What is a home equity loan and how does it work?
A home equity loan is a lump sum that you borrow against the equity you’ve built in your home. Like other installment loans, you receive all of the money upfront and then make equal monthly payments of principal and interest for the life of the loan (similar to a mortgage). Most lenders will let you borrow up to 80 percent to 85 percent of your home’s equity; that is, the value of your home minus the amount you still owe on the mortgage.
These loans have fixed interest rates and typical repayment periods between five and 30 years. Because your home serves as the collateral for a home equity loan, a lender can foreclose on it if you fail to make the payments.
Home equity loans are available at many banks, credit unions and online lenders. You can use these funds for a range of purposes, including debt consolidation, home improvement projects or higher education costs. The amount you can borrow depends on how much equity you have, your financial situation and other factors.
After reviewing your application and checking your credit, the lender will tell you how much you can borrow, your interest rate, your monthly payment, your loan term and any fees involved. Once you agree to the loan terms, the financial institution will disburse funds as one lump sum. You then repay the loan over time in fixed monthly payments.
Calculating your home’s equity
Home equity is the stake you have in your property – the percentage of the home you own outright. Over time, you build up equity in your home as you make payments on your mortgage or your home’s value rises. To calculate your home equity (and how much you may be able to borrow), subtract your current mortgage balance from the appraised value of your home.
For (a simplified) example, say you owe $200,000 on a home worth $400,000. This means that you have 50 percent equity in your home. If your lender lets you take out up to 85 percent of your home’s value ($340,000), you could borrow $140,000 through a home equity loan. A home equity calculator (like Bankrate’s) can estimate how much you can borrow.