Home improvement projects can be a big headache. But their benefits usually outweigh the hassles.
Home improvements by definition increase the value of your home. You immediately have more equity and more profit potential. They increase the cost basis of your home, so you’ll have less capital gains taxes when/if you sell. And the interest on qualifying home improvement loans is tax deductible.
The thought of undertaking such a project may cause fear and anxiety. You have lots of decisions to make. Like figuring out how you are going to pay for it…
According to the experts, the best way to pay for a home improvement project is with cash. Easy for them to say, right? What if you’re having a hard time as it is? Credit cards are a possibility. They’re also expensive and dangerous, especially if you’re already in debt. And it’s not always easy to deal with a bank.
Fortunately you have options: people and programs are available to help you afford your project:
Discover your program today!
First, if you are trying to renovate or restore a historic building you could be eligible for a very specific type of grant. Before you look any further check out our review of grants to restore historical buildings. If you are improving your own home and are reading this before late December of 2015, a refinance under the HARP program could save you a lot of money monthly with a smaller mortgage payment. Plus you might be able to take some cash out at a very low rate. The requirements have relaxed a lot under this plan! Even if you have applied and been turned down in the past you could still have a chance today. Don’t wait, take a few minutes to read our summary about assistance for HARP eligibility.
If neither of those conditions apply, there are other options that could work for you. Before you begin, keep in mind that there are lots of ways to make improvements that make you happy, don’t cost a lot of money, and increase the value of your home. According to the New York Times, both the National Association of Realtors and the Appraisal Institute encourage homeowners to forget about big remodeling projects and do less dramatic upgrades instead. That way you can get a bigger return on your home improvement investment. Some of the most valuable upgrades you can do include replacing your entry door with a steel door, smaller kitchen projects like replacing cabinet fronts as well as new appliances and laminate countertops. Whatever you choose, here are some ways to get help with your costs:
If you’re not tackling a big undertaking you might carefully consider paying by credit card. That could be a good idea if you can get a special promotional deal like paying zero interest for a year. That option might even come with some other rewards attached to spending with the credit card. But don’t even think about it unless you can be disciplined about paying off what you owe within the time period of the deal. Otherwise you will end up paying a high price in interest - especially if rates go up. On the plus side, you don’t have to go through a lot of paperwork for a loan.
If you have decided that credit cards are the way you want to go, choose the card carefully! There are some that offer some great rewards and with the amount your improvements may cost that can be big. One that has been highlighted as noteworthy by NerdWallet is the Citi Double Cash Card. It offers 1% back when you make a purchase (any purchase!) plus 1% back when you pay it off — not bad. And it has no annual fee. And if you make use of the Citi Bonus Cash Center you can get as much as 10% back on purchases at stores like Lowe’s and Bed Bath & Beyond — those could certainly be involved in your improvements!
Have you considered a home equity loan, also known as a HELOC? These loans are made based on the value of your home. It’s basically a second mortgage with your home as collateral. Typically you can borrow up to 85% of your home’s value. Rates are usually fixed rather than variable. Rates tend to be higher than on a standard mortgage, but they’re also considerably lower than loans on your credit card. There will probably also be an origination free, a charge for appraising your home’s value and a few other charges normally associated with a mortgage. But they’re a good option to consider to avoid running up expensive credit card debt.
Be very wary of contractors or others who encourage you to use PACE financing to make your home improvements. It may sound like a good deal because you might be assured that this government program will get you off the hook for payments. Very misleading! In fact the loan will be attached to your property taxes and you could be on the hook for more than you expect. And as of last December (2017) the Federal Housing Agency will not insure mortgages which have these types of loans outstanding. Be on the lookout for loans like this that sound too good to be true, and take extra care with elderly loved ones in need of home repairs who might go for a deal they could regret.
If you are a senior, you should definitely check with your local Area Agency on Aging. These agencies receive money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development called Community Block Development Grants. They sometimes use these Grants to assist the elderly with improvements to their homes. To be eligible you must qualify based on your income. Sometimes the improvements will be provided free, and other times the charge while be on a sliding scale —- which means you will pay a much lower price than retail.
Sometimes your own town or your county has access to Block Grant funds that can be used to build up the community, assist low income folks, improve structures, and more. A good first step for you to get in touch with your local town or county office and ask about any programs that could help you. These might be in the form of a grant or even a forgivable loan. If your improvement is an emergency for your health and safety you might also find a local agency or church willing to help you. If you dial 2-1-1 they could probably give you some useful referrals and/or off some great advice for ways you could finance your project.
HUD Title 1 Property Improvement Loan Program: Part of the National Housing Act, these loans are insured by the FHA against possible loss, so banks are more willing to make them. Unlike some other programs, you don’t have to live in any particular area to be eligible. Loans for improvements to single family homes can be maximum of $25,000 for a maximum term of 20years.
If you are considering a HUD Title 1 loan there are some advantages to factor into your decision making. Since you only need approval from a bank (the lender), you don’t need to wait for a government agency or go through a lot of red tape. Mobile homes are eligible too — they have a maximum o $7500 over 12 years. And you don’t have to live in a specific area (i.e. like a rural location) in order to be eligible.) And you will probably be able to negotiate a better interest rate since the loan is backed by the FHA.
You can use these loans for any improvement that is not considered a “luxury item” — so new appliances that are built into the house are ok but an outdoor fireplace is not. If you need to modify your home to accommodate an elderly or disabled person that qualifies too. The loan can be used to pay a contractor or you can do the work yourself — but in that case only the cost of materials can be financed (i.e. you can’t use the loan to pay yourself…).
Since these loans only have to be approved by the lender you can usually get them pretty quickly (assuming your credit is ok). You can also have some confidence knowing that the lender is approved by the FHA. Do a search for FHA approved lenders in your area or just call HUD’s customer service line at 800-767-7468.
USDA Single Family Housing Repair Loans
These loans are made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “very-low-income” homeowners for the purpose of improving their houses. Uses can include both repairs and modernization projects that help get rid of conditions which threaten the health and safety of occupants. The borrower must be the person who owns — and lives in — the home. The maximum loan allowable is $20,000, and it can be paid over 20 years. The interest rate is fixed at 1% so it’s pretty attractive. You can apply for the loan any time but you first need to check the address of the home to be sure it is located in a qualifying area. And you can do that fairly easily: go to usda.gov; enter “loans” in the search box in the upper right of the screen; in the list of results, click Eligibility - USDA. That will take you to the site where you can follow directions to determine whether your property and your income qualify you for this loan.
Grants are also available under this program which is also referred to as the Section 504 Home Repair Program. Grants have to be used for the specific purpose of getting rid of hazards that threaten health and safety. The grantee must own and occupy the home. Grants are available for up to $7500. If the owner sells the home within three years of receipt of the grant then the grant must be repaid. And if you have enough funds to pay for part of the repairs you might receive a combination loan/grant award. There’s no specific deadline date for applications, they are accepted year round. The length of time that it takes for applicants to get approved depends on the availability in your area.
Grants for Individuals
The only true government grant offered to individuals for this purpose is similar to the USDA loans described above. The amounts are smaller — the maximum amount for a grant is $7500 — and to be eligible you must not only live in specific areas but you must also be 62 or older and qualify based on your income. If you sell the property in less than three years, the grant must be repaid.
You can use the directions above to determine your eligibility. You can also talk to a USDA specialist in home loans if have questions or need help with an application. Try their information hot line to locate a specialist in your area: 202-720-2791.
Don't forget about private non-profits and foundations when you are looking for a grant for your home! You are most likely to find them by keeping up with your local newspaper and bulletin boards in places like libraries and supermarkets and such. Also do regular internet searches for home repair and include the name of your city/county/state. For example, very recently an article was in a local Cape Cod newspaper about home improvment grants of up to $20,000 available using funds from the Orleans Community Preservation Act. They hired the Harwich Ecumenical Council for the Homeless, Inc. to manage the program and provided a phone number that interested people could call. So be alert, be always on the lookout for this kind of announcement. It's usually the case that the earlier you apply the better your chances of getting a grant.
Grants for Agencies and Non-profits
Most of the government grants for home improvement go to community agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Those are the groups with deal directly with individual people and families. The money is federal money (collected from taxpayers of course) but it goes through these intermediate groups who know the community and can work directly with recipients. So forget going to grants.gov to find a grant to improve your home — you won’t find one and you’ll be frustrated dealing with the site (learn more about why_grants.gov_is_not_for_you).
Still, billions of dollars in grants are given out each year to improve homes and strengthen communities. Examples are often in the news. In June of2015 Governor Cuomo of New York announced 61 awards totaling $11 million. They went to cities and towns and not-for-profits in part to improve housing for low and moderate income families. Other examples also come from organizations that are part of Neighbor Works. They are a national non-profit created by congress to help reach and support homeowners with loans and grants and other services, and they receive funds from the federal government. they don’t give out money directly but work through a network of local organizations. Learn more about them and how to find an organization in your area in Grants for Home Repair.
There are several resources on this site which provide home-related tips and information for specific groups. These include our review_of_disability.gov and our articles Grants for Seniors and Grants for Veterans.