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What is a mortgage?

A Mortgage (also called a home loan) is a legal contract made between a lender and a borrower that uses property as collateral to secure the loan. The lender can take possession of the property if the borrower fails to pay the prearranged home loan payments.

A mortgage is the transfer of an interest in property (or the equivalent in law - a charge) to a lender as a security for a debt - usually a loan of money. While a mortgage in itself is not a debt, it is the lender's security for a debt. It is a transfer of an interest in land (or the equivalent) from the owner to the mortgage lender, on the condition that this interest will be returned to the owner when the terms of the mortgage have been satisfied or performed. In other words, the mortgage is a security for the loan that the lender makes to the borrower.

In most jurisdictions mortgages are strongly associated with loans secured on real estate rather than on other property (such as ships) and in some jurisdictions only land may be mortgaged. A mortgage is the standard method by which individuals and businesses can purchase real estate without the need to pay the full value immediately from their own resources. See mortgage loan for residential mortgage lending, and commercial mortgage for lending against commercial property.

What is a second mortgage?

A second mortgage typically refers to a secured loan (or mortgage) that is subordinate to another loan against the same property.

In real estate, a property can have multiple loans or liens against it. The loan which is registered with county or city registry first is called the first mortgage or first position trust deed. The lien registered second is called the second mortgage. A property can have a third or even fourth mortgage, but those are rarer.

Second mortgages are called subordinate because, if the loan goes into default, the first mortgage gets paid off first before the second mortgage. Thus, second mortgages are riskier for lenders and generally come with a higher interest rate than first mortgages.

In most cases, a second mortgage takes the form of a home equity loan and the two are synonymous, from a financial standpoint. The difference in terminology is that a mortgage traditionally refers to the legal lien instrument, rather than the debt itself.

The term length of a second mortgage varies. Terms can last up to 30 years on second mortgages; however repayment may be required in as little as one year depending on the loan structure.

A second mortgage can occasionally be the catalyst to foreclosure when a homeowner defaults on their loan. The second lien holder then purchases the primary mortgage (which may still be in good standing) and then forecloses which leaves the homeowner losing their home to the 2nd mortgage lender.

Generally, when considering the application for a second mortgage, lenders will look for the following:

    Significant equity in the first mortgage
    Low debt-to-income ratio
    High credit score
    Solid employment history

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage (or lifetime mortgage) is a loan available to seniors, and is used to release the home equity in the property as one lump sum or multiple payments. The homeowner's obligation to repay the loan is deferred until the owner dies, the home is sold, or the owner leaves (e.g., into aged care).

In a conventional mortgage the homeowner makes a monthly amortized payment to the lender; after each payment the equity increases within his or her property, and typically after the end of the term (e.g., 30 years) the mortgage has been paid in full and the property is released from the lender. In a reverse mortgage, the home owner makes no payments and all interest is added to the lien on the property. If the owner receives monthly payments, or a bulk payment of the available equity percentage for their age, then the debt on the property increases each month.

If a property has increased in value after a reverse mortgage is taken out, it is possible to acquire a second (or third) reverse mortgage over the increased equity in the home. But in certain countries (including the United States), a reverse mortgage must be the only mortgage on the property.

What is a mortgage refinance?

Occurs when borrower uses the money from a refinanced loan to pay off an existing home loan. Borrowers typically do this to extend their home loan period, apply for a lower interest rate, or to use some money out of their equity.

Refinancing may be undertaken to reduce interest rate/interest costs (by refinancing at a lower rate), to extend the repayment time, to pay off other debt(s), to reduce one's periodic payment obligations (sometimes by taking a longer-term loan), to reduce or alter risk (such as by refinancing from a variable-rate to a fixed-rate loan), and/or to raise cash for investment, consumption, or the payment of a dividend.

In essence, refinancing can alter the monthly payments owed on the loan either by changing the loan's interest rate, or by altering the term to maturity of the loan. More favorable lending conditions may reduce overall borrowing costs. Refinancing is used in most cases to improve overall cash flow.

Another use of refinancing is to reduce the risk associated with an existing loan. Interest rates on adjustable-rate loans and mortgages shift up and down based on the movements of the various indices used to calculate them. By refinancing an adjustable-rate mortgage into a fixed-rate one, the risk of interest rates increasing dramatically is removed, thus ensuring a steady interest rate over time. This flexibility comes at a price as lenders typically charge a risk premium for fixed rate loans.

In the context of personal (as opposed to corporate) finance, refinancing a loan or a series of debts can assist in paying off high-interest debt such as credit card debt, with lower-interest debt such as that of a fixed-rate home mortgage. This can allow a lender to reduce borrowing costs by more closely aligning the cost of borrowing with the general creditworthiness and collateral security available from the borrower. For home mortgages, in the United States, there may be certain tax advantages available with refinancing, particularly if one does not pay Alternative Minimum Tax.

As a general rule, refinancing home mortgages truly only works if the interest rates are low, and if it saves lots of money which would have else been used to pay off the monthly recurring bills on the current loan. In addition, by refinancing home mortgages one is able to get better credit because he will be able to make your payments quicker.

Types of refinance loans

No-Closing Cost
Borrowers with this type of refinancing typically pay few upfront fees to get the new mortgage loan. In fact, as long as the prevailing market rate is lower than your existing rate by 1.5 percentage point or more, it is financially beneficial to refinance because there is little or no cost in doing so.
However, what most lenders fail to disclose is that the money you save upfront is being collected on the back through what's called yield spread premium (YSP). Yield spread premiums are the cash that a mortgage company receives for steering a borrower into a home loan with a higher interest rate. The latter will even eventually lead to borrower's overpaying.
Cash-Out
This type of refinance may not help lower the monthly payment or shorten mortgage periods. It can be used for home improvement, credit card and other debt consolidation if the borrower qualifies with their current home equity; they can refinance with a loan amount larger than their current mortgage and keep the cash difference.

Home Equity Loan

A home equity loan (sometimes abbreviated HEL) is a type of loan in which the borrower uses the equity in their home as collateral. These loans are sometimes useful to help finance major home repairs, medical bills or college education. A home equity loan creates a lien against the borrower's house, and reduces actual home equity.

Home equity loans are most commonly second position liens (second trust deed), although they can be held in first or, less commonly, third position. Most home equity loans require good to excellent credit history, and reasonable loan-to-value and combined loan-to-value ratios. Home equity loans come in two types, closed end and open end.

Both are usually referred to as second mortgages, because they are secured against the value of the property, just like a traditional mortgage. Home equity loans and lines of credit are usually, but not always, for a shorter term than first mortgages. In the United States, it is sometimes possible to deduct home equity loan interest on one's personal income taxes.

There is a specific difference between a home equity loan and a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). A HELOC is a line of revolving credit with an adjustable interest rate whereas a home equity loan is a one time lump-sum loan, often with a fixed interest rate.

When considering a loan, the borrower should be familiar with the terms recourse and nonrecourse loan, secured and unsecured debt, and dischargeable and non-dischargeable debt.

US traditional mortgages are usually non recourse loans. "Nonrecourse debt or a nonrecourse loan is a secured loan (debt) that is secured by a pledge of collateral, typically real property, but for which the borrower is not personally liable. A US home equity loan may be a recourse loan for which the borrower is personally liable. This distinction becomes important in foreclosure since the borrower may remain personally liable for a recourse debt on a foreclosed property.

Home equity loans are secured loans. "The debt is thus secured against the collateral ? in the event that the borrower defaults, the creditor takes possession of the asset used as collateral and may sell it to satisfy the debt by regaining the amount originally lent to the borrower. Credit card debt is an unsecured debt such that no asset has been pledged as collateral for the loan. Using a home equity loan to pay off credit card debt essentially converts an unsecured debt to a secured debt.

When deciding upon a type of loan, the borrower should also consider if the debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy. For instance, US student loans are "practically non-dischargeable in bankruptcy".

This is a revolving credit loan, also referred to as a home equity line of credit, where the borrower can choose when and how often to borrow against the equity in the property, with the lender setting an initial limit to the credit line based on criteria similar to those used for closed-end loans. Like the closed-end loan, it may be possible to borrow up to 100% of the value of a home, less any liens. These lines of credit are available up to 30 years, usually at a variable interest rate. The minimum monthly payment can be as low as only the interest that is due. Typically, the interest rate is based on the Prime rate plus a margin.

What is a home equity line of credit (HELOC)?

A home equity loan or, HELOC, is a type of loan that allows a homeowner to obtain cash loans based on the present value of their property minus the mortgage amount still left to be paid off. Homeowners often apply for home equity loans to pay for expenses such as home remodeling, debt consolidation, college education, and other long-term investments.

A home equity line of credit (often called HELOC and pronounced HEE-lock) is a loan in which the lender agrees to lend a maximum amount within an agreed period (called a term) where the collateral is the borrower's equity in his/her house. Because a home often is a consumer's most valuable asset, many homeowners use home equity credit lines only for major items, such as education, home improvements, or medical bills, and choose not to use them for day-to-day expenses. HELOC abuse helped cause the so-called subprime mortgage crisis.

How does a HELOC differ from conventional loans?

A HELOC differs from a conventional home equity loan in that the borrower is not advanced the entire sum up front, but uses a line of credit to borrow sums that total no more than the credit limit, similar to a credit card. HELOC funds can be borrowed during the "draw period" (typically 5 to 25 years). Repayment is of the amount drawn plus interest. A HELOC may have a minimum monthly payment requirement (often "interest only"); however, the debtor may make a repayment of any amount so long as it is greater than the minimum payment (but less than the total outstanding). The full principal amount is due at the end of the draw period, either as a lump-sum balloon payment or according to a loan amortization schedule.

Another important difference from a conventional loan is that the interest rate on a HELOC is variable. The interest rate is generally based on an index, such as the prime rate. This means that the interest rate can change over time. Homeowners shopping for a HELOC must be aware that not all lenders calculate the margin the same way. The margin is the difference between the prime rate and the interest rate the borrower will actually pay.

HELOC loans became very popular in the United States in the early 2000s, in part because interest paid was (and is) typically (depending on specific circumstances) deductible under federal and many state income tax laws. This effectively reduced the cost of borrowing funds and offered an attractive tax incentive over traditional methods of borrowing (such as credit card debt). Another reason for the popularity of HELOCs is their flexibility, both in terms of borrowing and repaying on a schedule determined by the borrower. Furthermore, HELOC loans' popularity growth may also stem from their having a better image than a "second mortgage," a term which can more directly imply an undesirable level of debt. Of course, within the lending industry itself, a HELOC is categorized as a second mortgage.

Because the underlying collateral of a home equity line of credit is the home, failure to repay the loan or meet loan requirements may result in foreclosure. As a result, lenders generally require that the borrower maintain a certain level of equity in the home as a condition of providing a home equity line.

Traditional mortgages are usually non recourse loans. "Nonrecourse debt or a nonrecourse loan is a secured loan (debt) that is secured by a pledge of collateral, typically real property, but for which the borrower is not personally liable. A HELOC may be a recourse loan for which the borrower is personally liable. This distinction becomes important in foreclosure since the borrower may remain personally liable for a recourse debt on a foreclosed property.

Jumbo Mortgage Loan

A jumbo mortgage is a mortgage with a loan amount above the industry-standard definition of conventional conforming loan limits. This standard is set by the two largest secondary market lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Loans above the conforming limits may be offered by seller servicers of these wholesale institutions, as well as Wall Street conduits who provide warehouse financing for mortgage lenders. The loan amounts reflect average loan sizes nationwide. Jumbo mortgages apply when agency (FNMA and FHLMC) limits don't cover the full loan amount.

Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC) are large agencies that purchase the bulk of residential mortgages in the U.S. They set a limit on the maximum dollar value of any mortgage they will purchase from an individual lender. As of 2006, the limit is $417,000, or $625,500 in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Other large investors, such as insurance companies and banks, step in to fill the need, with maximum mortgage amounts going to the $1 million or $2 million range. A loan in excess of $650,000 is referred to as a super jumbo mortgage. The average interest rates on jumbo mortgages are typically greater than is normal for conforming mortgages, and vary depending on property types and mortgage amount.

Jumbo mortgage loan options are similar to traditional loan programs. They simply require a slightly higher down payment, usually of an additional 5% for similar program types. No-money-down programs are generally not available, but instead require a minimum of 5% down payment for a jumbo mortgage. Because the loans are large, jumbo lenders frequently offer variable loan programs to the jumbo client. The risk of an interest rate increase can result in a large dollar amount increase.

It can be more expensive to refinance a jumbo loan due to the closing costs. Some lenders will offer the service of an extension and consolidation agreement, so that a jumbo refinancer will not have to pay for mortgage tax again on the same principal balance. In other cases, title insurance companies will offer up to a 50% discount, often required by law for those refinancing within 1 year to 10 years. The largest discount is for refinancing within one year. Some consumers seeking a jumbo mortgage choose to seek advice from a competent professional familiar with jumbo mortgage loans.

Jumbo mortgage loans are a higher risk for lenders. This is because if a jumbo mortgage loan defaults, it may be harder to sell a luxury residence quickly for full price. Luxury prices are more vulnerable to market highs and lows in some cases. That is one reason lenders prefer to have a higher down payment from jumbo loan seekers. Jumbo home prices can be more subjective and not as easily sold to a mainstream borrower, therefore many lenders may require two appraisals on a jumbo mortgage loan.

The interest rate charged on jumbo mortgage loans is generally higher than a loan that is conforming, due to the slightly higher risk to the lender. The spread, or difference between the two rates, depends on the current market price of risk. While typically the spread fluctuates between 0.25 and 0.5%, at times of high investor anxiety, such as August 2007, it can exceed one and a half percentage points.

What's the difference between a fixed and adjustable rate mortgage?

With a fixed rate mortgage, the interest rate and the amount you pay each month remain the same over the entire mortgage term, traditionally 15 or 30 years. A number of variations are available, including five- and seven-year fixed rate loans with balloon payments at the end.

With an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), the interest rate fluctuates according to the interest rates in the economy. Initial interest rates of ARMs are typically offered at a discounted ("teaser") interest rate that is lower than the rate for fixed rate mortgages. Over time, when initial discounts are filtered out, ARM rates will fluctuate as general interest rates go up and down. Different ARMs are tied to different financial indexes, some of which fluctuate up or down more quickly than others. To avoid constant and drastic changes, ARMs typically regulate (cap) how much and how often the interest rate and/or payments can change in a year and over the life of the loan. A number of variations are available for adjustable rate mortgages, including hybrids that change from a fixed to an adjustable rate after a period of years, or "option ARMs" that allow you to choose, on a monthly basis, whether to pay a minimum amount, an interest-only amount, an ordinary principal plus interest amount, or an accelerated payment amount.

How do I find the least costly mortgage? Does it make sense to pay more points for a lower interest rate?

You can save real money if you carefully shop for a mortgage. Everything else being equal, even a one-quarter percentage point difference in interest rates can mean savings of thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage.

A popular option recently has been "interest-only" loans, which allow you to pay only the interest amount each month -- not any principal -- for the first ten years of the loan. This can lower your initial monthly payments significantly, allowing you to afford more house. Most interest-only loans are adjustable, but it's possible to find fixed rate interest-only loans too.

In addition to comparing interest rates, there are many types of fees -- and fee amounts -- associated with getting a mortgage, including loan application fees, credit check fees, private mortgage insurance (if you're making a low down payment), and points.

Points comprise the largest part of lender fees, so it's important to understand how they work: One point is 1% of the loan principal. Thus, your fee for borrowing $250,000 at two points is $5,000. There is normally a direct relationship between the number of points lenders charge and the interest rates they quote for the same type of mortgage, such as a fixed rate. The more points you pay, the lower your rate of interest, and vice versa.

What kinds of government loans are available to homebuyers?

Several federal, state, and local government financing programs are available to homebuyers. The two main federal programs are:

VA loans. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans are available to men and women who are now in the military and to veterans with honorable discharges who meet specific eligibility rules, most of which relate to length of service. The VA doesn't make mortgage loans, but guarantees part of the house loan you get from a bank, savings and loan, or other private lender. If you default, the VA pays the lender the amount guaranteed and you in turn will owe the VA. This guarantee makes it easier for veterans to get favorable loan terms with a low down payment. For more information, check the VA's Website at www.va.gov or contact a regional VA office for advice.

FHA loans. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), an agency of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), insures loans made to all U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and noncitizens with work permits who meet financial qualification rules. Under its most popular program, if the buyer defaults and the lender forecloses, the FHA pays 100% of the amount insured. This loan insurance lets qualified people buy affordable houses. The major attraction of an FHA-insured loan is that it requires a low down payment, usually about 3% to 5%. For more information on FHA loan programs, contact a regional office of HUD or check the FHA website at www.hud.gov.

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Updated: 7/17/18 @ 10:04 AM

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