Mortgage Terms: Glossary and Definitions for Mortgage Terminology

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A glossary of common terms used in the mortgage loan or home buying process.

Differently sized wooden models of houses on table with green background. The concept of size of house can you afford.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM)

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.

Amortization

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.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

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.

Appraisal Fee

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.

Asset(s)

An item with economic value, such as stock or real estate.

Closing Disclosure

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.

Construction Loan

A construction loan is usually a short-term loan that provides funds to cover the cost of building or rehabilitating a home.

Conventional Mortgage

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).

Credit Report

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.

Credit Score

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.

Debt ratio

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.

Down Payment

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.

Down payment programs or grants

A down payment grant or program typically refers to assistance provided by an organization such as a government or non-profit agency, to a homebuyer to assist them with the down payment for a home purchase. The funds may be provided as an outright grant or may require repayment, such as when the home is sold.

Escrow

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.

Fannie Mae

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.

FHA Mortgage

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.

First-time home buyers (FTHB) loan programs

First-time home buyers (FTHB) may use a number of different types of loan programs to purchase their first home. Popular FTHB loans include programs offered by FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac with low down payments. Some programs define a FTHB as someone who hasn’t purchased a home in three years or more.

Fixed Rate Mortgage (FRM)

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.

Freddie Mac

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).

Gross Income

Total pay before taxes and other deductions are taken out.

HOA dues

If you’re interested in buying a condo, co-op, or a home in a planned subdivision or other organized community with shared services, you usually have to pay condo fees or Homeowners’ Association (HOA) dues. These fees vary widely. Condo or HOA fees are usually paid separately from your monthly mortgage payment. If you do not pay these fees, you can face debt collection efforts by the homeowner’s association and even foreclosure.

Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

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.

Homeowner’s insurance

Homeowner’s insurance pays for losses and damage to your property if something unexpected happens, like a fire or burglary. When you have a mortgage, your lender wants to make sure your property is protected by insurance. That’s why lenders generally require proof that you have homeowner’s insurance. Homeowner’s insurance is not the same as mortgage insurance.

Interest Rate

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.

Jumbo Mortgage

Each year Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), set a maximum amount for loans that they will buy from lenders. Larger loans are called jumbo mortgages. The cost of obtaining a jumbo mortgage may be higher than the cost of obtaining a conforming mortgage.

Lender

An organization or person that lends money with the expectation that it will be repaid, generally with interest.

Loan-to-Value (LTV) Ratio

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

A mortgage is an agreement between you and a lender that allows you to borrow money to purchase or refinance a home and gives the lender the right to take your property if you fail to repay the money you've borrowed.

Mortgage Closing Costs

Mortgage closing costs are all of the costs you will pay at closing. This includes origination charges, appraisal fees, credit report costs, title insurance fees, and any other fees required by your lender or paid as part of a real estate mortgage transaction. Lenders are required to provide a summary of these costs to you in the Loan Estimate.

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). 

PITI (Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance)

Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance, known as PITI, are the four basic elements of a monthly mortgage payment.

Principal

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)

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.

Property Taxes

Property taxes are taxes charged by local jurisdictions, typically at the county level, based upon the value of the property being taxed. Often, property taxes are collected within the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment, and then paid to the relevant jurisdiction one or more times each year. This is called an escrow account. If the loan does not have an escrow account, then the homeowner will pay the property taxes directly.

Second Mortgage

A second mortgage or junior lien is a loan you take out using your house as collateral while you still have another loan secured by your house.

VA Loan

A VA loan is a loan program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help service members, 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.

PLEASE NOTE: All terms and definitions are from the CFPB.