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What's the difference between a home equity line of credit and a second mortgage?

A home equity loan is a loan that is secured by your home. If you repay the loan as agreed, your lender will discharge the mortgage. If you do not repay the loan as agreed, your lender can foreclose on your home to satisfy the debt. Generally, the amount that you can borrow is limited to 80 percent of the equity in your home, although in some situations this amount may be higher. The actual amount of the loan will also depend on your income, credit history, and the market value of your home. The two distinct types of home equity loans are the home equity line of credit (HELOC) and the closed-end home equity loan, often referred to as a second mortgage.

A HELOC, which is the more popular loan, is structured as a revolving line of credit. You can borrow as much as you need, whenever you need it, by writing a check as long as your total borrowing does not exceed your credit limit. Because it is a line of credit, you make payments only on the amount you have actually borrowed, not the full amount available. Borrowers will usually set up a HELOC so that it is available for unexpected expenses. It may also be beneficial to use your home equity loan to purchase a car or pay your child's college tuition, since the interest is generally tax deductible.

A closed-end home equity loan, or second mortgage, is a loan for a fixed amount of money that must be repaid over a fixed term, just like your original mortgage. Borrowers typically use closed-end home equity loans to pay for a single large expense, such as a major home improvement or college tuition.