Glossary - Mortgage Terms
Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) — A mortgage that does not have a fixed interest rate. The rate changes during the life of the loan based on movements in an index rate, such as the rate for Treasury securities or the Cost of Funds Index. ARMs usually offer a lower initial interest rate than fixed-rate loans. The interest rate fluctuates over the life of the loan based on market conditions, but the loan agreement generally sets maximum and minimum rates. When interest rates increase, generally your loan payments increase; when interest rates decrease, your monthly payments may decrease. For more information on ARMs, see the Consumer Handbook on Adjustable Rate Mortgages.
Annual percentage rate (APR) — The cost of credit expressed as a yearly rate. For closed-end credit, such as car loans or mortgages, the APR includes the interest rate, points, broker fees, and certain other credit charges that the borrower is required to pay. An APR, or an equivalent rate, is not used in leasing agreements.
Conventional loans — Mortgage loans other than those insured or guaranteed by a government agency such as the FHA (Federal Housing Administration), the VA (Veterans Administration), or the Rural Development Services (formerly known as the Farmers Home Administration or FmHA).
Escrow — The holding of money or documents by a neutral third party before closing on a property. It can also be an account held by the lender (or servicer) into which a homeowner pays money for taxes and insurance.
Fixed-rate loans — Loans that generally have repayment terms of 15, 20, or 30 years. Both the interest rate and the monthly payments (for principal and interest) stay the same during the life of the loan.
Interest rate — The price paid for borrowing money, usually stated in percentages and as an annual rate.
Loan origination fees — Fees charged by the lender for processing a loan; often expressed as a percentage of the loan amount.
Lock-in — A written agreement guaranteeing a homebuyer a specific interest rate on a home loan provided that the loan is closed within a certain period, such as 60 or 90 days. Often the agreement also specifies the number of points to be paid at closing.
Mortgage — A contract, signed by a borrower when a home loan is made, that gives the lender the right to take possession of the property if the borrower fails to pay off, or defaults on, the loan.
Overages — The difference between the lowest available price and any higher price that the homebuyer agrees to pay for a loan. Loan officers and brokers are often allowed to keep some or all of this difference as extra compensation.
Points (also called discount points) — One point is equal to 1 percent of the principal amount of a mortgage loan. For example, if a mortgage is $200,000, one point equals $2,000. Lenders frequently charge points in both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages to cover loan origination costs or to provide additional compensation to the lender or broker. Points are paid usually on the loan closing date and may be paid by the borrower or the home seller, or split between the two parties. In some cases, the money needed to pay points can be borrowed, but increases the loan amount and the total costs. Discount points (sometimes called discount fees) are points that the borrower voluntarily chooses to pay in return for a lower interest rate.
Private mortgage insurance (PMI) — Protects the lender against a loss if a borrower defaults on the loan. It is a payment usually required of a borrower for loans in which a down payment is less than 20 percent of the sales price or, in a refinancing, when the amount financed is greater than 80 percent of the appraised value. When you acquire 20 percent equity in your home, PMI is cancelled. Depending on the size of your mortgage and down payment, these premiums can add $100 to $200 per month or more to your payments.
Settlement (or Closing) costs — Fees paid at a loan closing. May include application fees; title examination, abstract of title, title insurance, and property survey fees; fees for preparing deeds, mortgages, and settlement documents; attorneys’ fees; recording fees; estimated costs of taxes and insurance; and notary, appraisal, and credit report fees. Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, the borrower receives a “good faith” estimate of closing costs within three days of application. The good faith estimate lists each expected cost either as an amount or a range.
Thrift institution — A term generally describing savings banks and savings and loan associations.