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If you’re thinking about making some home improvements or looking at ways to pay for your child’s college education, you may be thinking about tapping into your home's equity — the difference between what your home could sell for and what you owe on the mortgage — as a way to cover the costs.

Home equity financing can be set up as a loan or a line of credit. With a home equity loan, the lender advances you the total loan amount upfront, while a home equity credit line provides a source of funds that you can draw on as needed.

When considering a home equity loan or credit line, shop around and compare loan plans offered by banks, savings and loans, credit unions, and mortgage companies. Shopping can help you get a better deal.

A home equity loan is a loan for a fixed amount of money that is secured by your home. You repay the loan with equal monthly payments over a fixed term, just like your original mortgage. If you don’t repay the loan as agreed, your lender can foreclose on your home.

The amount that you can borrow usually is limited to 85 percent of the equity in your home. The actual amount of the loan also depends on your income, credit history, and the market value of your home.

Ask friends and family for recommendations of lenders. Then, shop and compare terms. Talk with banks, savings and loans, credit unions, mortgage companies, and mortgage brokers. But take note: brokers don’t lend money; they help arrange loans.

Ask all the lenders you interview to explain the loan plans available to you. If you don’t understand any loan terms and conditions, ask questions. They could mean higher costs. Knowing just the amount of the monthly payment or the interest rate is not enough. The annual percentage rate (APR) for a home equity loan takes points and financing charges into consideration. Pay close attention to fees, including the application or loan processing fee, origination or underwriting fee, lender or funding fee, appraisal fee, document preparation and recording fees, and broker fees; these may be quoted as points, origination fees, or interest rate add-on. If points and other fees are added to your loan amount, you’ll pay more to finance them.