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How To Choose HELOC vs Debt Consolidation Loan

How To Choose HELOC vs Debt Consolidation Loan

For those looking to manage larger amounts of debt, Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) and debt consolidation loans are common solutions to consider – but each has its own risks and benefits. Understanding each option and weighing them against your own goals and needs is critical before making a decision.

In this HELOC vs. debt consolidation loan comparison, we'll discuss how these options can serve different immediate financial needs and long-term goals. We will also cover how you might want to decide which is the smarter financial move for you, considering loan amounts, speed, flexibility, and potential downsides. By the end of this article, you'll have the information you need to navigate a path that best aligns with you and your financial goals.

Key Highlights 💡

  • A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a flexible line of credit for larger loan amounts secured by your home that allows you to borrow against your existing home equity during an initial draw period. Terms vary by product and lender, but most will have lower interest payments in the draw period and higher interest rates during the repayment period.
  • Debt consolidation loans (a sub-category of personal loans) provide a structured repayment plan with fixed interest rates and monthly payments, offering complete predictability in budgeting without using your home as collateral, but typically at higher interest rates and lower loan amounts due to the unsecured nature of the loan.
  • HELOCs can be great for homeowners who require larger loan amounts, have plenty of time to plan for borrowing, and need more time to repay. A personal loan can better suit well-qualified borrowers who don't own a home and/or have urgent needs or plans to repay more quickly.

How to Decide HELOC vs. Debt Consolidation Loan

HELOCs could be better if:

  • You own your home and have a minimum of 15-20% equity
  • You can wait up to 6 - 8 weeks to receive loan funds
  • You aim to prioritize a lower monthly payment (since HELOCs are secured, they will typically come with a lower interest rate)
  • You want longer than 5-7 years to repay (in addition to lower interest rates, HELOCs also come with much longer repayment periods than a personal loan)
  • You want to borrow a minimum of $30,000, as that's where home equity loans typically start

Debt consolidation loans could be better if:

  • You plan to borrow between $2,000 and $50,000. Some lenders offer up to $100,000, but qualification gets much more difficult as the loans are unsecured (high income and high credit score requirements are needed to qualify).
  • You need the funds quickly. Many debt consolidation loans can get funded within a few days, whereas the typical home equity loan can be as fast as two weeks but often takes up to six weeks or more.
  • You want to avoid a secured loan. Most personal loans are unsecured debt, while a home equity loan requires your house to be collateral.
  • You're able to repay on a shorter timeline.

HELOC Pros & Cons



  • Funding speed is much slower due to a longer underwriting and closing process (mostly due to the recording and placing the lien on your home)
  • The loan is secured with your home as collateral, which puts your property at risk of seizure if you default
  • Although the monthly cost might be lower, you may end up paying more in the long run than if you took out a debt consolidation loan with a similar rate and paid off faster

Debt Consolidation Pros & Cons

Debt Consolidation Loan Pros

  • Loan amounts range from $1,000 to $100,000
  • Loans can be funded as fast as a couple of days
  • Fixed interest rates
  • Homeownership isn't necessary as your home isn't used as collateral
  • Lenders work with varying of financial profiles, from bad credit to excellent credit, meaning approval odds may be higher than with a HELOC

Debt Consolidation Loan Cons

  • Shorter repayment period, typically capped at 5-7 years
  • Great credit and income is needed to secure the best interest rates and terms

Qualification Criteria: What Lenders Look For

Lenders consider several factors when determining HELOC or debt consolidation loan eligibility. These include credit scores, debt-to-income ratios, and income. Understanding these criteria is important as they can significantly impact your eligibility and understanding requirements can help focus your effort towards lenders you are likely to qualify for.

  • HELOC Requirements: To qualify for a HELOC, lenders usually require you to have at least 15-20% equity in your home and a strong credit score. Depending on the balance of your mortgage and the current market valuation of your home, you could potentially access up to 85% of your home equity value through a HELOC (most homeowners borrow around 1/3 of their HELOC limit, though). Lenders also consider your combined loan-to-value (CLTV) ratio to determine the maximum amount you can draw from home equity.
  • Debt Consolidation Loan Eligibility: When considering a debt consolidation loan, lenders evaluate your creditworthiness based on your credit scores, current debt, income, and other personal factors. They also look at the consistency of your income and your debt-to-income ratio.

How a HELOC Works

By tapping into your home's equity, you can leverage it (your home's total value less outstanding mortgage debt) as a revolving line of credit, giving you access to a large amount of cash at once.

1) The Draw Period

HELOCs come with a draw period, an initial phase during which you can borrow up to your approved credit limit. You can withdraw funds as necessary, made available in cash to your linked bank account. During this period, you typically only have to make interest payments.

This flexibility allows you to borrow what you need as you need it and provides a period to prepare for repayment.

2) Repayment Phase

After the initial draw period, loan terms will transition from borrowing to repaying the borrowed amount. As you start repaying the principal amount and the interest, you’ll notice a significant increase in your monthly payments compared to the draw period.

How Debt Consolidation Loans Work

A debt consolidation loan is a personal loan category intended to consolidate debt. Although most personal loans can be used for nearly any purpose, some loans have specific debt consolidation features, like the lender paying off creditors directly.

Effectively, you take your eligible debts, lump them together, and repay them with a single monthly payment to a new lender. Ideally, this single payment has a more favorable interest rate, saving you money on interest and freeing up some cash flow.

As an unsecured personal loan, they don’t require your home as collateral, which makes it an option for renters and may give homeowners peace of mind. Plus, you have a variety of lenders to choose from: banks, online lenders, credit unions, and peer-to-peer lenders.

Key Features

Fixed Interest Rate

One of the main benefits of a debt consolidation loan is a fixed interest rate. This feature provides the comfort of knowing exactly how much you’ll pay monthly, especially if you're considering consolidating higher, variable interest rate debt that comes with credit cards.

This consistency can make budgeting simpler and more manageable, as your repayment amount remains unchanged for the duration of the loan without needing a lump sum payment.

Unsecured Loan Dynamics

Unlike HELOCs, debt consolidation loans are unsecured, meaning they don’t require collateral. Thus, you won’t have to worry about losing your home in case of non-repayment. However, this freedom comes with a price - higher interest rates due to increased risks for lenders.

But this might be a viable option if you’ve got a solid credit score, steady income, and loan amounts offered to meet your needs. With top lenders, interest rates may not be significantly higher.

Loan Term Options

The loan term of a debt consolidation loan can significantly impact your monthly payments and total interest paid. While home equity loans offer long repayment terms of up to 20 years, personal loans typically provide shorter terms, often not exceeding seven years. These shorter repayment periods can result in higher monthly payments, but the overall cost of the loan might be less due to a shorter time frame accruing interest.

Choosing the right loan term is crucial as it influences your monthly payment amounts and the total interest paid over the life of the loan.

Comparing Monthly Payments & Interest Rates

Now that we’ve unpacked the basics of HELOCs and debt consolidation loans let’s compare their monthly payments and interest rates. Home equity loans typically offer lower interest rates and longer terms than debt consolidation loans. This can significantly impact your monthly payments and long-term financial planning.

But how does this translate into your monthly budget and long-term financial planning?

Assessing Monthly Financial Impact

The monthly HELOC or debt consolidation loan payments can significantly impact your monthly budget. Ultimately, weighing options will come down to your personalized loan amount, interest rates, and terms. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Home equity loans can offer lower monthly payments due to lower interest rates and extended repayment terms (but can have higher total borrowing costs over the life of the loan)
  • Debt consolidation loans may have higher interest rates and monthly payments higher than HELOCs but lower than credit cards or short-term loans

While both options can be used for debt consolidation and home improvement, finding the right product for your needs will mostly come down to how it fits into both your monthly cash flow, long-term financial goals, and what you can afford.

As you get pre-qualified, it will be critical to understand monthly payments and calculate total loan costs to compare options effectively.

Evaluating Key Risks: Secured vs Unsecured Debt

Like any financial decision, choosing between a HELOC or a debt consolidation loan carries risks. A HELOC, a secured debt, risks home foreclosure if you cannot make payments. That said, debt consolidation loans don't come without risks; being unsecured can lead to higher interest rates and strict approval requirements, and defaulting on any type of credit or loan can still severely damage your credit score for many years.

Foreclosure Risk with HELOC

Opting for a HELOC puts your home on the line as collateral. If you fail to make payments or default on your loan, you risk losing your home. Especially when consolidating debts using home equity, discipline is key to avoid accruing unmanageable debt (new credit card debt in particular), which can harm your ability to repay and increase the risk of foreclosure.

Credit Score and Unsecured Loans

While an unsecured personal loan doesn't directly put your home at risk, failure to make on-time payments can result in higher repayment costs due to penalties and adversely affect your credit score.

Conversely, consistent on-time payments on a debt consolidation loan can contribute to credit score improvements.

Additional Considerations: Fees and Tax Implications

Beyond the basic comparisons, there are other considerations when deciding between a HELOC and a debt consolidation loan. These include potential fees and tax implications. Some fees to compare when opening a home equity loan or borrowing a debt consolidation loan are:

  • Closing costs
  • Origination fee
  • Home appraisal fee
  • Credit report fee

Potential HELOC Closing Costs

Closing a HELOC may involve a variety of costs, such as:

  • Application or origination fee
  • Notary fee
  • Title search
  • Appraisal fee
  • Attorney/document preparation fees
  • Recording fee

These fees can constitute 2 percent to 5 percent of the overall loan, covering charges like origination fees, underwriting fees, and other loan recording and administrative expenses.

Some lenders may not impose application or annual fees, and certain fees may be waived or absorbed into the total loan balance -- exact fees will always be disclosed and vary lender-to-lender.

Tax Deduction Possibilities

Interest charged on home equity loans used to pay off credit card debt is not tax deductible when it comes to tax deductions. This is an important consideration for homeowners. However, the deduction of mortgage interest from HELOCs is permissible only when the borrowed funds are used specifically for home improvements. This could potentially provide a tax benefit, but certain limits are capped at $375,000 for single filers and $750,000 for joint filers.

Alternatives to HELOCS and Debt Consolidation Loans

While HELOCs and debt consolidation loans are top choices, they’re not the only options. Alternative debt consolidation strategies can include:

  • Home equity sharing agreements from companies like Hometap
  • Balance transfer cards
    • Balance transfer credit cards are another option to consider. They provide a 0% interest rate for an introductory period, ranging from six to 24 months. This can provide short-term relief from high-interest debt.
  • Aggressive debt reduction and savings methods like the debt avalanche or snowball method
  • Debt settlement

The Bottom Line

HELOCs and debt consolidation loans offer a path to more easily managing debt, but both have unique benefits with their own risks.

The decision between the two largely depends on your individual financial circumstances (credit profile and current equity are near the top of the list), goals (loan amount and speed in particular), and risk tolerance. It’s crucial to evaluate each option thoroughly and consider all the factors—from interest rates to fees to tax implications—before choosing a lender.

Either way, remember that the path to financial freedom is not a sprint but a marathon. Choose wisely and try to make the best decision in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a HELOC?

A HELOC is a financial tool that allows homeowners to borrow against their home equity, similar to a credit card with a revolving line of credit.

What is a debt consolidation loan?

A debt consolidation loan is a fixed-term, unsecured loan that combines multiple debts into a single monthly payment with a fixed interest rate. It can help simplify your debt repayment.

What are the risks of a HELOC?

The main risk of a HELOC is the potential for foreclosure if you can't make payments, as your home is the collateral for the loan. Be cautious and ensure you can manage the payments responsibly.

What are the risks of a debt consolidation loan?

Failing to make on-time payments on a debt consolidation loan can result in higher interest rates, penalties, and negative impacts on your credit score, despite not requiring collateral. Be cautious when considering this option.

Are there alternatives to HELOCs and debt consolidation loans?

Yes, there are alternatives to HELOCs and debt consolidation loans, such as zero-interest credit cards, personal loans, and debt management plans. Consider using these strategies to manage your debt more effectively.

Zach Robbins

Zach has over ten years of experience in financial services, recognized on Inc. 500 lists & recently featured in ConsumerAffairs, Forbes, GoBankingRates, Huffington Post, and U.S. News & World Report.

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The editorial team applies their decades of experience in financial services & customer experience to develop research aligned with our editorial pillars of Integrity, Transparency, & User-centricity.

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