum, in which case it probably pays to borrow specifically for your needs.

5. Obtain Multiple Quotes

Don’t say “yes” to the first offer. By obtaining multiple quotes, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate the best possible rate. Present your first offer to another lending institution and see if it will beat it. And don’t forget to investigate all associated borrowing fees, such as processing and closing costs, so you don't get any surprises.

6. Bring in a Co-Signer

To sweeten the deal, it may be a good idea to bring in a co-signer, someone who uses his or her credit history and income to serve as a guarantor for the loan. Be sure to choose a co-signer with impressive credit, good job stability, and significant income to maximize your chance of approval. 

7. Look at Subprime Loans

As a last resort, you can turn to lenders offering subprime loans, which are easier to qualify for and targeted to poor-credit borrowers who don’t meet traditional lending requirements. Subprime lenders typically offer lower loan limits and higher rates of interest. However, you should avoid these loans if at all possible, as they come with much greater risk and higher fees than conventional fixed-rate loans.

8. Work on Your Credit

If you find that your poor credit history is working against you, ask your lender what it would need to see from you (and your credit report) to provide a better rate. Remember, it's never too late to turn your credit score around. Consider placing your borrowing plans on hold while you implement steps to improve your rating. Mortgage lenders typically look at the dollar amount, payment history and “age” of your credit lines. Do you frequently open new accounts, miss payments and run up balances? Just changing one of these behaviors can positively affect your credit score.

Home Equity Loans Extend Debt

A home equity loan stretches mortgage debt on the property, which can leave a borrower in a vulnerable position (and unable to keep up with monthly repayments) should economic, income or employment circumstances suddenly change. Perhaps the biggest drawback associated with equity finance is that the bank could foreclose on your property if your ability to make repayments becomes compromised. What's more, you may get hit with hefty late-payment fees if you fall behind, which jeopardizes your credit reputation even more, as banks will report your delinquency to credit reporting agencies.

The Bottom Line

Are you a homeowner with bad credit? You can still leverage the value in your home to obtain cash, but you will not enjoy as much borrowing freedom as someone with a squeaky-clean credit record. Despite the “instant cash” appeal of home equity finance, the decision to obtain it shouldn’t come lightly. It is, after all, more debt and there are predatory lenders ready to take advantage of people with less-than-stellar credit. Compare rates and deals at multiple lending institutions and consider engaging a reputable mortgage broker to connect you with viable options. Even more, ask if you can wait on that loan until you improve your credit score—and your chance of getting a loan on more favorable terms.