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What Are Hard Money Loans?

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It’s not unusual to be caught in a Catch-22 when you’re looking for loans. The ideal borrower is one with good credit and strong revenue. You know, the kind that isn’t that desperate for a cash infusion.

But if you’re looking to purchase and develop property, even with a handicap like poor credit, there’s another option: a hard money loan.

What Is A Hard Money Loan?

If you’ve spent some time on our site, you’ll notice we’ve reviewed a lot of alternative lenders that offer short-term loans and merchant cash advances. These products also serve companies with bad credit, but they require the company to have strong monthly cash flow and sign a personal guarantee rather than put up collateral in the traditional sense.

Hard money, on the other hand, requires collateral — almost always in the form of the real estate you’re buying — but puts less emphasis on your cash-flow. In that way, it loosely resembles a mortgage.

As strange as it may sound, a hard money lender isn’t counting on you being able to pay your loan back, which is why your credit isn’t likely to be as big a consideration. Your loan will be based primarily on the value of your collateral. If you default on your loan, the lender will take possession of the real estate you used for security.

Otherwise, hard money loans closely resemble other high-interest short- or medium-term loans. Most will have a term length of less than a year. The longer ones can last up to five. There’s no standardized underwriting process for hard money lending, so the process can vary greatly between lenders. Generally speaking, interest rates will fall somewhere between 9 – 21 percent.

Where Can You Get A Hard Money Loan?

Hard money lenders typically fly under the radar relative to banks and cash flow-based alternative lenders. These lenders tend to be investment companies or private investors with an interest in the real estate industry. Because real estate is tied to a specific geographic area, hard money lenders, with a few exceptions (companies like Amza Capital or Lending One), tend to lend locally or regionally.

At present, hard money lenders can be challenging to find. Local real estate brokers and associations may be able to point you in the direction of investors/hard money lenders in your community. There are also online resources that can give you an idea of who is operating in your region, but be warned that these resources will steer you toward the bigger hard money lenders. This may not be an issue for you, but if you’re looking for a more personal arrangement, you may have to engage with your local real estate community.

Because you’re trading on real estate, the hotter your local real estate market, the more options in terms of hard money lenders. The flipside of this is that if your local real estate market is all but dead, hard money may be hard to come by. A hard money lender is less interested in who you are as a borrower than in the potential value of the property you’re buying. That said, you should be prepared to demonstrate your credibility as a borrower.

Qualifications For A Hard Money Loan

The amount of money a hard money lender can give you for a loan is based on the value of the property with which you’re securing it. The more valuable the property, the more money you can get. That’s the only and truly non-negotiable qualification for getting a hard money loan.

That said, there are other factors a hard money lender will consider. Many hard money lenders will deal with a specific type of property (commercial, residential), so you’ll need to find one who works with the type of property you’re securing. You may need to demonstrate that you have your own capital to invest in the property and have an actionable plan for paying off the loan. They’ll also consider any previous experience you have with real estate transactions.

Your credit rating may be considered so far as determining your interest goes, but it will rarely be a deciding factor in whether or not you get the loan (unless it’s completely abysmal).

Paying Back A Hard Money Loan

Because each hard money loan is unique, your exact terms will depend on the deal you’ve secured with your hard money lender, the region in which you’re buying, and the loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of the transaction. The higher the percentage, the more risk your lender is taking on which, in turn, usually means higher interest rates for you.

Additionally, you’ll incur closing fees and/or costs in the form of “points.” Points can refer to a variety of fees associated with a hard money loan, but generally speaking, every point charged on your hard money loan translates to 1 percent of the loan amount. So if you’re borrowing $100,000 and your hard money lender charges you 4 points, your fees will amount to $4,000. Points are paid up front and provide the lender with some return on investment in case you pay off your loan early.

Otherwise, a hard money loan is a lot like other installment loans. Your loan will accumulate interest over time. You’ll make payments (typically monthly) until your loan is paid off. Ideally, you’ll pay off your hard money loan early before its high-interest rates accumulate. Because this is expected, there rarely are penalties for paying off your hard money loan ahead of schedule.

Why You Might Need A Hard Money Loan

A hard money loan probably requires more serious consideration than most other types of loans. You’re putting valuable property on the line for a high-risk, high-interest loan that your lender is half-expecting you to default on. So who is this type of loan for?

The uses for hard money are pretty niche. You’re not going to use one for working capital or personal financing. The archetypal hard money borrower is a person who flips houses, with the purchased property serving as the collateral. This person isn’t planning to stay on the property long enough to get underwater on their hard money loan. Ideally, they fix the property, increase its value, then sell it. Failing that, they find a way to refinance before either losing the property or paying far more in interest than the property is worth. Renting out the property is another common strategy.

In other words, you’re looking to acquire property quickly and get rid of it almost as quickly (or at least find a way to monetize it).

An easy way to think of a hard money loan is as a loan by investors to investors.

Other advantages include:

  • Fast Approval: Doing an end run around the byzantine approval processes of banks will usually save you time. This can be especially useful in competitive real estate markets where you need to beat other buyers to the punch.
  • Flexibility: If you’re into real estate investments, a hard money lender might be more sympathetic to your fix-and-flip strategy than a bank would be.
  • Negotiable: Hard money lenders can, at least in theory, be negotiated with in a way that banks can’t.
  • Bad Credit Isn’t Disqualifying: So long as you can provide a good plan, equity, and prove your real estate experience, poor credit probably won’t rule you out of the hard money scene.

Why You Should Be Cautious With Hard Money Loans

buying a pos system

As is often the case with innovative, unregulated areas of finance, you should do your due diligence before you sign up for a deal. Given that there aren’t many regulatory systems in place, the hard money lending space is an ideal environment for predatory lending. Your best bet is to have a lawyer familiar with hard money contracts look over your offer and make sure your interests are being represented.

Other drawbacks include:

  • High Interest: Interest rates on hard money loans can easily rise to the high teens and sometimes higher.
  • Loan Fees: These would be comparable to a normal loan’s origination fee, but they’re usually much higher, ranging typically between 2 to 10 percent of the amount you’re borrowing.
  • Downpayment: Hard money loans will usually cover, at most, 75 percent of the cost of the property.

Final Thoughts

Hard money loans fill a very specific niche, but if your business involves real estate development, has bad credit, and needs to act quickly, they represent a potentially fast, powerful tool. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you put your signature on anything, and have a well-thought-out exit strategy just in case. Most of the time you want to avoid riding your hard money loan out to the end of your term.

If hard money sounds too risky, or you don’t have much prior experience in real estate, you may want to consider crowdfunding options for purchasing real estate.

Have bad credit but hard money is too niche for your financing needs? Check out some other ways to finance your business. Had a bankruptcy and need a more traditional loan? You may still have options.

A merchant cash advance might be a viable option. Compare top lenders:
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Chris Motola

Chris Motola

Finance Writer at Merchant Maverick
Chris Motola is a writer, programmer, game designer, and product of NY. These days he's mostly writing about financial products, but in a past life he wrote about health care and business. He's a graduate of the University of Central Florida.
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