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 planned a renovation with a mock budget and know what the end total looks like, a good first step is to evaluate whether it's feasible to fund with cash. Creating this budget will not only help you pinpoint your expenses, but if you end up going with a loan, it will be an integral step in showing lenders that you’re prepared for the renovations.
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.
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.
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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.
You could also do a combination of cash and one of the financing options below to reduce the amount you pay in interest. Also note that by "cash" we mean you pay for the project outright rather than get a loan for it that you pay off slowly. That could mean charging the project to your credit card so you get the rewards for it but then paying your credit card in full when it's due, avoiding the interest.
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.