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.
Home-equity lines of credit. These mortgages work kind of like credit cards: Lenders give you a ceiling to which you can borrow; then they charge interest on only the amount used. You can draw funds when you need them — a plus if your project spans many months. Some programs have a minimum withdrawal, while others have checkbook or credit-card access with no minimum. There are no closing costs. Interest rates are adjustable, with most tied to the prime rate. Most programs require repayment after 8 to 10 years. Banks, credit unions, brokerage houses, and finance companies all market these loans aggressively. Credit lines, fees, and interest rates vary widely, so shop carefully. Watch out for lenders that suck you in with a low initial rate, then jack it up. Find out how high the rate rises and how it's figured. And be sure to compare the total annual percentage rate (APR) and the closing costs separately. This differs from other mortgages, where costs, such as appraisal, origination, and title fees, are figured into a bottom-line APR for comparison.
If you tend to have trouble getting out of debt, keeping your finances organized or meeting deadlines, this isn’t a good option for you. Borrowers who are disciplined, detail oriented and spend within their means could find this to be the least expensive option. However, it may not be possible to borrow as much with a credit card as you could with a home equity loan or cash out refinance, depending on how much equity you have and how good your credit is.
For a home equity line of credit, the best place to start is your own bank or credit union. Both usually offer lower rates to depositors. Check other sources to be sure. If you get a second mortgage, refinance, or opt for an FHA 203(k) mortgage, you're better off talking with a mortgage broker. A broker has more loan sources to choose from. When looking for a broker, check with people you know, and check any references you get. Contractors are another source of financing, but be wary: It's hard enough to choose a contractor and a loan when they're separate. And be suspicious of contractors who emphasize the monthly payment instead of the total cost of the job.
Thinking about building a new pool, putting solar panels on the roof, or remodeling the kitchen or bath? When you have good credit, our national online lending division, LightStream, offers unsecured, fixed-rate loans from $5,000 to $100,000. You'll have the cash in your account to pay the contractor when you're ready—as soon as the same day you apply2. Enhance your home and your home's value.
HELOCs give borrowers the benefit of an extended draw period for using the line of credit. The common draw period is 10 years. During the draw period, you can use as much or as little as your line of credit as you want, similar to a credit card. Your monthly payments are typically interest only. For homeowners planning a variety of home improvement projects with different costs and time frames, a HELOC might work best.
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HELOCs come with a draw period and repayment period. During the draw period, which often lasts about 10 years, you can spend the money in your credit line. Your monthly payments would cover mostly the interest and a little bit of the principal on any outstanding balance. During the repayment period, which typically lasts around 15 years, your monthly payments would probably be higher because they’d include more principal.
If you have decent credit, you'll run into offers for 0% interest on credit cards (new credit cards or checks you can use with cards you already have). Credit Karma previously advised us that these offers might be best for projects under $15,000—presumably because it's (relatively) easy to pay off the loan within the low interest rate offer timeline (usually 12 to 18 months), it's easy to apply and qualify for, and you don't risk losing your home on this kind of unsecured loan.
Refinancing costs: Because you’re getting a brand new home loan, closing costs can make refinancing expensive. Also, you’re extending the life of your loan, so the new monthly payments will mostly go toward interest payments instead of reducing your loan balance. But, if you have sufficient funds on hand, you can always pay extra and eliminate your debt early.

**Subject to credit approval. No down payment. Fixed APR of 7.99% for 90 months. Payment Example: Based on each $1,000 financed, 6 months of interest only payments in the amount of $6.66 followed by 84 amortized payments in the amount of $15.58. Payment Example: Based on $3,000 purchase, 6 months of interest only payments in the amount of $19.98 followed by 84 amortized payments in the amount of $46.74. See loan agreement or ask Associate for details. Not valid in Puerto Rico, USVI, and Guam. LICENSES: NMLS #1416362; CT SLC-1416362; NJ MT #1501607 C22
If you’re planning to refinance, a remodeling loan may make it more difficult. When you refinance, the lender holding your home improvement loan must agree to "resubordinate" the loan, or “agree to sign off and say they’ll stay second in line,” McBride said. While this is often a formality, he said, if you are in default on your home improvement loan, “the lender may use it as leverage.”

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
Think carefully before you embark on this type of refinance, though: You’ll be using your home as collateral for a bigger loan, and you’ll be financing short-term costs with long-term debt, which adds interest and other fees to the price of the renovations. In most cases, a cash-out refinance is appropriate only if you’re improving your home in ways that will increase its value.
Almost all credit lines have variable interest rates, and if the rate is raised, it can be applied to your existing balance — something credit card companies are not allowed to do. So be sure to check the lender’s offer to see how often, and by how much, it can raise your rate. If you’re not careful, a once-affordable loan balance could become hard to repay.
Loan shopping often starts with mainstream mortgages from banks, credit unions, and brokers. Like all mortgages, they use your home as collateral and the interest on them is deductible. Unlike some, however, these loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Veterans Administration (VA), or bought from your lender by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two corporations set up by Congress for that purpose. Referred to as A loans from A lenders, they have the lowest interest. The catch: You need A credit to get them. Because you probably have a mortgage on your home, any home improvement mortgage really is a second mortgage. That might sound ominous, but a second mortgage probably costs less than refinancing if the rate on your existing one is low. Find out by averaging the rates for the first and second mortgages. If the result is lower than current rates, a second mortgage is cheaper. When should you refinance? If your home has appreciated considerably and you can refinance with a lower-interest, 15-year loan. Or, if the rate available on a refinance is less than the average of your first mortgage and a second one. If you're not refinancing, consider these loan types:
Whether you want to give your kitchen a fresh look, build the deck you’ve wanted, or want to make a few bigger home repairs, one of the decisions you’ll face is how to pay for your home improvement. Sure, you could use your credit cards or maybe take advantage of in-store financing, but one of the most convenient ways to pay for larger projects is with a home improvement loan.
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