Don’t Bet the House: Dangers of Paying Student Loan Debt with HELOCsDecember 30, 2019
This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. Always consult a professional for guidance around your personal financial situation.
By Caroline Farhat
If you’re struggling with student loan debt, you have likely thought of a multitude of ways to pay off your loans as quickly as possible. If you have a house with equity, one way you may have considered is applying for a home equity line of credit (HELOC). But before you sign on the dotted line, first consider the dangers of using a HELOC for student loans.
What is a HELOC?
A HELOC is a line of credit you borrow from the equity of your house. You may borrow up to a certain limit, but you’ll have to repay the amount borrowed plus interest. Here’s what you need to know:
- The interest rate on a HELOC may be variable or fixed, but the vast majority of HELOCs have a variable interest rate.
- The limit of how much you can borrow is determined by the value of your home and the loan amount on your first mortgage. Generally, lenders limit the amount of the HELOC to 85% of the appraised amount minus any other loans on the house. This means if your home is valued at $300,000 and you owe $200,000 on your mortgage, you have $100,000 of equity in the home, but you will be limited to borrow $55,000 for the HELOC.
- Remember there may be fees associated with obtaining a HELOC, from closing costs to transaction costs. These need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether a HELOC is the right choice for paying your student loan debt.
Dangers of Using HELOC
- You’re putting your house at risk. Since your house is the collateral for a HELOC you risk losing your home to foreclosure if you cannot make the payments. If you have an unstable income or suddenly cannot afford the payments should the interest rate rise, you jeopardize losing your home. This differs from student loan debt in that student loans have no collateral. This is not to say that you get a free pass when you miss student loan payments. After 270 days of missed payments on your federal student loans, your debt goes into default, which will affect your credit score and may lead to the garnishment of wages. The federal government can even sue you and force you to sell your home, though this is less likely to happen than if you miss payments on a HELOC.
- You don’t have as much payment flexibility. If you ever have trouble making payments on your HELOC, it may be nearly impossible to change your payment options. However, with federal student loans, you have the option of deferment or forbearance.
- Your payments can vary based on the market. Generally, a HELOC has a variable interest rate that can increase during the time of the loan, and in turn, increase your payments. There is no predicting if or when your interest rate may rise. Typically HELOC interest rates are based on the prime rate which is affected by the market. While your payment could decrease, it could also increase. Although there is typically a cap to the interest rate, it can vary greatly and be as much as a 15% difference from your initial interest rate.
The bottom line is the danger of using a HELOC to pay off student loan debt is you are taking an unsecured loan, your student loan, and making it a secured loan, by putting your house as collateral. This is dangerous if your financial situation changes and you are unable to make the payments.
Better Ways to Pay Off Student Loan Debt
There are many other options to consider before you decide to take out a HELOC to pay for your student loan debt. Some options require little to no extra time to help pay off your loans quicker. You could consider the following:
1. Refinance Student Loans
Refinancing student loans* may be a great option to pay them off quicker. You could be eligible for a lower interest rate which can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. You can see just how much you can save each month, and over the lifetime of your loan, by using our student loan refinancing calculator.
2. Consider a different repayment plan
Unless you selected a different repayment plan when your grace period ended, you are making student loan payments based on the 10-year standard repayment period. If you need to change your payment plan, you may be eligible for different plans, such as income-based repayment and graduated repayment. Contact your lender to find out what options are available to you.
3. Start a Side Hustle
A side hustle is an additional job that you hold outside of your normal employment. A side hustle could be a side business you start to sell items you hand-make, dog walking, babysitting, and endless other options. Depending on your side hustle, you could be earning serious money to make extra payments towards your student loans.
Related: Yes, You Need A Side Hustle
4. “Found money” can be used as an extra payment
Ever been given cash as a gift, received a cash rebate or earned cashback on your credit cards? All those could be considered “found money,” money you weren’t expecting to find but received. Take that found money and make an extra payment toward your student loan debt. Any extra payment towards your student loans can help pay it off quicker, just remember to apply the extra payment towards the principal of the loan.
5. Auto-debit your student loans
Some lenders allow you to set up auto-debit and in return give you an interest
rate reduction, typically between 0.25-0.50%. It’s important to note that some lenders, like ELFI, build in cost savings based on your good credit, rather than applying a discount for auto-debit, so don’t worry if your lender does not have this option. You might automatically be saving more money just by having good credit.
Obtaining a HELOC to pay off your student loans is a risky move. As you can see, you have many other options to explore before betting your house to pay down your student debt.
*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
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