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Interest Only HELOC: Advantages and Disadvantages

Sophia Merton
November 8, 2022

A common way to tap into home equity is a home equity line of credit (or HELOC.) An interest-only HELOC is a type of HELOC with an initial interest-only payment structure.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this kind of line of credit. On the plus side, the interest rate can be low if your credit is good, and your monthly payments can be minimal during the draw period. On the other hand, you risk losing your home if you fail to make payments, the interest rate is variable and not fixed, and your minimum monthly payments will significantly increase when the repayment period begins.

The Advantages of an Interest-Only HELOC

There are a number of reasons why interest-only HELOCs are attractive, including the low-interest rates attached to HELOCs and the lower initial payment. Make sure you stick with us to read through the disadvantages, though, as you might find that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits of this type of loan.

Low-Interest Rate

Interest rates for HELOCs and interest-only HELOCs can be quite low compared to other types of loans, so long as you have good credit.

cash saved due to low interest rate of interest only heloc
HELOCs offer low-interest rates compared to other types of loans and lines of credit, which can save you a bunch of cash over the life of the loan.

This means that you can end up saving thousands in interest over the life of the loan versus getting a personal loan or using credit cards.

Lower Initial Payments

Your monthly payments will be small during the initial interest-only draw period when you take out an interest-only HELOC. That being said, when the repayment period begins, the monthly payments will increase dramatically.

Long Draw and Repayment Periods

Draw periods usually last ten years, but typical draw periods can range from five years to twenty years in length. During this draw period, you only have to make monthly payments on the interest of the loan.

Usually, the repayment period for a HELOC is longer than the draw period. This period of loan repayment can last up to twenty years.

More Flexible Payments

Though it can be a risky strategy to only make interest-only payments during the draw period, an interest-only HELOC can be a reasonable solution if you have the option of only making payments on the interest during the draw period.

apartment building improved with interest only heloc
More flexible payments are one of the appealing features of interest-only HELOCs for primary residences or rental properties.

For example, you might plan on paying toward your principal during the draw period but end up taking advantage of the interest-only option for a few months if you lose your job or have to make a big purchase.

The Disadvantages of an Interest-Only HELOC

Though you might find the initial minimal monthly payments of the interest-only HELOC attractive, it’s important to understand that the golden years of making small payments won’t last forever. On top of that, the variable interest rates of HELOCs can mean that your payments fluctuate over time in a way that you simply can’t plan for.

Your Property Is Collateral

When you take out a HELOC of any kind, the money you borrow is secured by your property. This means that you risk losing your house or rental property if you are unable to repay the loan.

investment property interior plant and couch with interest only heloc
HELOCs are secured lines of credit, meaning you risk losing your house or investment property if you default.

To be fair, this is the case with your mortgage as well. Though it’s a risk that people take on every day, it’s important to understand that nonpayment could result in losing your property.

Variable Interest Rate

The rates for HELOCs are variable, not fixed. In the current climate of rising interest rates, the potential for owing significantly more in interest down the road is certainly a possibility.

When interest rates go up, the monthly payments you make on a variable-rate loan product will also increase.

It’s also important to consider what would happen if interest rates rise at the same time your repayment period begins. Not only will your monthly payments increase because you have to start paying back the principal in addition to interest, but the amount you’ll owe in interest will be higher than usual. The combination of these factors could mean that your monthly payment is shockingly and problematically high.

Increase in Payments After the Draw Period

Though it’s nice to have low monthly payments during the draw period, it’s important not to let that blind you to the fact that your payments will increase as soon as the repayment period begins. How much it increases will depend on the size of the loan and if you've been making payments toward the principal, but there’s a good chance it will be significant.

This is because you will need to start making loan repayments for both the principal balance as well as the interest you owe. If you are thinking about taking out an interest-only HELOC, you’ll want to think about when the repayment period will begin and what the monthly payments will look like down the road.

Your Credit Score Impacts Your Rate

An interest-only HELOC– or a HELOC of any kind, for that matter– might not be the best choice if your credit isn’t great. The interest rates you’ll be offered will be higher when you have a lower credit score. This is because lenders use credit scores as a way of measuring the likelihood that a borrower will actually pay back the money they take out.

If you don’t have good credit, you end up losing the low-interest rate commonly associated with home equity lines of credit, which is one of the primary benefits of a HELOC.

Is an Interest Only HELOC a Good Idea For a Rental Property?

If you own a rental property and you’re thinking about tapping into the equity in order to purchase another property, consolidate debt, or make improvements on the rentals already in your portfolio, you might be wondering if an interest-only HELOC is the right type of loan for you.

rental apartment with interest only heloc
It's typically more expensive and more difficult to get a HELOC for a rental property.

While it is possible to get a HELOC for an investment property, they are usually harder to get and more expensive than if you were getting one using your primary residence as collateral. If you recently purchased your rental using a mortgage, this likely isn’t news to you– in general, lenders see investment properties as riskier than personal homes.

Though this might be a bit frustrating, it does make some sense. After all, if you were to find yourself in financial trouble, would you be more likely to default on the payment of your rental property or the home where you live with your family?

On top of them being more expensive, it can also be more difficult to find a lender that offers HELOCs for rental properties.

If you’re able to find a lender that offers an interest-only HELOC for an investment property and you're still happy with the ROI compared to taking out a similar loan on your primary residence, the benefits include:

  • Flexible line of credit: During the draw period, you can continuously draw upon your line of credit up to your credit limit. This makes it an appealing way to borrow money when you aren’t sure about the total cost of the project you’re working on. Basically, you have access to a large sum of potential funding but you don’t have to pay interest on any of the money you don’t use.
  • Doesn’t put your primary residence at risk: If you default on the loan, you’ll lose your rental property. Even though HELOCs on rental properties are more expensive than HELOCs on primary residences, some investors still might prefer to use an investment property rather than their personal home as collateral.

On the flip side, there are some drawbacks to getting an interest-only HELOC using your rental to secure the loan, including:

  • It might come with more closing costs and fees: Your loan might be more expensive than if you take out a HELOC against your primary residence. Some lenders will waive closing costs and fees for personal home HELOCs, they probably won’t if you’re taking out a HELOC using a rental.
  • Might come with a higher interest rate: Since investment properties are viewed by lenders as riskier than primary residences, you will likely find that the interest rate you’re offered is higher than if you took out the loan with your own home as collateral.
  • More difficult to find a lender: While tons of lenders offer HELOCs for primary residences, you might not be able to easily find one to offer a line of credit with your rental property as collateral.

Additionally, you’ll want to think about how you can plan for repaying a variable-rate loan as a part of your rental property business. While the low minimum payments can be nice for someone just starting their real estate empire, you also don’t want to get destroyed by rising rates and the increased monthly payment when the repayment period begins.

Are you buying a rental property or analyzing your existing portfolio? If so, be sure to check out our rental property calculators to help you meet your financial goals.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and is a real estate investor and researcher. With more than ten years of experience owning and managing investment properties, she has gained valuable insight into the pros and cons of operating rentals. Sophia is dedicated to helping others create wealth through real estate and aims to provide straightforward information about every aspect of rental property ownership.
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