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Home Equity Loan vs. Mortgage Loan

Owning a home is a significant financial achievement. It’s not just a place to live; it’s an investment that builds equity over time. Equity, the difference between your home’s market value and what you owe on your mortgage, can be a valuable resource when you need access to funds for various purposes. However, tapping into your home equity requires strategic planning and understanding the two main options available: home equity loans and mortgages.

This article dives deep into the key differences between home equity loans and mortgages, helping you decide which one aligns best with your financial goals.

Table of Contents

Understanding Mortgages

A traditional mortgage is a loan you take out to purchase a property. The lender holds the title to the house until you repay the loan in full, with interest, over a set period (usually 15–30 years). Mortgages offer some of the most competitive interest rates available because the property serves as collateral, reducing the risk for the lender.

There are two main types of mortgages:

Fixed-rate mortgage: With a fixed interest rate for the duration of the loan, your monthly payments are predictable.

Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM): The interest rate can fluctuate based on market conditions, potentially leading to lower initial payments but with the risk of increases in the future.

Key characteristics of a mortgage:

Purpose: Used to finance the purchase of a property

Loan amount: Typically based on a percentage (up to 80%) of the appraised value of the home, minus any down payment

Interest rate: Generally lower than home equity loans due to the first-lien position on the property

Term: Typically 15–30 years

Repayment: Set monthly installments that cover interest and principal

When to consider a mortgage:

  • You are purchasing a new home
  • You need a larger sum of money to finance a significant renovation project that will increase your home’s value

Understanding Home Equity Loans

A home equity loan, also known as a second mortgage, allows you to borrow a lump sum of money based on the equity you’ve built up in your home. The loan is secured by your home’s title, similar to a traditional mortgage. Once approved, you receive a fixed amount of money upfront, which you then repay with interest over a set term (typically 5–15 years)

Key characteristics of a home equity loan:

  • Purpose: Used for various purposes, including home improvements, debt consolidation, education expenses, or major purchases
  • Loan amount: Based on a percentage (up to 80–90%) of the difference between your home’s appraised value and your existing mortgage balance (known as your loan-to-value ratio),
  • Interest rate: Generally higher than traditional mortgages due to the second-lien position
  • Term: Typically 5–15 years
  • Repayment: Fixed monthly payments that include principal and interest

When to consider a home equity loan:

  • You’ve owned your home for a while and have built up significant equity
  • You need a fixed sum of money for a specific purpose
  • You want a predictable monthly payment schedule

Choosing Between a Home Equity Loan and a Mortgage

The decision between a home equity loan and a mortgage depends on your specific financial situation and goals. Below is a summary of some important things to think about:

Purpose of the loan:  If you need funds to purchase a property, a mortgage is the only option. However, for other needs, a home equity loan might be suitable.

Interest rates:  Mortgages typically offer lower interest rates than home equity loans.

Loan amount:  The loan amount you qualify for will be higher with a mortgage than with a home equity loan.

Loan term:  Mortgages generally have longer loan terms than home equity loans.

Impact on your monthly payment:  Consider how the monthly payment will affect your budget.

Flexibility:  A home equity loan offers more flexibility in how you use the funds.

Additional Considerations

Credit score:  Both mortgages and home equity loans require good credit scores for qualification and securing favorable terms.

Closing costs:  There are closing costs associated with both loans, so factor those into your decision.

Tax implications:  Consult with a tax advisor to understand the potential tax benefits of interest paid on either loan.

Beyond Mortgages and Home Equity Loans

While mortgages and home equity loans are the most common ways to leverage your home’s equity, there’s another option to consider:

  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): A HELOC functions like a credit card secured by your home equity. It provides access to a revolving line of credit up to a certain limit, allowing you to borrow money as needed and only pay interest on the amount used. HELOCs offer flexibility but come with adjustable interest rates, which can be risky in a rising interest rate environment.
  • Here’s a table summarizing the key differences between mortgages, home equity loans, and HELOCs:
Feature Mortgage Home Equity Loan HELOC
Purpose Purchase a property Various purposes (improvements, debt consolidation, etc.) Various purposes (similar to home equity loan)
Loan amount Up to 80% of appraised value (minus down payment) Up to 80–90% of loan-to-value ratio Up to a set limit based on equity
Interest rate Lower (due to first-lien position) Higher (due to second-lien position) Adjustable
Term 15-30 years 5-15 years Varies (draw period followed by repayment period)
Repayment Fixed monthly payments Fixed monthly payments Interest-only payments during draw period, followed by principal and interest
Flexibility Limited Fixed sum upfront Access to funds as needed


Consulting a Financial Advisor

Choosing between a home equity loan, mortgage, or HELOC can be a complex decision. Think about speaking with a licensed financial counselor who can evaluate your goals, risk tolerance, and financial status and suggest the best course of action for you.


  • Leverage your home equity wisely. Taking on additional debt comes with risks, so ensure you can comfortably afford the monthly payments.
  • Explore all options. Consider alternatives like personal loans or savings before tapping into your home equity.
  • Understand the terms. Carefully review loan terms, interest rates, and closing costs before signing any agreements.



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