Getting a Home Equity Line of Credit

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on June 09, 2024

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What Is a Home Equity Line of Credit?

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), is a type of loan that homeowners can avail of based on the equity they have built up in their homes.

Unlike a conventional loan, where a lump sum is provided upfront, a HELOC functions more like a credit card. Borrowers are given a credit limit based on their home equity, and they can borrow up to that limit during a draw period.

The primary purpose of a HELOC is to provide homeowners with flexible access to funds, using their home equity as collateral.

This financial tool is essential because it allows homeowners to leverage the value of their homes for various purposes without having to sell.

Whether it's for home improvement projects, consolidating debt, or covering emergency expenses, a HELOC offers a versatile solution.

How Home Equity Line of Credit Works

Borrowing Against Home Equity

A HELOC lets homeowners borrow money against the equity they’ve built up in their property. Equity is calculated by taking the current market value of the house and subtracting any outstanding mortgage or other liens.

So, if a home is worth $300,000 and there's a $200,000 outstanding mortgage, the homeowner has $100,000 in equity. Lenders will typically allow homeowners to borrow a percentage of this equity.

Interest Rates and Repayment Terms

HELOCs usually come with variable interest rates, which are often based on prevailing benchmark rates plus a margin.

This means the interest rate can fluctuate over time. After the draw period, which is the time frame in which you can borrow against your HELOC, comes the repayment period.

During this phase, homeowners start repaying the borrowed amount plus interest. Monthly payments can vary based on the amount borrowed and the prevailing interest rate.

Drawing and Repaying Funds

During the draw period, homeowners can access funds up to their credit limit, similar to how one might use a credit card. Some HELOCs come with cards or checks for this purpose. Once funds are borrowed, interest starts accruing on the amount drawn.

Minimum payments during this period often cover only the interest. When the repayment period begins, homeowners pay back the principal amount borrowed in addition to the interest.

How a Home Equity Line of Credit Works

Factors Lenders Consider in Applications

Home’s Market Value and Equity

When evaluating a HELOC application, lenders primarily look at the home's current market value and the amount of equity the homeowner has.

This helps determine the maximum amount they're willing to lend. A professional appraisal is typically required to establish the home's value.

Credit Score and History

Just as with any other loan, lenders assess an applicant's creditworthiness. A higher credit score can lead to more favorable terms, including a higher credit limit or a lower interest rate.

On the other hand, a low credit score or a history of missed payments can reduce the chances of approval.

Income and Employment Status

Lenders also consider an applicant's income and employment stability. They want to ensure that the homeowner will be able to manage the monthly payments alongside their existing financial obligations.

Stable employment and a consistent income can increase the likelihood of approval.

Factors Lenders Consider in Applications

Steps to Secure a Home Equity Line of Credit

Step 1: Assess Home Equity

The first step in securing a HELOC is to determine how much equity you have in your home. This will give you an idea of the potential credit limit you might receive. It's a simple calculation: the home's current value minus any outstanding mortgage balance.

Step 2: Compare Lenders and Offers

Different lenders have varied offerings when it comes to HELOCs. It's essential to shop around and compare interest rates, fees, and terms to find the best deal.

Some lenders might offer promotional rates for an initial period, while others might provide a fixed-rate option.

Step 3: Prepare and Submit Documentation

Once you've chosen a lender, you'll need to prepare and submit the necessary documentation. This usually includes proof of income, details of outstanding debts, and a recent appraisal of your home. Ensuring all documents are in order can speed up the approval process.

Step 4: Navigate the Approval and Closing Process

After submission, the lender will review the application and make a decision. If approved, the closing process follows.

This involves finalizing the terms, signing the agreement, and setting up the account. The homeowner will then receive checks or a card to access the funds.

Steps to Secure a Home Equity Line of Credit

Benefits of a Home Equity Line of Credit

Flexibility in Fund Use

One of the significant advantages of a HELOC is the flexibility it offers. Unlike traditional loans that deliver a lump sum for a specific purpose, HELOCs provide a credit limit that homeowners can draw from as needed.

This flexibility makes it an ideal tool for unpredictable expenses like home repairs or medical emergencies.

Potential Tax Benefits

HELOCs can offer potential tax benefits, especially if used for home improvement. The interest paid on such loans might be tax-deductible, though it's essential to consult with a tax professional about specific circumstances.

It's worth noting that tax laws can change, so always staying informed is crucial.

Competitive Interest Rates Compared to Other Loans

Generally, HELOCs offer lower interest rates than personal loans or credit cards. This is because the loan is secured against the value of the home, reducing the risk for lenders.

For homeowners, this means they can access funds at a relatively lower cost, making it an attractive financing option.

Potential Pitfalls of a Home Equity Line of Credit

Risk of Losing Your Home

The most significant risk associated with a HELOC is the potential loss of one's home. Because the home serves as collateral for the loan, failing to make required payments can lead to foreclosure.

It's crucial for homeowners to understand this risk and ensure they can manage the repayments before taking out a HELOC.

Fluctuating Interest Rates

While HELOCs often offer competitive rates, these are usually variable. If the benchmark rate increases, the interest rate on the HELOC will likely rise as well, leading to higher monthly payments.

This unpredictability can pose budgeting challenges for some homeowners.

Potential for Over-Borrowing

Given the ease of drawing funds from a HELOC, there's a temptation to over-borrow. Over-reliance on home equity can lead to significant debt, especially if homeowners use it for non-essential expenditures.

It's essential to approach a HELOC with discipline and a clear understanding of one's financial limits.

Benefits and Pitfalls of a Home Equity Line of Credit

Best Practices When Using a Home Equity Line of Credit

Use for Significant, Planned Expenses

It's wise to use a HELOC for substantial, planned expenses like home renovations, which can add value to the home, or for consolidating high-interest debt.

Avoid using it for daily expenses or impulse purchases, which can quickly deplete the equity in your home without adding value.

Monitor and Control Spending

A HELOC is not a bottomless pit of money. Homeowners should monitor their spending carefully and ensure they're not borrowing more than they can repay. Setting a budget and sticking to it can help manage HELOC funds effectively.

Stay Informed on Interest Rate Changes

Because most HELOCs have variable interest rates, staying informed about rate changes is vital. Understanding when and why rates might increase can help homeowners plan and manage their monthly payments effectively.

Understand All Terms and Conditions

Like any financial product, HELOCs come with terms and conditions. Familiarizing oneself with these, including any fees, penalties, and rate adjustments, can prevent surprises down the line.

It's also essential to know the duration of the draw period and the terms of the repayment period.


A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) offers homeowners a flexible way to tap into their property's value without having to sell. This financial tool stands out due to its adaptability, potential tax benefits, and generally competitive interest rates.

But it's not without risks—changing interest rates and the significant danger of home loss if payments aren't met are critical considerations.

When thinking about a HELOC, it's essential to thoroughly assess home equity, compare lender offers, and understand all terms involved.

And once approved, monitoring spending, staying updated on rate changes, and using the funds wisely—for significant, planned expenses—are best practices. Making informed decisions around HELOCs can transform them into beneficial financial tools.

Getting a Home Equity Line of Credit FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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