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If you have sufficient equity in your home—typically at least 15% to 20%—you may be able to tap into it with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) to access cash. You may want to use your home equity to fund a major home renovation, consolidate high-interest debt or for another purpose.
But what if your name isn't on the deed, the physical document that proves who owns a home? As part of the application process for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, you'll need to prove ownership of the home by having your name listed on the home's deed. However, you don't have to be on the deed to cosign for a home equity loan or HELOC.
What Documentation Do You Need to Apply for a Home Equity Loan or HELOC?
Just as when you applied for your original mortgage, you'll need to provide your lender with some personal, income and property information when you apply for a home equity loan or HELOC. Requirements vary by lender, but here are some of the most common documents and information you must supply, including evidence that your name is on the deed.
To verify you are the person on the application, your lender will ask you for some personal information, such as:
- Your name
- Date of birth
- Contact information
- Social Security number
- Driver's license or other government-issued photo ID
With your permission, your lender will likely use your name and Social Security number to pull your credit reports as part of the application process.
Your lender will want to confirm you have sufficient income to make payments on a new home equity loan or line of credit. Depending on what type of income you receive, you may be asked to provide any of the following documents:
- Current pay stubs
- W-2 forms for the past two years
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Alimony, retirement or other types of supplemental income
Of course, your lender needs to know some basic information about your property, including who owns it, when it was built and the amount you owe on the mortgage. Be prepared to submit the following information.
- Names of individuals listed on the title
- When your home was completed, the date of purchase and estimated property value
- Trust agreement (if applicable)
- Mortgage statement showing balance and monthly payment
- Property tax information
- Homeowners insurance agency
- Second loan and lien information (if applicable)
The Best (and Worst) Ways to Use a Home Equity Loan or HELOC
The most obvious drawback of home equity loans and HELOCs is that they are secured by your home. That means you risk foreclosure if you can't make your monthly mortgage payments for any reason. As such, you should proceed cautiously when considering using your home equity to access cash.
When to Consider Using Home Equity
While you can use your home equity for virtually any legal purpose, some uses are smarter than others. Here are some general guidelines for whether you should use your home's equity:
- Funding home improvements and repairs: One of the most common uses for home equity loans and lines of credit is for major renovations or repairs to your home. Improving your home could boost your home's value. According to the IRS, you may qualify to take a tax deduction on the interest paid on your loan if you use the funds to buy, build or substantially improve your home.
- Covering unexpected emergencies: A sufficient emergency fund can be a lifesaver when life throws you a financial curveball, such as a job loss or costly medical bills. If you don't have an emergency fund or it won't cover your needs, using your home's equity to face the emergency may make sense and help you get back on your feet.
- Consolidating high-interest credit card debt: With substantially lower interest rates than most credit cards, home equity loans and HELOCs can be an excellent option to lower your interest payments and accelerate your timeline to zero out your debt. Of course, you must refrain from charging up your card balances again for this strategy to succeed.
When Tapping Home Equity May Not Be Wise
Using home equity may not be your best option in the following scenarios:
- Financing a vacation or wedding: Using your hard-earned home equity on non-appreciated expenses generally isn't a good move. Instead, create a budget to save for such events, or consider less expensive vacation and wedding plans.
- Paying for college: Before using home equity or private student loans, you should exhaust your federal student aid options. Federal student loans come with a number of benefits and protections, including low interest rates, flexible repayment options, deferment and forbearance and loan forgiveness programs.
- Investing: Given your home serves as collateral on a home equity loan or HELOC, it's usually not a good idea to tap that equity for risky investments, including stock market buys and real estate.
- Buying a car: If your credit is good, you may qualify for an auto loan with a lower interest rate than a home equity product. It may take you five to six years to repay most car loans. By contrast, you could make payments on a home equity loan or line of credit for up to 20 to 30 years, with a significantly higher total interest cost.
How to Prepare for a Home Equity Loan or HELOC
Taking some time to prepare for the application process may help you save time and money with a new home equity loan or line of credit. Consider the following tactics to streamline the application process and improve your odds of approval with favorable terms.
- Improve your credit before applying. With a higher credit score, you could obtain a lower interest rate and favorable loan terms. The fastest ways to improve your credit are to make consistent, on-time loan and credit card payments and to pay down your revolving account balances. Accordingly, your payment history and credit usage account for 35% and 30% of your FICO® Score☉ , respectively.
- Determine how much you need to borrow. Home equity loans and HELOCs may allow you to tap as much as 80% to 85% of your home equity for cash. But since you'll be paying interest on whatever amount you borrow, you should only borrow as much as you need.
- Shop and compare offers. Interest rates and terms vary by lender, so it pays to shop around to ensure you get the best deal. Don't forget to look at the closing costs each lender charges, which can range from 2% to 5% of the borrowed amount.
- Gather your documents beforehand. Although the application process for home equity loans and HELOCs is fairly straightforward, submitting all the information can be tedious. You can make the process run more smoothly by having all the necessary documents with you when you apply, starting with the documents mentioned above.
The Bottom Line
Home equity loans and HELOCs are effective tools to help you access cash to consolidate debt, pay for unexpected expenses or fund major home renovations, among other purposes. However, your name must be on the deed, verifying your ownership of the property to qualify.
As mentioned, you'll want to shore up your credit before applying for any loan or credit card to improve your chances of approval with favorable terms. Check your credit report and credit score for free with Experian to see where your credit stands. Free credit monitoring can also help you track your progress and receive alerts where there are changes to your credit score.