Equity is the difference between what you owe on your mortgage loan and what your home is currently worth. Say you owe $150,000 on your mortgage and your home is worth $200,000. You now have $50,000 worth of equity built up in your home. Congratulations!

Equity is important when you sell your home. If you sell the home in the above example for $200,000, you’d end up with a sizable check, whatever is left of that $50,000 equity after you subtract your real estate agent’s commission and any other fees you might have to pay to close the sale. (See also: 8 Unexpected Costs of Selling a Home)

You can also tap your home’s equity for home equity loans or home equity lines of credit. Maybe you want to remodel your bathroom. If you have enough equity, you can take out a home-equity loan of, say, $20,000 to pay for it. You can also rely on home equity loans to pay for a child’s college tuition or pay off high-interest credit card debt.

And if you ever want to refinance your mortgage loan to one with a lower interest rate, you’ll usually need equity to do so. Most lenders won’t approve a refinance unless you have at least 20 percent equity built up in your home.

So how do you build equity? Mostly by making your mortgage payments on time and hoping that the value of homes in your local housing market continues to rise.

Keep making your mortgage payments

Every time you make a mortgage payment, you’ll gain a small bit of equity, as long as your home’s value isn’t falling at the same time. But don’t think that if you are paying $1,500 each month, you are gaining $1,500 worth of equity with every payment. Not all of your monthly payment goes toward reducing your mortgage’s principal balance.

There’s something known as PITI, which stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. This means that a portion of each of your mortgage payments goes toward paying off your loan’s principal balance,…