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Bottom Line Up Front

  • Home equity is how much of your home you own outright, compared to the mortgage.
  • Homeowners can tap into their equity using a HEL, HELOC or cash-out refinance. 
  • Home equity is a great way to finance big purchases—just make sure to use it responsibly.

Time to Read

5 minutes

August 3, 2022

What Is Home Equity?

Home equity is the difference between how much you owe on your mortgage and how much your home is worth—that is, how much of the home you own. The more equity you have, the more of the home you own and the greater your stake in the property as an asset. 

There are 3 ways to accumulate home equity: 1) through your down payment; 2) by paying down your mortgage; and 3) through appreciation of your home’s value. Most homeowners will benefit from all 3. Here’s an example:

  1. You buy a home worth $400,000; financing $320,000 with a down payment of $80,000. From Day 1, you start with $80,000 in home equity. 
  2. Over 5 years, you pay $29,000 toward the mortgage. You now owe $291,000. By paying down your loan, you raise your equity to $109,000.
  3. During this time, the value of your home has also increased to $415,000. This appreciation further increases your home equity to $124,000.

In an ideal situation, the equity in your home will go up every year. However, during periods of economic recession, your home may lose value—meaning your equity will also decline. Even if your home equity does go down, property is a stable, appreciable asset, so it’s likely to go back up. Use our home equity calculator to estimate how much money you could get with a home equity loan or line of credit, based on your home's value and how much you owe on your mortgage.

How Can You Use Home Equity?

Once you’ve gained equity in your home, you can use it. Some people use their home’s equity toward a larger down payment on their next home. Others use it as collateral (i.e., property you pledge as a guarantee to repay debt) to take out either a home equity loan (HEL) or home equity line of credit (HELOC).1 You may sometimes hear HELs and HELOCs referred to as second mortgages. Homeowners often use home equity loans and lines of credit to pay for college, home renovations, medical expenses, new vehicles, a second home or credit card, and other debt.

Before you decide to take out a home equity loan or line of credit, it’s important to understand that you’re borrowing against your home. By doing this, your home debt grows, and if you’re unable to make your loan payments, you could end up losing your home. 

Comparing Loans and Lines of Credit

While both HELs and HELOCs rely on the equity in your home, there are some key differences between the two that can help you identify which option is best for your needs.

Home Equity Loans vs Lines of Credit
Key Differences Home Equity Loan (HEL) Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)
Overview Provides a one-time lump sum with a fixed interest rate. You’ll pay this loan back with a monthly payment that is separate from your mortgage payment. If your lender offers them, interest-only home equity loans can lower your monthly payments for a set period of time (around 5 or 6 years). After that, you’ll pay both the principal (or initial) amount and interest. Allows you to borrow what you need, when you need it, via a revolving line of credit. The amount available to borrowers depends on the amount of equity they currently have. If your lender offers an interest-only option, these can keep your monthly payments low for up to 20 years. Keep in mind that most HELOCs also have a small annual charge to keep the line of credit available, even if you’re not using it.
Loan Payout Lump sum Revolving credit
Loan Amount Often up to 100% of home’s value Often up to 95% of home’s value
Interest Rate Fixed Adjustable
Term 5 to 30 years Up to 20 years
Deductible interest2 Up to $100,000 Up to $100,000

Sources: Bankrate, Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information

Cash-Out Refinance

With a cash-out refinance, you take out a new mortgage to pay off your existing mortgage. In addition, you take out extra cash in a lump sum that you can use toward a house renovation, college education or other expenses. Essentially, you’ll close on a new mortgage with different terms. Your new loan may have a lower interest rate or give you more time to pay off the loan. You’ll receive a lump sum when you close on the refinance.

How to Maximize Home Equity

Making the most of your home equity means looking at both sides: building it and using it.

To build strong equity, continue to make on-time payments and pay extra toward your mortgage whenever you can. Invest in your home with home improvement projects that raise its value. You may think of your home as simply where you live, but it is also an asset: something you can invest in. 

When it comes to using home equity, be smart about how you’re tapping into it. Determine if a HEL, HELOC or cash-out refinance is the best way to access that money. Also, make sure you have a plan to use your equity in a healthy way and pay back your loan in a timely manner. Use our home equity payment calculator to calculate how much your monthly payment could be for your home equity loan, based on your loan amount and interest rate.

Talk with Navy Federal Credit Union about how to harness the power of home equity to help fund your next goal. Whether it’s applying for a home equity loan or just learning how much equity you have, Navy Federal is here for you. 

Key Takeaways Key Takeaways



Some lenders may not use these industry terms for closed-end (HEL) and open-end (HELOC) equity loans. Navy Federal uses Fixed-Rate Equity Loan (FEL) to refer to a fixed-rate home equity loan that is disbursed in its entirety at closing. A Home Equity Loan (HEL) refers to Navy Federal’s equity line of credit product.


The interest on the portion of the credit extension that is greater than the fair market value of the dwelling is not tax deductible for Federal income tax purposes.

Consult with your tax advisor for more information about tax deductibility.

This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.