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Negative Equity


Negative equity refers to a situation where the value of an asset, mainly property, is less than the outstanding balance on the loan used to purchase that asset. It’s often caused by a decline in the value of an asset after purchase. Basically, it means that the borrower owes more to the lender than the asset’s current market value.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Negative Equity” is: /ˈnɛɡətɪv ˈɛkwɪti/

Key Takeaways

  • Negative Equity Definition: Negative equity occurs when the value of an asset (usually a house) is less than the outstanding debt that is secured by the asset. It’s also commonly referred to as being “upside down” on your mortgage. This situation can occur when property values decline or if the homeowner has an interest-only loan and has not been building equity through principal repayments.
  • Impact: Negative equity can have serious impacts on a homeowner’s financial situation. It can make it difficult to sell or refinance the property, because the proceeds from the sale may not cover the outstanding mortgage balance. It can also lead to foreclosure if the owner is unable to keep up with mortgage payments. Furthermore, it prevents homeowners from using their home equity to access funds.
  • Solutions: There are several potential solutions for dealing with negative equity. These can include sticking it out and continue to make payments (if you can afford to do so) until property values increase, negotiating with the lender to modify the loan terms, selling the property through a short sale (with the lender’s approval), or (in severe situations) declaring bankruptcy. However, these solutions can have significant impacts on one’s credit score and future borrowing ability, so it’s important to seek financial advice before making such decisions.


Negative equity is an important business/finance term as it refers to a situation where the value of an asset is less than the outstanding loan amount to be paid. It is especially prevalent in real estate and automotive financing sectors, indicating that the borrower owes more to the lender than the current market value of the borrowed asset. Negative equity can occur due to a decline in property values, an increase in debt amounts, or both. This term is vital as it may deter financial institutions from lending due to the increased risk of loan defaults, and on a broader scale, it could indicate economic instability or a market downturn. It gives an insight into the financial health of individual borrowers and broader market trends, assisting in making informed decisions concerning loan agreements and investment plans.


Negative equity in finance/business refers to a situation where the value of an asset or investment is less than the liability or debt undertaken to purchase that asset. In simpler terms, it means the asset you bought has depreciated in value to the point where it’s now worth less than the amount you still owe. Though negative equity seems like an unfavorable situation for an individual or business, understanding its purpose and application in the business world becomes crucial.

Negative equity is generally an indicator of financial distress, but it can also be construed as part of a strategic business move in situations where the depreciation in asset value is expected to be temporary. For instance, homeowners can find themselves in negative equity during a housing market crash, but they might choose to weather the financial downturn if they expect property prices to rebound. Likewise, businesses might tolerate negative equity on certain assets, expecting their value to bounce back. This concept also serves as an impetus to restructure debt or renegotiate terms with lenders. Noticeably, in business environments, understanding negative equity enables assessing risk and making informed decisions.


1. Underwater Mortgages: This is probably the most common example of negative equity. If a homeowner purchases a house for $300,000, for example, and the market value of that property drops to $250,000, but they still owe $275,000 on their mortgage, they have negative equity of $25,000. This situation became common during the 2008 housing crisis when property values plummeted.

2. Car Loans: Similar to home mortgages, negative equity can occur with car loans. This often happens when a person takes out a long-term loan on a new car and the vehicle’s value depreciates faster than the loan balance is paid down. For instance, someone might buy a car for $20,000 with a five-year loan, but after three years, the car’s value might be only $10,000 while the remaining loan balance is still $12,000, leaving the owner with a negative equity of $2,000.

3. Business Investments: Businesses, especially small businesses, may find themselves in a situation of negative equity when their liabilities or debts exceed their assets. For example, if a small business has outstanding debts of $500,000 but their assets, including property, equipment, and inventory, are only worth $400,000, the business has a negative equity of $100,000. In other words, if the business were to be liquidated, it wouldn’t generate enough money to pay off all its debts.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is negative equity?

Negative equity occurs when the value of an asset, most commonly a house, is less than the outstanding amount of the loan used to purchase that asset. In simpler terms, it means you owe more on the loan than the present worth of what you purchased with that loan.

How does negative equity occur?

Negative equity most commonly happens when property values go down while the loan balance continues to be unpaid, or even increases due to additional borrowing or certain loan provisions.

Can I sell my house if it’s in negative equity?

Yes, it’s possible to sell a house in negative equity, but it often means you’ll have to pay any shortfall in the sale price out of your own pocket. This scenario is also referred to as a short sale.

What is the impact of negative equity on homeowners?

Negative equity can limit the mobility of homeowners. They are often unable to refinance or sell their homes and may face increasing monthly payments on their loans.

How can I avoid negative equity?

To avoid negative equity, it’s advisable not to borrow the full amount on the property’s cost, minimize additional borrowing against the property, maintain regular repayments on the loan, and keep an eye on the property value trends.

What can I do if I am already in negative equity?

If you are already in negative equity, you can try negotiating with your loan provider, increase your mortgage payments to pay off the debt quicker if possible, rent out the place, or as a last resort consider selling and paying off the remaining debt.

How does negative equity affect businesses?

In a business context, negative equity can impact a company’s liquidity and solvency, limit its ability to seek financing, and potentially lead to bankruptcy if the business is unable to balance its sheets.

Does negative equity affect car loans?

Yes, car loans can also lead to negative equity. This is common when the value of the vehicle depreciates more rapidly than the loan balance decreases. In such cases, even if the car is sold, not all debt on the vehicle can be covered.

Related Finance Terms

  • Underwater Mortgage
  • Property Lien
  • Bankruptcy
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio
  • Foreclosure

Sources for More Information

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