I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger
Whether you hire a contractor or take on the work yourself, begin with an accurate estimate of what the project will cost. Lenders will insist on a specific figure before they work with you. If you're hiring a contractor, start with a firm bid, broken down into labor and materials. Then add on 10 percent for surprises. On work you'll do yourself, compile a detailed materials list with quantities, costs, and an accurate total. Include permit fees and equipment rental. Then add a cushion of 20 to 30 percent to be safe. Once you know how much you need to finance your home improvement project, how much will you get? Despite the promises and hype lenders make in their ads and promotional materials, how much you can borrow hinges on your credit rating, the loan-to-value ratio, and your income. These factors also help determine the interest rate, the length of the loan, and whether you'll pay points. Your credit rating. The best rates and terms go to homeowners with an A rating—no late payments in the last 12 months and no maxed-out credit cards. One or two late payments or overdrawn credit cards probably won't knock you out of the game, but you might end up with a higher interest rate and a smaller loan.
Familiarize yourself with your credit history. Your credit reports carry the most weight for lenders making a loan decision. In the U.S., you are entitled to one free credit report each year, which can be accessed through https://annualcreditreport.com. Credit reports can also be paid for through the three credit bureaus or through a third party business.
A traditional home improvement loan lets homeowners borrow a lump sum to pay for the necessary labor and materials to complete projects such as remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, adding a swimming pool to the backyard or replacing an aging HVAC system. Credit unions, traditional banks and online lenders offer home improvement loans. These are unsecured loans, meaning the homeowner doesn’t provide any collateral for the loan. As a result, the interest rate will be higher than it would be for a secured loan, such as a home equity loan.
Whether you want to spruce up your home, do a total renovation or just fix up that outdated bathroom, you're probably bracing yourself for steep home improvement costs. If you've built equity in your home, however, you can access that equity for those new countertops or landscaping with a home improvement loan. These home renovation loans feature low interest rates and repayment periods that can bring your dream renovations within reach. Put your low home improvement loan rate to work and liven up your living space with these great remodeling tips.

You may be able to arrange an interest-free loan through your contractor as well. However, if you're unable to pay off an interest-free loan before the term expires, you’ll probably owe interest backdated to the day you signed the agreement. In this arrangement, make sure you don’t lose the right to withhold payments if the contractor's work isn't done to your satisfaction, if that was a term of your contract.


Still, there are several other factors to consider. The first is that Marcus caps home improvement loans at $40,000, so if you need more to fund an extensive project, Marcus may not be the right lender for you. It can also take Marcus five business days to fund your loan, which means you’re in for a longer wait than you will be with lenders like Earnest.
• Home equity line of credit (HELOC). This is a revolving line of credit, like a credit card. In the beginning, you're only responsible for paying interest monthly; in the later years, you need to begin to pay back principal. A benefit of this type of debt is that you don't have to take out all the money at once for a project; you can draw gradually, as needed. After that initial "draw period," the HELOC converts to a fixed loan, and you'll have to pay back the principal on a set schedule. 
The catch is that to keep the 0% rate, you will likely be required to make minimum monthly payments on time every month, even during the 0% introductory period. You need a clear plan for repaying the full amount you borrow before the introductory period ends, or else you will have to pay interest on the remaining balance, usually at a much higher rate.
As with other lenders, your interest rate will be based on your credit score, how much you want to borrow and your repayment period. Because these loans have relatively short repayment periods of three to five years, you’ll get out of debt quickly and won’t be paying interest for years. And you may be able to get a peer-to-peer loan even though you have less-than-stellar credit, though you can expect to pay a high interest rate if you’re approved.
Only you can decide if your home improvement or repair is worth it to you. Some homeowners place a higher personal value on enjoying their living space while they occupy the home; for some, it is important to recover a greater percentage of renovation costs when they sell the home. Remember, a number of factors may determine whether you recover some or all of your expenses.

Interest rates. The less interest you pay, the more loan you can afford. An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is one way to lower that rate, at least temporarily. Because lenders aren't locked into a fixed rate for 30 years, ARMs start off with much lower rates. But the rates can change every 6, 12, or 24 months thereafter. Most have yearly caps on increases and a ceiling on how high the rate climbs. But if rates climb quickly, so will your payments.
• Home equity line of credit (HELOC). This is a revolving line of credit, like a credit card. In the beginning, you're only responsible for paying interest monthly; in the later years, you need to begin to pay back principal. A benefit of this type of debt is that you don't have to take out all the money at once for a project; you can draw gradually, as needed. After that initial "draw period," the HELOC converts to a fixed loan, and you'll have to pay back the principal on a set schedule. 
It's been a few years since I painted anything in anger, but back when I did, there was a trick I'd use when protecting carpet. Round the edge of the carpet, right up against the baseboard, I'd run a 1 1/2 or 2 painter's tape, and let the tape stick slightly to the board. Then I'd go round with the broadest taping knife I had, and tuck the tape down hard. That left the carpet edge protected and rounded over and the tape was now creating a line along the baseboard *below* the level of the carpet. Then I'd sheet up as usual.That made it super easy to paint the baseboard, the bottom edge didn't need cutting in! Just work the pain in there! If the bottom edge was a little messy and uneven, who cared? Once the paint was thoroughly dry, the tape was lifted (carefully, to not pull the carpet off the gripper) and the carpet would bounce up and hide the bottom edge of the paint. A perfect look, quicker and safer than trying to cut in along a fuzzy carpet edge.
St. Paul, Minn. – Subject to income limits, homeowners can get a loan of $2,000 to $50,000 at 4% interest for a room addition or a new garage, a new furnace or an air-conditioning installation, a roof replacement and a few other items. Another option is a loan of $1,000 to $25,000 with deferred payment for basic and necessary improvements that directly affect the home’s safety, habitability, energy efficiency or accessibility. These loans aren’t due until the borrower sells, transfers title or moves, and they may be forgiven after 30 years of continued ownership and occupancy. 
Home loans using home equity as collateral are the most common and offer the biggest loan amounts, according to Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. However, “Lenders are looking for homeowners to retain a 15% equity stake after the loan,” McBride said, so you’ll need a fairly large amount of equity in your home just to qualify.

Some of that affordability is negated, though, by Prosper’s loan origination fee. This lender charges a fee based on your credit profile, which could cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on your credit score and how much you need to borrow. Other lenders offer lower interest rates and don’t charge loan origination fees, so make sure you weigh all the factors if you decide to go with Prosper for your loan.
Finally, compare those fees carefully. When you meet with a lender, up-front costs will start with a credit report running $50 to $80 and possibly an appraisal, which should cost less than $300. Some lenders use your property-tax valuation, others won't. Often, you can reduce lending fees in a competitive market. And if you're asked for a nonrefundable application fee, beware; reputable lenders try to keep up-front fees low.

However, a cash-out refinance can be costly in the long run. In addition to possibly high closing costs, you'll pay a higher APR than if you simply refinanced without getting cash out. Also, you'll owe more on your mortgage again, which is not fun at all. If you're 10 years into your 30-year fixed mortgage and refinance into a bigger 30-year loan, the clock restarts. Instead of 20 years left to pay, payments are now stretched over 30 years.

The catch is that to keep the 0% rate, you will likely be required to make minimum monthly payments on time every month, even during the 0% introductory period. You need a clear plan for repaying the full amount you borrow before the introductory period ends, or else you will have to pay interest on the remaining balance, usually at a much higher rate.
Cash is usually preferable to accumulating more debt. However, with the average major kitchen remodel costing $54,909 and a bathroom remodel averaging $16,128, it could take decades before you've saved enough to do your projects and actually enjoy the results. For small projects, however, if you're able to save enough in cash, this is probably the best way to go.
Home equity loans are a second mortgage on your home. They're usually a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan, and you get the money in one lump sum. Terms vary, but many home equity loans have you pay back the principle and interest within 15 years with monthly payment plans. This might be the best option if you need a set amount of money for something important and have enough room in your budget to make the payments, of course.
Interest rates. The less interest you pay, the more loan you can afford. An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is one way to lower that rate, at least temporarily. Because lenders aren't locked into a fixed rate for 30 years, ARMs start off with much lower rates. But the rates can change every 6, 12, or 24 months thereafter. Most have yearly caps on increases and a ceiling on how high the rate climbs. But if rates climb quickly, so will your payments.
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