"For those borrowers who do not have equity in their homes for a traditional home equity or second mortgage loan, borrowers can usually access some form of unsecured home improvement loan or revolving credit," says Ron Haynie, senior vice president of mortgage finance policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents the interests of the community banking industry. "Most banks will make an unsecured home improvement loan."

A home equity loan is another way to tap your equity without refinancing. Instead of getting a line of credit, as you would with a HELOC, you’d receive a lump sum of money. A home equity loan could make sense if you don’t want to refinance your first mortgage — if it has a very low interest rate, for example. But the interest rate would probably be higher with a second mortgage like a home equity loan than with a cash-out refinance.
Another good tip is to keep your home improvements simple and neutral whenever possible. While you may be an avid gardener, potential homebuyers may not be, so they won't be enticed by a house with a yard that requires a lot of upkeep. Additionally, if you repaint rooms, choose warm, earth tones. This neutral palette will help homebuyers envision themselves and their furniture in the space. Bright reds, exotic yellows and Caribbean blues may distract potential buyers.
On the flip side, however, interest rates tend to be higher on personal and unsecured loans than they are on home equity or home equity line of credit (HELOC) loans. For example, a $50,000 unsecured personal loan at Wells Fargo has a 7.244% to 9.247% APR, depending on the term of your loan (36 months to 60 months)—which is a great deal more than the 4.06% APR you can get on a home equity loan, according to the latest average posted on Bankrate.
Homeowners with limited equity can get an FHA Title I loan for improvements that make a home more livable and useful, including accessibility improvements and energy conservation improvements. These loans can’t be used for luxury items such as swimming pools or outdoor fireplaces, however. Loans for less than $7,500 are usually unsecured; the most a homeowner can borrow is $25,000 for 20 years to improve a single-family home. The lender determines the interest rate. You’ll need to find an FHA-approved Title I lender to get this type of loan. As with any loan, you’ll need good credit and a demonstrated ability to repay the loan. 
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I'd also take into consideration which projects will boost property value; those would probably be the best to finance. First of all, if anything is broken— roof needs replaced, HVAC systems need to be upgraded— that would be first on the list. There are also a million articles on which "upgrades" make the biggest difference in property value and while I'm not a real estate person I tend to think things like bathroom updates, kitchen updates, and finishing unfinished space like bedrooms and attics would be high up on that list. Building major landscaping structures probably isn't, and I wouldn't recommend financing to, say, put in a pool.
A credit card can be a better option for borrowing smaller amounts of money for your home improvements with lower interest rates than a personal loan. Credit cards can offer 0% interest rates for a set period of time on your larger purchases, which might include a new kitchen or bathroom suite. A credit card works best if you can pay it off quickly.
Your debt-to-income ratio: You can calculate your DTI by dividing all of your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. Lenders generally consider a DTI of 36 percent or less to be acceptable, but many lenders will consider borrowers with higher ratios, depending on their income. Anything getting close to 50 percent, though, may disqualify you.
A home equity loan lets you borrow a lump sum all at once, while a HELOC lets you draw on a line of credit as needed for a certain number of years, called the draw period. During the draw period, you only have to repay interest on the loan, which makes monthly payments quite small but can result in payment shock later when the draw period ends and the borrower has to start repaying principal too. In addition, a HELOC has a variable interest rate, while a home equity loan has a fixed interest rate. A HELOC’s initial rate may be lower than a home equity loan’s, but over time it can become higher if market conditions push interest rates up. (For more, see Choosing a Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit.)

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.


There are many ways to pay for home improvements, from traditional home improvement loans to personal loans to home equity lines of credit to government programs to credit cards. Regardless of which type of loan you’re considering and what type of lender you want to work with, shopping around will help you make sure that you’re getting the best rate and terms on your home improvement loan. If you apply with several lenders within a short period, the impact on your credit score will be minimal. (For more, see The 5 Biggest Factors That Affect Your Credit, An Introduction to the FHA 203(k) Loan and Applying for an FHA 203(k) Loan.)
If you have equity in your home and are planning on projects costing $50,000 or more, the best loans to tap will probably be tied to your property. HELOCs, home equity loans, and cash out refinances offer the best rates (30-year fixed mortgage rates are among the lowest we've seen in decades, at 4.06% . A 15-year fixed home loan is currently 3.12%, according to WSJ.) Also, you might be able to deduct the interest on these loans and any points you pay to reduce the interest rate on your taxes (check with a tax advisor, though).

There are many ways to pay for home improvements, from traditional home improvement loans to personal loans to home equity lines of credit to government programs to credit cards. Regardless of which type of loan you’re considering and what type of lender you want to work with, shopping around will help you make sure that you’re getting the best rate and terms on your home improvement loan. If you apply with several lenders within a short period, the impact on your credit score will be minimal. (For more, see The 5 Biggest Factors That Affect Your Credit, An Introduction to the FHA 203(k) Loan and Applying for an FHA 203(k) Loan.)
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