Top 3 Solar Panel Financing Options (Tips to Maximize Your ROI)

Top 3 Solar Panel Financing Options (Tips to Maximize Your ROI)

In this EcoWatch guide on solar panel financing, you’ll learn:

  • What’s the best way to pay for solar panels in 2022?
  • What are the pros and cons of different solar financing methods?
  • Is solar loan interest tax deductible?
  • What banks are best for solar loans?

This guide has helped thousands of homeowners save money when going solar by helping them find the best financing option for their home. Let’s get started!

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What Are the 3 Most Common Solar Panel Financing Options?

When buying solar panels, there are generally three ways for homeowners to pay for their systems from a solar company: cash, loan or lease.

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SunPower

Best National Provider

Nationwide Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Most efficient panels on the market
  • National coverage
  • Cradle to Cradle sustainability certification
  • Great warranty coverage

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Customer service varies by local dealer
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Blue Raven Solar

Best Solar Financing

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Industry-leading in-house financing
  • Competitive pricing
  • Excellent reputation

Cons

  • Doesn't offer solar batteries (coming 2022)
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ADT Solar

Best Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Industry-leading warranty coverage
  • Expansive service area

Cons

  • Some reported communication issues
  • No leases or PPAs

solar panel financing quick tip

Paying for Solar Panels in Cash

For homeowners who wish to maximize their savings, paying in cash is the optimal way to go. After all, by buying a residential solar power system outright, you’re essentially paying in advance for 25 to 30 years of electricity to use in your home.

This means your home energy rates are locked in for decades, and you don’t have to worry about inflation or rising utility costs. The big problem with paying in cash is that the upfront system cost of solar power equipment tends to be fairly high.

Even when you take into account incentives like federal tax credits and rebates, you’re looking at an investment of at least $10,000 to $15,000. This isn’t going to be feasible for every homeowner.

Solar Panel Loans

Another option is to borrow money from a solar lender, using it to finance your solar installation, then paying it back over time. The most common types of solar loans include unsecured personal loans, home equity loans (or home equity lines of credit), home improvement loans, and in-house financing through your solar panel installation company.

If you choose a loan as your solar financing route, pay special attention to your annual percentage rate (APR), origination fees and loan terms. How much you pay in interest, fees, and your repayment period will often increase the overall cost of your renewable energy system.

However, rest assured that homeowners who finance their systems with a loan are still eligible for the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC), which may make it a bit easier to pay off that loan. Some states and local governments have low-interest rate loan programs for clean energy systems that you can take advantage of, such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans.

Borrowers sometimes have solar programs as well, like Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Energy mortgage. If you’re interested in paying for a solar installation via a loan, make sure you research all low-interest financing options available to you.

Additionally, with congress recently passing the Inflation Reduction Act, there will be a significant expansion in government loans for solar energy systems.

Leasing Solar Panels

Homeowners may also choose to either lease their solar panels or participate in a power purchase agreement (PPA), through which you buy the electricity the panels on your roof are producing. Solar leases and solar PPAs are pretty similar, but with one significant difference:

A solar lease means you’re making fixed monthly payments to use solar panels and other solar equipment, whereas a PPA means you’re making monthly payments simply for the electricity produced by solar panels. Naturally, the amount of electricity may fluctuate quite a bit from month to month.

Solar leases can seem attractive at first, but for most homeowners, they don’t make much financial sense. One reason for this is that homeowners in PPAs or leases are not eligible for the federal solar tax credit. Another thing to note is that solar leases don’t enhance your property values, which can be one of the big financial incentives of a residential solar system. Other financing options will allow you to save a lot more money in the long run.

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How Do These Solar Financing Options Compare?

Solar panels can be expensive, and deciding whether to pay with cash, choose solar financing or sign a solar lease can be confusing and a bit stressful. The short answer is that all of these options have their upsides and drawbacks, so it’s up to you to decide which is right for you.

Generally speaking, cash purchases are the best option because they save you the most money in the long run. Solar loans are a great alternative, and signing a solar lease should typically be avoided, although they do have their place in the solar industry.

In the following sections, we’ll explain some of the pros and cons of the different solar financing and payment options to help you decide which options work for you and which don’t.

solar panel financing lifetime savings

Paying in Cash: Pros & Cons

As you can see in the chart above, paying cash for your solar panels provides the greatest long-term value. However, it also requires the most significant amount of money upfront, so many people are unable to go this route.

The average cost of solar panels is around $23,940 before the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) or $16,758 after the 30% credit is applied. This is assuming the national average cost of solar panels of $2.66 and the average solar system size of 9 kilowatts (kW).

If you’re able to afford this upfront cost, you stand to save thousands of dollars that would otherwise cover the interest over the lifetime of a solar loan. Paying in cash also allows you to begin saving money right away with your solar production rather than waiting for your monthly energy savings to cover your loan payments. Below, we’ll include some pros and cons of paying for your solar system with cash.

Pros

  • No interest paid, meaning lower overall costs
  • Start saving money right away on your monthly electric bills
  • Maximize your return on investment (ROI)
  • Take advantage of solar tax credits
  • Boosts your home value

Cons

  • High upfront cost

Financing Solar Panels: Pros & Cons

Most homeowners choose to finance their solar power systems rather than pay with cash due to the high upfront cost of installing solar. Solar panel loans let you defer the total price of your solar panel system and pay it back over a period of several years, usually between five and seven years.

The primary downside to this option is that you’ll end up paying interest every month, which means you stand to save less over time than if you paid with cash.

Of course, solar loans come with major upsides, too, like far less money required upfront, which has lowered the barrier to entry for most homeowners. Those who purchase a system via a loan still maintain eligibility for solar tax credits, including the federal solar tax credit. We’ll briefly list the benefits and drawbacks of securing a solar loan below.

Pros

  • Minimal money required upfront
  • Lower barrier to entry than a cash purchase
  • Allows you to invest your money elsewhere
  • Still lets you take advantage of tax credits
  • Boosts your home value

Cons

  • You’ll pay interest on your loan, which prolongs your solar payback period
  • You’ll end up paying more for your system over time

Read Also: Paying For Solar – Tips For Financing (or Refinancing) a Residential System

Leasing Solar Panels: Pros & Cons

Solar leases were once a popular option because they require little to no money down and still let you support the adoption of clean energy sources. However, they’ve increasingly become considered a last-ditch effort to convert to solar for many homeowners because they typically save you the least amount of money.

Solar leases also tend to be sold by less reputable companies trying to make a quick buck. The majority of complaints toward solar companies come as a result of low-quality solar leases.

Here’s another key disadvantage of leasing your system: The company you lease from maintains ownership of the panels, which means it cashes in on any available tax credits and rebates rather than you benefitting from them.

Because you don’t own the system, solar leases also won’t add to your home value like solar loans and cash purchases do. In fact, solar leases can complicate the process of selling a home, as not all home buyers will want to assume the lease, and it can cost thousands of dollars to terminate your lease early.

Pros

  • No down payment required
  • Minimal barrier to entry
  • Allows low-income families to support clean energy
  • No maintenance required

Cons

  • Doesn’t increase your home value
  • Can complicate the process of selling a home
  • You lose eligibility for solar tax incentives
  • Sometimes sold by unethical companies
  • Often come with hefty cancellation fees

Before we move on, let’s take another look at the biggest advantages and disadvantages of each option.

solar panel financing options pros cons

Which Solar Panel Financing Option Is Right for You?

Ultimately, the way you choose to pay for your solar panel system will depend on a number of factors, including your expendable income, your credit score and ability to get a good loan rate, and more. Here’s a breakdown of which type of solar panel financing may be right for which homeowners:

Solar Financing Option Who it May Be Right For
Cash payment
  • Homeowners who really want to maximize their savings
  • Homeowners who have enough tax liability to take advantage of the federal credit
  • Homeowners with enough cash liquidity to pay for their solar installation outright
Solar loan
  • Homeowners who don’t have the funds to buy a solar system outright, but still want to reduce their monthly electric bills as much as possible
  • Homeowners who want to be eligible for all rebates and tax incentives
Solar lease or PPA
  • Homeowners who don’t want to deal with system maintenance
  • Homeowners not ready to commit to a system of their own
  • Homeowners who are ineligible for tax credits

What’s a Good Interest Rate When Financing Solar Panels?

Solar loan interest rates typically range from around 3.99% to up to 16.99% (with the highest interest rate possible being 24.99%). As is the case with any loan, the lower your interest rate, the better the deal and the less money you’ll pay in interest over time. Lower interest rates help reduce your repayment timeline, ultimately allowing you to save more money in the long run.

The average interest rate for a solar loan is between 3.99% and 5.99%, so we recommend searching for an interest rate below 6%. We’ll discuss some tips for reducing your APR below.

Is Interest From Solar Loans Tax Deductible?

Yes, interest from solar loans is tax deductible, so going solar with solar financing will benefit you when it’s time to do your taxes.

Installing solar equipment — provided you don’t opt for a solar lease — is considered a capital improvement, so it will bump up your home value. Since all capital improvement payments and interest charges are considered tax deductible by the IRS, your solar loan interest will also be tax deductible.

Many states also have sales and property tax exemptions on solar equipment, meaning your property taxes will not increase after solar installation despite it being an improvement. Solar sales tax exemptions can also shave a few thousand dollars off of your installation if you live in a state with sales tax.

Taking advantage of these tax incentives can be a bit confusing, but tax programs — like HR Block and TurboTax — or an accountant can help guide you through the process to ensure the maximum savings on your investment.

Which Banks Are Best for Solar Loans? (And Where to Apply)

Countless lenders now offer solar loans, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. In many cases, your solar installer will have relationships with specific solar loan providers, but you can always choose an outside lender for your solar system. As such, it’s wise to shop around and see which company offers you the lowest solar loan rate and the best terms.

We recommend applying to one or two of the big names that service your area in addition to the companies your solar installer offers. This way, you get a better sense of the options available to you.

We’ll include some information on specific banks for solar loans below, as well as some tips for finding the lowest rate available.

Best Solar Financing Banks

solar financing options

The most popular solar loan providers in most areas throughout the country include Mosaic, LightStream Financial, Sunlight Financial and GoodLeap. These companies have relatively low credit score requirements and can lend between $1,000 and $100,000 for your solar system, depending on your home and eligibility.

You can also turn to the bank or credit union you use for your checking or savings accounts. Many major banks and lenders — including Chase and Bank of America — don’t offer solar-specific loan products, but others — like Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae — do.

You might be eligible for a lower interest rate or more appealing terms if you choose to finance your solar panels with your primary banking institution.

How to Apply to Get the Best Rates

Just like when buying a house, it’s important to get as low an interest rate as possible on your loan. Lower interest rates can make the difference of several thousand dollars in the long run. There are a few things you can do to land more appealing solar loan terms.

  • Improve your credit score: Lenders look favorably on borrowers with higher credit scores, and they’re often willing to provide a lower APR to those individuals. It might take some time, but improving your credit score — especially if you’re in the 600-700 range — can do wonders for your solar loan interest rate. To do this, you can pay off credit card debt and ensure you’re not missing any monthly payments.
  • Shop around rather than settle for the first rate you get: Different lenders have varying tolerances for risk, which means one lender might offer you a significantly lower rate than another. We recommend getting two or three APR estimates from different top lenders to see which one can serve you best while saving you the most money.
  • Choose a secured loan over an unsecured loan: A secured loan, sometimes called a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC), utilizes collateral — meaning you’d borrow money against the value of an asset like your home — as a guarantee that you’ll make your monthly payments. Secured loans show you have more “skin in the game,” which lenders see as a sign of commitment and will often lower interest rates for.
  • Offer a higher down payment: For the same reasons mentioned above, a higher down payment shows your lender that you’re committed to owning your solar system. Interest rates tend to drop as down payments increase.
  • Opt for a fixed interest rate over variable loan options: Loans with fixed interest rates are more predictable and generally a better option than variable rates.
  • Have someone co-sign your loan: A co-signer agrees to secure your loan using their own credit score and reputation, so having a co-signer with a high credit score and good credit history is likely to land you a better rate.

How Long Is a Typical Solar Loan?

Like all other loans, solar loans can vary quite a bit in their length. Most fall between 10 and 20 years, but you could find a lender for a three-year loan or a 30-year loan, depending on your specific situation.

The average length of a solar loan is around 15 years, which is longer than most solar systems take to pay for themselves. Keep in mind that longer loan terms tend to decrease your interest rate, but they also lead to higher overall payments for your system.

What Credit Score Do You Need for a Solar Loan?

Generally speaking, you’ll need a credit score above 550 to secure a solar loan. However, there are exceptions to that rule of thumb, and your loan approval or denial is really based on your individual situation.

We’ll explain what you can reasonably expect as far as an interest rate and overall loan experience based on different credit scores below.

Solar Financing for Credit Score Below 550

If you have a credit score below 550, you’re very likely to have some trouble securing a solar loan. You might be able to find a lender who will make an exception, especially if you provide collateral for the loan — via a secured solar loan — and offer a large down payment.

However, at this credit score, it’s likely a better option to opt for a solar lease or, better still, to work to improve your credit score before applying for a solar loan.

Rates for Credit Scores Between 550 and 650

If your credit score is between 550 and 650, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue finding a mainstream lender to approve a loan for you. Lenders like Upgrade, PenFed, Alliant, BestEgg and LightStream have been known to approve loans in this range.

Keep in mind that if your credit score is in this range, your APR on a solar loan will likely be above the average of 6%.

Financing Solar With a Credit Score of 650+

Once your credit score surpasses 650, you’ll have many options available to you and no shortage of lenders that will approve loans at reasonable annual percentage rates.

In addition to the companies mentioned in the previous credit score range, a 650+ credit score will open you up to loans from SoFi, Mosaic, Discover, SunLight Financial, SunPower Financial and GoodLeap.

Your APR will likely be under 10%, with higher credit scores moving you closer to the 6% average or the lowest rates around 4%.

Watch Below: The below video quickly explains what you should look for in a solar panel loan and how to find the best deal for your needs.

How Can You Save Money When Going Solar?

While the initial solar investment can be steep, there are options available to homeowners who wish to save money on their solar installation.

  • Federal solar tax credit: Currently, installing a solar system qualifies you for a tax credit that’s worth 30% of the total equipment and installation cost.
  • Local utility rebates: Many municipal utility companies offer rebates (such as a property tax exemption) to homeowners who go solar. Research your local utility providers to learn more.
  • Net metering: Also see if there is a net metering program available in your area. Net metering gives you the opportunity to funnel any surplus energy you generate back into the electrical grid, in exchange for a credit from your utility company.
  • Shopping around: Finally, remember that not all solar installers are created equal. Shop around and compare quotes to ensure you’re getting the best value.

Find out how much you can save by going solar with our Solar Calculator. Find out how much you could save on energy costs and what incentives and tax credits you qualify for.

Wrap Up: Is Financing Solar Panels Worth it?

As we’ve mentioned, purchasing solar panels with cash upfront will provide the best long-term returns — but we understand that won’t be feasible for most people.

However, for many homeowners, financing solar panels is absolutely worth it. With a solar loan, you get all the same perks of system ownership that you would if you paid in cash but with a minimal down payment — or none at all. Think about it as renting-to-own.

Here are a few of the biggest advantages of financing a system:

  • Minimal or zero money down
  • Maintains eligibility for the federal tax credit and local rebates
  • Boosts your property value

Financing your solar panels will require you to pay more in the long run than you would with cash, as you’ll have the total system cost plus the interest you pay on your loan. However, most homeowners repay their loans within five to 10 years using the energy savings provided by their solar panels.

In closing, solar financing has become an excellent way to convert to renewable energy, minimize your upfront payment and still receive all the tax incentives and energy-saving benefits that come with owning a system.

FAQs: Financing Solar Panels

Below are a few questions EcoWatch readers regularly send in about financing their solar panels. If you have anymore, do not hesitate to contact us!

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Josh Hurst
Article author
Writer and editor with more than a decade’s experience in journalism. Josh worked for Christianity Today for seven years, and has contributed to special assignments for Apple Music and iTunes. Josh lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife, Kati, and two sons, Henry and Dylan.