The mortgage industry is full of jargon that can be difficult for first-time buyers and homeowners to understand. We’ve collected some of the most common ones to help fill you in on everything you need to know.
The ability-to-repay rule is the reasonable and good faith determination most mortgage lenders are required to make that you are able to pay back the loan.
An adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) is a type of loan for which the interest rate can change, usually in relation to an index interest rate. Your monthly payment will go up or down depending on the loan’s introductory period, rate caps, and the index interest rate. With an ARM, the interest rate and monthly payment may start out lower than for a fixed-rate mortgage, but both the interest rate and monthly payment can increase substantially.
An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is a loan that offers an initial period of fixed interest that then resets at a specified interval. Typically, you'll see an ARM expressed as two numbers. For example, a 5/1 ARM has a fixed interest rate for the first 5 years that then adjusts based on market rates every year after that. An ARM tends to have a lower initial interest rate than a fixed-rate mortgage. However, it does come with a certain amount of unpredictability. That's because when an ARM enters its adjustable period, its interest rate may trend up or down depending on the state of the market.
Amortization is the process of paying off the principal and interest on your loan. You may see it expressed as an amortization schedule—essentially an outlook of every payment you need to make until you've paid off the balance of the loan in full.
Amortization means paying off a loan with regular payments over time, so that the amount you owe decreases with each payment. Most home loans amortize, but some mortgage loans do not fully amortize, meaning that you would still owe money after making all of your payments.
It means the amount of money you are borrowing from the lender, minus most of the upfront fees the lender is charging you.
An annual percentage rate (APR) is a broader measure of the cost of borrowing money than the interest rate. The APR reflects the interest rate, any points, mortgage broker fees, and other charges that you pay to get the loan. For that reason, your APR is usually higher than your interest rate.
Annual income is a factor in a mortgage loan application and generally refers to your total earned, pre-tax income over a year. Annual income may include income from full-time or part-time work, self-employment, tips, commissions, overtime, bonuses, or other sources. A lender will use information about your annual income and your existing monthly debts to determine if you have the ability to repay the loan.
An appraisal fee is the cost of a home appraisal of a house you plan to buy or already own. Home appraisals provide an independent assessment of the value of the property. In most cases, the selection of the appraiser and any associated costs is up to your lender.
For mortgages, a balloon loan means that the loan has a larger-than-usual, one-time payment, typically at the end of the loan term. This one-time payment is called a “balloon payment, and it is higher than your other payments, sometimes much higher. If you cannot pay the balloon amount, you might have to refinance, sell your home, or face foreclosure.
A Closing Disclosure is a required five-page form that provides final details about the mortgage loan you have selected. It includes the loan terms, your projected monthly payments, and how much you will pay in fees and other costs to get your mortgage.
A co-signer or co-borrower is someone who agrees to take full responsibility to pay back a mortgage loan with you. This person is obligated to pay any missed payments and even the full amount of the loan if you don’t pay. Some mortgage programs distinguish a co-signer as someone who is not on the title and does not have any ownership interest in the mortgaged home. Having a co-signer or co-borrower on your mortgage loan gives your lender additional assurance that the loan will be repaid. But your co-signer or co-borrower’s credit record and finances are at risk if you don’t repay the loan.
A conventional loan is any mortgage loan that is not insured or guaranteed by the government (such as under Federal Housing Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, or Department of Agriculture loan programs).
A credit history is a record of your credit accounts and your history of paying on time as shown in your credit report. Consumer reporting companies, also known as credit reporting companies, collect and update information about your credit record and provide it to other businesses, which use it make decisions about you. Credit reports have information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as your loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts.
A credit report is a statement that has information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts. Lenders use your credit scores and the information on your credit report to determine whether you qualify for a loan and what interest rate to offer you.
A credit score predicts how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. Companies use a mathematical formula—called a scoring model—to create your credit score from the information in your credit report. There are different scoring models, so you do not have just one credit score. Your scores depend on your credit history, the type of loan product, and even the day when it was calculated.
Your debt-to-income ratio is all your monthly debt payments divided by your gross monthly income. This number is one way lenders measure your ability to manage the monthly payments to repay the money you plan to borrow.
Delinquent is another term for being late on your payments. Your loan can become delinquent when you miss a payment or don’t make a full payment by the due date. After you are delinquent for a certain period of time, a lender or servicer may begin the foreclosure process. The amount of time can vary by state.
A down payment is the amount you pay toward the home upfront. You put a percentage of the home’s value down and borrow the rest through your mortgage loan. Generally, the larger the down payment you make, the lower the interest rate you will receive and the more likely you are to be approved for a loan.
Earnest money is a deposit a buyer pays to show good faith on a signed contract agreement to buy a home. The deposit is held by a seller or third party like a real estate agent or title company. If the home sale is finalized or “closed” the earnest money may be applied to closing costs or the down payment. If the contract is terminated for a permissible reason, the earnest money is returned to the buyer. If the buyer does not perform in good faith, the earnest money may be forfeited and paid out to the seller.
Equity is the amount your property is currently worth minus the amount of any existing mortgage on your property.
An escrow account is set up by your mortgage lender to pay certain property-related expenses, like property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. A portion of your monthly payment goes into the account. If your mortgage doesn’t have an escrow account, you pay the property-related expenses directly.
FHA loans are loans from private lenders that are regulated and insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans differ from conventional loans because they allow for lower credit scores and down payments as low as 3.5 percent of the total loan amount. Maximum loan amounts vary by county.
The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) purchases and guarantees mortgages from lending institutions in an effort to increase affordable lending. Fannie Mae is not a federal agency. It is a government-sponsored enterprise under the conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
A fixed-rate mortgage is a type of home loan for which the interest rate is set when you take out the loan and it will not change during the term of the loan.
The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) is a private corporation founded by Congress. Its mission is to promote stability and affordability in the housing market by purchasing mortgages from banks and other loan makers. The corporation is currently under conservatorship, under the direction of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
An appraisal is a written document that shows an opinion of how much a property is worth. The appraisal gives you useful information about the property. It describes what makes it valuable and may show how it compares to other properties in the neighborhood. An appraisal is an independent assessment of the value of the property.
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a line of credit that allows you to borrow against your home equity. Equity is the amount your property is currently worth, minus the amount of any mortgage on your property. Unlike a home equity loan, HELOCs usually have adjustable interest rates. For most HELOCs, you will receive special checks or a credit card, and you can borrow money for a specified time from when you open your account. This time period is known as the “draw period.” During the “draw period,” you can borrow money, and you must make minimum payments. When the “draw period” ends, you will no longer be able to borrow money from your line of credit. After the “draw period” ends you may be required to pay off your balance all at once or you may be allowed to repay over a certain period of time. If you cannot pay back the HELOC, the lender could foreclose on your home.
A home inspection is often part of the home buying process. You typically have the right to hire a home inspector to examine a property and point out its strengths and weaknesses. This is often especially helpful to test a home’s structural and mechanical systems including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electrical.
The index is a benchmark interest rate that reflects general market conditions. The index changes based on the market. Changes in the index, along with your loan’s margin, determine the changes to the interest rate for an adjustable-rate mortgage loan.
An interest rate on a mortgage loan is the cost you will pay each year to borrow the money, expressed as a percentage rate. It does not reflect fees or any other charges you may have to pay for the loan. For example, if the mortgage loan is for $100,000 at an interest rate of 4 percent, that consumer has agreed to pay $4,000 each year he or she borrows or owes that full amount.
An interest-only mortgage is a loan with scheduled payments that require you to pay only the interest for a specified amount of time.
A Loan Estimate is a three-page form that you receive after applying for a mortgage.
A mortgage loan modification is a change in your loan terms. The modification is a type of loss mitigation. A modification can reduce your monthly payment to an amount you can afford. Modifications may involve extending the number of years you have to repay the loan, reducing your interest rate, and/or forbearing or reducing your principal balance. If you are offered a loan modification, be sure you know how it will change your monthly payments and the total amount that you will owe in the short-term and the long-term.
The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is a measure comparing the amount of your mortgage with the appraised value of the property. The higher your down payment, the lower your LTV ratio. Mortgage lenders may use the LTV in deciding whether to lend to you and to determine if they will require private mortgage insurance.
Mortgage insurance protects the lender if you fall behind on your payments. Mortgage insurance is typically required if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the property value. Mortgage insurance also is typically required on FHA and USDA loans. However, if you have a conventional loan and your down payment is less than 20 percent, you will most likely have private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Mortgage refinance is when you take out a new loan to pay off and replace your old loan. Common reasons to refinance are to lower the monthly interest rate, lower the mortgage payment, or to borrow additional money. When you refinance, you usually have to pay closing costs and fees. If you refinance and get a lower monthly payment, make sure you understand how much of the reduction is from a lower interest rate and how much is because your loan term is longer.
An origination fee is what the lender charges the borrower for making the mortgage loan. The origination fee may include processing the application, underwriting and funding the loan, and other administrative services. Origination fees generally can only increase under certain circumstances.
Your payoff amount is how much you will actually have to pay to satisfy the terms of your mortgage loan and completely pay off your debt. Your payoff amount is different from your current balance. Your current balance might not reflect how much you actually have to pay to completely satisfy the loan. Your payoff amount also includes the payment of any interest you owe through the day you intend to pay off your loan. The payoff amount may also include other fees you have incurred and have not yet paid.
A prepayment penalty is a fee that some lenders charge if you pay off all or part of your mortgage early. If you have a prepayment penalty, you would have agreed to this when you closed on your home. Not all mortgages have a prepayment penalty.
The principal is the amount of a mortgage loan that you have to pay back. Your monthly payment includes a portion of that principal. When a payment on the principal is made, the borrower owes less, and will pay less interest based upon a lower loan size.
Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is a type of mortgage insurance that benefits your lender. You might be required to pay for PMI if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the property value and you have a conventional loan. You may be able to cancel PMI once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of equity in your home.
A Qualified Mortgage is a category of loans that have certain, more stable features that help make it more likely that you’ll be able to afford your loan.
A reverse mortgage allows homeowners age 62 or older to borrow against their home equity. It is called a “reverse” mortgage because, instead of making payments to the lender, you receive money from the lender. The money you receive, and the interest charged on the loan, increases the balance of your loan each month. Most reverse mortgages today are called HECMs, short for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage.
The right of rescission refers to the right of a consumer to cancel certain types of loans. If you are buying a home with a mortgage, you do not have a right to cancel the loan once the closing documents are signed. However, if you are refinancing a mortgage, you have until midnight of the third business day after the transaction to rescind (cancel) the mortgage contract. The three-day clock does not start until you sign the credit contract (usually called the promissory note), you receive a Truth in Lending disclosure form, and you receive two copies of a notice explaining your right to rescind.
Your mortgage servicer is the company that sends you your mortgage statements. Your servicer also handles the day-to-day tasks of managing your loan. Your loan servicer typically processes your loan payments, responds to borrower inquiries, keeps track of principal and interest paid, and manages your escrow account (if you have one). The loan servicer may initiate foreclosure under certain circumstances. Your servicer may or may not be the same company that originally gave you your loan.
A short sale is a sale of your home for less than what you owe on your mortgage. A short sale is an alternative to foreclosure, but because it is a sale, you will have to leave your home. If your lender or servicer agrees to a short sale, you may be able to sell your home to pay off your mortgage, even if the sale price or proceeds turn out to be less than the balance remaining on your mortgage. A short sale is a type of loss mitigation. If you live in a state in which you are responsible for any deficiency, which is the difference between the value of your property and the amount you still owe on your mortgage loan, you will want to ask your lender to waive the deficiency. If the lender waives the deficiency, get the waiver in writing and keep it for your records.
When lenders use the term, they generally mean a loan program for borrowers who do not qualify for a prime loan, often with a higher interest rate.
The Total Interest Percentage (TIP) is a disclosure that tells you how much interest you will pay over the life of your mortgage loan.
The Rural Housing Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers mortgage programs with no down payment and generally favorable interest rates to rural homebuyers who meet the USDA’s income eligibility requirements.
A VA loan is a loan program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help servicemembers, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses buy homes. The VA does not make the loans but sets the rules for who may qualify and the mortgage terms. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan to reduce the risk of loss to the lender. The loans generally are only available for a primary residence.