My Perfect Mortgage
HELOC vs. Home Equity Loan vs. Second Mortgage: What’s The Right Choice for Your Needs?
5 minute read
May 16, 2024

Your home is a significant investment, and within its walls lies a valuable asset: home equity.

What is home equity? Home equity represents the difference between your home's current market value and your remaining mortgage balance.

Tapping into this equity can be a strategic financial move, allowing you to fund various needs, such as home renovations or debt consolidation.

Three main options are available: Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), home equity loans, and second mortgages.

Let's break down each option to help you make an informed decision and unlock the potential of your home equity.

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Is Now a Good Time to Use Home Equity?

Even with rising interest rates on traditional mortgages, tapping into your home equity can be a strategic financial move.

There are several ways to leverage this valuable asset,  each with advantages and considerations.

There aren't typically strict limitations on using your home equity, whether with a HELOC, home equity loan, or second mortgage.

However, exceptions will vary by lender. For example, some lenders may restrict the funds' use to pay off education expenses or credit card debt for non-essential purchases.

Consider the following:

  • HELOC and Home Equity Loan: These products are typically designed for home improvements, debt consolidation, or major expenses.
  • Second Mortgages: Unlike HELOCs and home equity loans, some lenders may prioritize uses that directly improve your property value, such as renovations or repairs.

Understanding HELOCs: How do they work?

A HELOC operates like a credit card secured by your home's equity. It provides a credit line you can tap into during a draw period, usually lasting 10 years.

This offers significant flexibility—you only pay interest on the amount you withdraw, not the entire credit line.

Once the draw period ends, you enter a repayment period where you repay the principal and the accumulated interest.

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HELOC pros

  • Flexibility: Access funds as needed during the draw period
  • Streamlined process: Close on a HELOC in as little as two weeks in some cases
  • Interest Payments Only During Draw: Only pay interest on what you use

HELOC cons

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

Stability and Predictability: The Home Equity Loan

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

Like a traditional mortgage, you repay the loan with a fixed interest rate over a set term.

This structure offers stability and predictability—you'll know exactly what your monthly payment will be throughout the loan period.

This can be particularly beneficial for budgeting and financial planning.

Home Equity Loan Pros:

  • Fixed Interest Rate: Enjoy predictable monthly payments throughout the loan term, making budgeting easier.
  • Potentially Lower Interest Rates Than HELOCs: Depending on your creditworthiness, you may qualify for a lower interest rate than a HELOC.

Home Equity Loan Cons:

  • Limited Flexibility: You receive a fixed amount upfront, restricting access to additional funds later.
  • Upfront Planning Required: You'll need to carefully plan the exact amount you need beforehand, as you won't be able to access more funds once the loan is closed.

Second Mortgages: Borrowing Against Your Equity

A second mortgage is a loan secured by your home's equity, similar to a first mortgage, but with a higher risk for the lender. This means you'll likely receive a higher interest rate compared to a HELOC or home equity loan.

Upon closing, you receive a lump sum payment and repay the loan with interest over a set term.

Pros of a Second Mortgage

  • Access to Lump Sum Cash: Ideal for larger upfront costs.

Cons of a Second Mortgage

  • Higher Interest Rates: Typically higher than HELOCs or home equity loans.
  • Higher Closing Costs: Often more expensive than HELOCs or home equity loans.
  • New Monthly Payment: Adds another monthly debt obligation to your budget.

Deciding How to Use Home Equity

Here's a breakdown to help borrowers decide which home equity option is right for them between HELOCs, home equity loans, and second mortgages:

FeatureHELOCHome Equity LoanSecond Mortgage
Interest RateVariableFixedFixed (might be higher than HELOC)
Upfront CostsLowerLowerPotentially Higher
Good forOngoing or unexpected expenses, uncertain amount neededFixed amount needed upfrontLarger, one-time expenses

Flexibility vs. Predictability

  • HELOC: Ideal for ongoing or unexpected expenses due to its flexibility.
  • Home Equity Loan & Second Mortgage: Better for a fixed amount you need upfront with predictable payments.

Amount of Cash Needed

  • HELOC: Suitable for smaller, ongoing needs or if the exact amount is uncertain.
  • Home Equity Loan & Second Mortgage: Good for larger, one-time expenses with a clear idea of the total amount needed.

Interest Rate Tolerance

  • HELOC: Variable rates can fluctuate, potentially leading to higher payments in the future.
  • Home Equity Loan & Second Mortgage: Fixed rate offers predictability but might be slightly higher than a HELOC with good credit.

Debt Management

  • HELOC: Requires discipline to avoid overspending due to easy access to funds.
  • Home Equity Loan & Second Mortgage: Fixed amount helps avoid overspending temptations.

Additional factors to consider:

  • Urgency for Funds: HELOCs might take longer to set up than a home equity loan or second mortgage.
  • Project Scope: Some lenders may restrict how you can use funds from a HELOC or second mortgage, while home equity loans typically offer more freedom.
  • Current Mortgage Rate: If your current mortgage rate is high, a cash-out refinance (replacing your mortgage with a new, larger one) might be an option to explore. However, consult a financial advisor before proceeding.

Home Equity FAQs

What is a second mortgage?

A second mortgage is a loan secured by the equity in your home, similar to your first mortgage. However, it takes a secondary position to your first mortgage, meaning if you default on the loan, the lender who holds your first mortgage gets paid first in the event of foreclosure.

How much equity do I need to use these options?
Can I access equity in my home with bad credit?


Understanding the key differences between HELOCs, home equity loans, and second mortgages can empower you to unlock your home 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.

Make an informed decision by figuring out your priority:

  • The flexibility of HELOCs
  • The predictability of home equity loans
  • The access to larger sums offered by second mortgages can help you strategically leverage your home equity and achieve your financial objectives by matching you with the right lender.

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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.