What Is a Hard Money Loan?

A hard money loan is a type of loan that is secured by real property. Hard money loans are considered loans of "last resort" or short-term bridge loans. These loans are primarily used in real estate transactions, with the lender generally being individuals or companies and not banks.

Key Takeaways

  • Hard money loans are primarily used for real estate transactions and are money from an individual or company and not a bank.
  • A hard money loan, usually taken out for a short time, is a way to raise money quickly but at a higher cost and lower LTV ratio.
  • Because hard money loans rely on collateral rather than the financial position of the applicant, the funding time frame is shorter.
  • Terms of hard money loans can often be negotiated between the lender and the borrower. These loans typically use property as collateral. 
  • Default by the borrower can still result in a profitable transaction for the lender through collecting the collateral.

How a Hard Money Loan Works

Hard money loans have terms based mainly on the value of the property being used as collateral, not on the creditworthiness of the borrower. Since traditional lenders, such as banks, do not make hard money loans, hard money lenders are often private individuals or companies that see value in this type of potentially risky venture.

Hard money loans may be sought by property flippers who plan to renovate and resell the real estate that is used as collateral for the financing—often within one year, if not sooner. The higher cost of a hard money loan is offset by the fact that the borrower intends to pay off the loan relatively quickly—most hard money loans are for one to three years—and some of the other advantages they offer.

Hard money lending can be viewed as an investment. There are many who have used this as a business model and actively practice it.

Special Considerations for Hard Money Loans

The cost of a hard money loan to the borrower is typically higher than financing available through banks or government lending programs, reflecting the higher risk that the lender is taking by offering the financing. However, the increased expense is a tradeoff for faster access to capital, a less stringent approval process, and potential flexibility in the repayment schedule.

Hard money loans may be used in turnaround situations, short-term financing, and by borrowers with poor credit but substantial equity in their property. Since it can be issued quickly, a hard money loan can be used as a way to stave off foreclosure.

Pros and Cons of a Hard Money Loan

There are pros and cons to hard money loans related to the approval process, loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, and interest rates.

Pros

One advantage to a hard money loan is the approval process, which tends to be much quicker than applying for a mortgage or other traditional loan through a bank. The private investors who back the hard money loan can make decisions faster because the lender is focused on collateral rather than an applicant's financial position.

Lenders spend less time combing through a loan application verifying income and reviewing financial documents, for example. If the borrower has an existing relationship with the lender, the process will be even smoother.

Hard loan investors aren't as concerned with receiving repayment because there may be an even greater value and opportunity for them to resell the property themselves if the borrower defaults.

Cons

Since the property itself is used as the only protection against default, hard money loans usually have lower LTV ratios than traditional loans: around 50% to 70%, vs. 80% for regular mortgages (though it can go higher if the borrower is an experienced flipper).

Also, the interest rates tend to be high. For hard money loans, the rates can be even higher than those of subprime loans. As of 2020, the average interest rate for a hard money loan is 11.25% with rates varying from 7.5% to 15% for the United States in 2020.

Another drawback is that hard loan lenders might elect to not provide financing for an owner-occupied residence because of regulatory oversight and compliance rules.