A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is a popular financing option that allows homeowners to borrow against the equity in their homes. Your credit score plays a crucial role in determining your eligibility for a HELOC, as well as the interest rate and terms. In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover the impact of bad credit on HELOCs, review top providers for borrowers with poor credit, offer tips to improve your credit score and guide you on finding the best HELOC rates and terms.

Understanding Bad Credit

Credit scores range from 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating better creditworthiness. Generally, a score below 620 is considered 'bad' or 'poor' credit. Lenders view borrowers with bad credit as higher risk, which can result in less favorable loan terms or even denial of the application.

Impacts of Bad Credit on HELOCs

Bad credit can affect HELOCs in several ways:

  1. Higher interest rates: Borrowers with bad credit typically receive higher interest rates, which means higher monthly payments and more interest paid over the life of the loan.
  2. Lower credit limits: Lenders may offer a lower credit limit, limiting the amount you can borrow against your home's equity.
  3. Stricter loan terms: Borrowers with bad credit may face additional restrictions, such as shorter repayment periods or higher fees.

Top HELOC Providers for Bad Credit

  • Figure

    • 8.25%APR Range
    • $15,000 to $400,000Loan Amount Range
    • 5 to 30 yearsRepayment Terms
    • NoneAnnual Fees
    • 24 hoursPre-Approval Time

  • Bank of America

    • 9.55%APR Range
    • $25,000 to $1,000,000Loan Amount Range
    • 10-year draw period; 20-year repayment periodRepayment Terms
    • NoneAnnual Fees
    • Not specifiedPre-Approval Time

    Bank of America
  • U.S. Bank

    • Not specifiedAPR Range
    • $15,000 to $750,000Loan Amount Range
    • 10-year draw period; unspecified repayment periodRepayment Terms
    • $90Annual Fees
    • Not specifiedPre-Approval Time

    U.S. Bank

Tactics To Boost Your Chances for Favorable HELOC Offers


Maintain Timely Payments on Current Debts

Making timely payments of your existing debts, including credit cards, loans and mortgages, has proven to be an effective strategy for improving your credit score. Remember, your payment history influences 35% of your credit score. Therefore, a solid record of punctual payments can significantly enhance your credit score over time.


Fix Any Errors on Your Credit Report

Mistakes on your credit report can adversely affect your credit score. Make a habit of periodically checking your credit report and swiftly dispute any inaccuracies you come across with the credit bureaus. This way, you can ensure your score genuinely reflects your credit history.


Consider a Co-Signer

When applying for a HELOC with poor credit (FICO score of 579 and below), roping in a trustworthy co-signer with a higher income or better credit score can improve your loan approval odds. A co-signer not only shares the repayment liability but can also provide access to more equity, allowing you to qualify for higher loan amounts and more favorable rates. Co-signers are typically spouses, family members or friends, but anyone can serve this role, provided there's mutual trust.


Evaluate Your Debt-to-Income (DTI) Ratio

Your DTI ratio — a measure of your debt level against your income — significantly affects your eligibility for HELOCs and other financial products. Lenders often look for a DTI of 43% or less, although some may require even lower. If your DTI exceeds 43%, you might need to work on lowering it before applying for a HELOC. One effective way to reduce your DTI is to pay down existing debts, preferably starting with those with the highest interest rates. You can calculate your DTI by dividing your total monthly debt payments by your monthly income, then multiplying by 100 to get a percentage. Tools like MoneyGeek’s debt-to-income calculator can help you work out this percentage effortlessly.

Other Essential Steps to Enhance Your Credit:

  • Work on reducing your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit that you're currently using. Aim to pay off outstanding balances and keep credit card usage to a minimum.
  • Refrain from applying for new credit unless absolutely necessary, as each credit application can cause a temporary dip in your credit score.
  • Keep a balanced mix of credit types, such as installment loans (auto loans, student loans) and revolving credit (credit cards). A diversified credit portfolio can demonstrate your ability to responsibly manage different types of credit.

Shopping Around for HELOCs

When exploring HELOC options, it's important to note that interest rates can vary significantly between different lenders. This difference makes it essential to shop around for the best rates and terms that suit your unique financial needs. The interest rate offered to you isn't random; it's influenced by several factors, including your credit score, the loan-to-value ratio (how much you owe on your home compared to its current market value) and the specific policies of the lender you choose.

The Vital Role of Comparing Rates and Terms

Comparing rates and terms across various lenders can lead you to the HELOC that best matches your financial circumstances. It's not only about the lowest interest rate — also consider other elements such as any associated fees, the terms of repayment and the credit limits when you're weighing different loan offers. Each of these aspects can impact your loan's total cost and feasibility.

Let's say you're considering two HELOC offers:

Offer A: A HELOC with an interest rate of 4.5%, no annual fees, a 20-year repayment period and a credit limit of $75,000.

Offer B: A HELOC with an interest rate of 4.0%, a $100 annual fee, a 10-year repayment period and a credit limit of $50,000.

On the surface, Offer B seems more attractive due to the lower interest rate. However, the additional $100 annual fee over time could add to the overall cost of the loan. Moreover, the shorter repayment period in Offer B means higher monthly payments, which might be less manageable depending on your cash flow. The lower credit limit of Offer B might also not meet your needs if you have significant expenses planned.

This example shows how crucial it is to look beyond the interest rate when comparing HELOC offers. The interest rate is indeed a critical component, but fees, repayment terms and credit limits also significantly affect the total cost and suitability of the loan for your personal financial situation.

Strategies for Effective Shopping Around

Gathering Quotes from a Variety of Lenders: Let's say you gather quotes from three types of lenders for a HELOC: a traditional bank, a credit union and an online lender. The bank offers you a 5% interest rate with a $50 annual fee, the credit union offers a 4.5% interest rate with a $75 annual fee and the online lender offers a 4.75% interest rate with no annual fee. The bank might provide better customer service and physical branches, the credit union may provide a sense of community and slightly lower rates due to its non-profit status and the online lender might offer greater convenience and no fees. By considering these quotes and the unique advantages of each lender type, you can better determine which offer best suits your needs.

Analyzing the APR: Now, let's focus on the bank and credit union offers mentioned earlier. The bank's offer of a 5% interest rate and $50 annual fee may seem less favorable than the credit union's offer of a 4.5% interest rate and $75 annual fee. But by calculating the APR, which includes both interest and fees, you might find that the bank's APR is actually lower due to the smaller annual fee. Therefore, the bank's offer could be the more cost-effective option over time.

Negotiating with Lenders: Suppose you really like the terms of the credit union's offer but are deterred by the slightly higher APR. You could go back to the credit union and express your interest in their terms but concern over the fees. Due to the competitive nature of the industry, they might be willing to lower the annual fee to secure your business. Therefore, by negotiating, you might end up with a better offer than initially presented. Always remember, it doesn't hurt to ask.

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Obtaining a HELOC with bad credit is possible, but it may come with higher interest rates and less favorable terms. You can increase your chances of securing a competitive HELOC by improving your credit score and comparing multiple lenders. Don't let bad credit discourage you from exploring your options; with research and persistence, you can find a HELOC that meets your financial needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

About Christopher Boston

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Christopher Boston is a Senior Manager of Content Strategy and SEO at MoneyGeek. For over half a decade, they have crafted hundreds of articles spanning the higher education, mortgage and personal loan industries. Christopher is passionate about using their skills and experience to create quality content that helps people save and spend their earnings efficiently.