Depending on your needs and circumstances, opening a personal line of credit can be a good idea for securing flexible access to funds for large planned expenses. This type of financial product provides you with access to a set amount of money for a fixed number of years (called the draw period).
Here’s a brief summary of how a personal line of credit works in general, although terms and conditions will vary by lender:
- With a personal line of credit, you can withdraw as much of the available money you want, up to the limit, during the draw period.
- Interest accrues only on the borrowed sum, not the unused portion.
- Assuming that you stick to the lender’s terms, once the amount drawn against the personal line of credit is paid back, that amount is available for you to borrow from again immediately during the draw period.
- Broadly speaking, if your draw period comes to a close and you still have a balance on the account, you’ll enter what’s known as a repayment period. During this time, you’ll be given a specific time frame to pay off what’s left. The specifics of repayment of a personal line of credit product will vary depending on the lender.
When evaluating whether a personal line of credit is a good option for your needs, it’s important to consider how it compares to similar financial products.
For example, the interest rates for personal lines of credit are typically lower than the rates on most credit cards, making the cost to borrow comparatively reasonable.
As another example, a benefit that a personal line of credit has over a personal loan is that interest is only assessed on the amount you use. With a personal loan, which offers a lump sum of funds at origination, interest is typically calculated into the entire amount you borrow — even if you don't need to have all that money at once.
And because a personal line of credit can be accessed multiple times over a set period of time, then used as needed for a wide array of purposes, it’s inherently more flexible than a single-purpose loan.
So how can a personal line of credit help you fund your near-term goals? Everyone’s financial situation is different, so think about your future plans, the potential costs of those plans and your ability to repay a loan. To get you started, here are the top four reasons to consider having a personal line of credit at your disposal.
4 reasons why a personal line of credit may be a good idea
Personal lines of credit have many compelling features. They act as an affordable payment tool for the things you’re ready to buy. They can also function as a way to manage planned expenses without having to wait for compensation to be delivered into your bank account or needing to liquidate investments. A personal line of credit can also be a strategic refinancing option for high-interest debt you currently hold.
Keep in mind that terms and conditions of a specific personal line of credit will vary by lender, but these are generally the key benefits:
1. Lower interest rate than credit cards
In general, a personal line of credit will offer a lower interest rate compared to a credit card, with the caveat that interest rates will vary, depending on the lender. This makes financing expensive purchases affordable. For example, you may have visions of your dream home, but you may not want to draw from your reserves for the cost of an upgraded kitchen, adding a deck or purchasing all new appliances. It may not make sense to charge these larger expenses to a high Annual Percentage Rate (APR) credit cards, because the fees can ultimately lead to higher overall costs.
You won’t have that issue with a personal line of credit. You can also refinance existing debt by using the credit line to pay down higher-interest student or auto loans.
2. Flexible access to cash
There is peace of mind in knowing that you can easily handle anticipated expenses that can be tough to precisely time or that might arise outside your normal compensation schedule. With a personal line of credit, you won’t have to delay a home renovation project, a major move to begin a new job or other family planning needs. Having the funds now, rather than waiting for that annual bonus, will ensure that you can achieve your financial goals whether they’re near or far into the future. And if those situations never come up, you won’t be charged any interest on the money that’s on standby.
3. Varied spending options
You can use the funds from a personal line of credit on almost anything. Maybe your daughter just announced her engagement and you’ve promised to pick up the tab for the wedding, or you and your spouse want to take a second honeymoon to a dream destination. Perhaps you want to start a family and are considering undergoing fertility treatments. Or maybe you’re looking into the future and want to ensure that you can financially handle years of summer camp, piano lessons and private school. You’re in control. Terms vary by financial institution, but typically, as long as you don’t use the funds for commercial and business expenses or for speculative and illegal purposes, you decide on what you want to do with the money.
4. Payments only on what you borrow
With a personal line of credit, you take from the available balance only the amount you need during the draw period, and interest only accumulates on what you borrow.
A personal line of credit is often revolving, which means that as soon as the debt is repaid, you can borrow up to your credit limit again without going through another loan approval process. For a non-revolving line of credit, the account is closed when the credit line is paid off.
Depending on the lender, your personal line of credit payments may be interest-only, or encompass principal and interest. You’ll be responsible for at least making minimum payments on the amount you borrow each month.
Such flexibility is advantageous for fluctuating expenses like medical bills. Health insurance may not cover all treatments, or have a high deductible and costly co-pays. Hospital visits, x-rays, a battery of blood tests, surgeries, orthodontics, dental implants, eyeglasses, hearing aids — all can make a huge dent in your bank account. Using a personal line of credit to manage anticipated medical expenses can help put your finances in a healthy position.
Should I get a personal line of credit?
When you’re ready for access to funds to handle the diverse array of life events that can arise, taking out a personal line of credit may be a good idea. It can be empowering to know that a trusted lender can extend you the money you need to make a significant purchase or slash the cost of old debts as you grow in your career and increase your net worth.
So think: could having flexible access to funds let you reach your next milestone and achieve your financial goals? Analyze your financial situation with First Republic's Personal Line of Credit Calculator to determine whether a personal line of credit is right for you.