My Perfect Mortgage
HELOC vs. Home Equity Loan vs. Cash-Out Refinance: What’s The Right Choice for Your Needs?
4 minute read
May 16, 2024

Owning a home comes with a valuable asset: home equity. This represents the difference between your home's current market value and what you still owe on your mortgage.

Tapping into this equity can help you finance various needs, from home renovations to debt consolidation.

However, choosing the right one can feel overwhelming, with three main options available:

  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOCs)
  • Home equity loans
  • Cash-out refinances

Let's break down each option to help you make an informed decision.

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Why Tap Into Home Equity?

As interest rates on new mortgages continue to rise with no end in sight, there are various other meaningful ways to make your home equity work for you.

There generally aren't strict limitations on how you can use your home equity for a HELOC or home equity loan. However, there can be some exceptions and lender restrictions to consider:

  • HELOC and Home Equity Loan: These products are typically designed for home improvements, debt consolidation, or major expenses. Some lenders may restrict the use of the funds for certain purposes, like education or paying off credit card debt for non-essential purchases.
  • Cash-Out Refinance: These are primarily used for debt consolidation or home improvement projects. However, some lenders may allow them for other purposes with restrictions. It's important to check with your lender about their specific guidelines.

Breaking Down the HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit)

A HELOC functions similarly to a credit card secured by your home's equity. It offers a credit line you can access during a draw period, typically lasting 10 years.

You only pay interest on the amount you withdraw. Once the draw period ends, you enter a repayment period, during which you repay the principal and interest on the borrowed amount.

HELOCs come with adjustable interest rates, which means the rate can fluctuate over time.

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Pros of a HELOC

  • Flexibility: Access funds as needed during the draw period
  • Lower Closing Costs: Compared to cash-out refinances
  • Interest Payments Only During Draw: Only pay interest on what you use

Cons of a HELOC

  • Variable Interest Rate: The rate can fluctuate, potentially increasing your monthly payment.
  • Temptation to Overspend: Easy access to funds can lead to higher debt.

Home Equity Loans: A Lump Sum Option

A home equity loan provides a fixed sum of cash upfront, secured by your home's equity.

Similar to a traditional mortgage, you repay the loan with a fixed interest rate over a set term. This option offers more predictable monthly payments compared to a HELOC.

Pros of a Home Equity Loan

  • Fixed Interest Rate: Predictable monthly payments throughout the loan term
  • Potentially Lower Interest Rates Than HELOCs: Depending on your creditworthiness

Cons of a Home Equity Loan

  • Less Flexible: Receive a fixed amount upfront, limiting access to additional funds.
  • Larger Upfront Decision: Requires planning the exact amount you need beforehand.

Cash-Out Refinance: Replacing Your Mortgage

A cash-out refinance replaces your existing mortgage with a new, larger loan.

The difference between the new loan amount and your existing mortgage balance is given to you in cash. You can choose a fixed or adjustable interest rate for the new loan.

Pros of a Cash-Out Refinance

  • Potentially Lower Interest Rate: If current rates are lower than your existing mortgage
  • Access to Larger Lump Sum: Compared to a home equity loan

Cons of a Cash-Out Refinance

  • Higher Closing Costs: Typically more expensive than HELOCs or home equity loans
  • New Primary Mortgage: Becomes your primary mortgage with a potentially longer repayment term

Choosing the Right Home Equity Option for You

The perfect home equity product depends on your unique situation. Ask yourself:

  • How much cash do you need? Consider both the immediate amount and any potential future needs.
  • When will you use the funds? HELOCs offer flexibility for ongoing expenses, while loans are ideal for upfront costs.
  • What project are you financing? Some lenders may have restrictions on how you can use the funds.
  • What's your current mortgage rate? A cash-out refinance can be attractive if you snag a lower overall rate.
  • How comfortable are you with your repayment plan? HELOCs have variable rates, while loans and refinances offer fixed rates and predictable payments.

The best loan option depends on your specific needs and financial goals. Here's a summary of the products to help you decide:

  • HELOC: Ideal for ongoing or unexpected expenses due to its flexibility.
  • Home Equity Loan: Choose this for a fixed amount you need upfront with predictable payments.
  • Cash-Out Refinance: Consider this if you want a lower interest rate on your mortgage and need a larger sum of cash.

Consulting with a financial advisor is crucial to assess your financial situation and determine the most suitable option.

Home Equity FAQs

What credit score is needed for a HELOC or home equity loan?

Generally, lenders require a minimum credit score in the mid-600s for these loans.

What are the typical closing costs for these options?
Is it hard to get a home equity loan?


There are key differences between HELOCs, home equity loans, and cash-out refinances. You can decide to unlock your home's equity and achieve your financial goals.

Tapping into your home equity can be a powerful financial tool, but navigating the various options can be challenging.

By understanding the flexibility of HELOCs, the predictability of home equity loans, and the potential interest rate savings of a cash-out refinance.

Consulting with a financial advisor can ensure you strategically leverage your home equity and achieve your financial objectives.

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Our advise is based on experience in the mortgage industry and we are dedicated to helping you achieve your goal of owning a home. We may receive compensation from partner banks when you view mortgage rates listed on our website.