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Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)

A mortgage on which the interest rate, after an initial period, can be changed by the lender. While ARMs in many countries abroad allow rate changes at the lender's discretion ("discretionary ARMs"), in the US most ARMs base rate changes on a preselected interest rate index over which the lender has no control. These are "indexed ARMs". There is no discretion associated with rate changes on indexed ARMs.


A payment plan which enables the borrower to reduce their debt gradually through monthly payments of principal and interest.

Amortization schedule

A table showing the mortgage payment, broken down by interest and amortization, the loan balance, and perhaps other data.


Solicitation of a loan by a borrower through the provision of a written request that includes information about the borrower, the property and the requested loan. In a narrower sense, the application refers to a standardized application form called the "1003" which the borrower is obliged to fill out.

Application fee

A fee that some lenders charge to accept an application. It may or may not be refundable if the lender declines the loan.


An expert judgment or estimate of the quality or value of real estate as of a given date.


Acceptance of the borrower's loan application. Approval means that the borrower meets the lender's qualification requirements and also it's underwriting requirements. In some cases, especially where approval is provided quickly as with automated underwriting systems, the approval may be conditional on further verification of information provided by the borrower.


The Annual Percentage Rate, which must be reported by lenders under Truth in Lending regulations. It is a comprehensive measure of credit cost to the borrower that takes account of the interest rate, points, and flat dollar charges. It is also adjusted for the time value of money, so that dollars paid by the borrower up-front carry a heavier weight than dollars paid ten years down the road. However, the APR is calculated on the assumption that the loan runs to term, and is therefore potentially deceptive for borrowers with short time horizons.

Assumption of Mortgage

An obligation undertaken by the purchaser of property to be personally liable for payment of an existing mortgage. In an assumption, the purchaser is substituted for the original mortgagor in the mortgage instrument and the original mortgagor is to be released from further liability in the assumption, the mortgagee's consent is usually required. The original mortgagor should always obtain a written release from further liability if he desires to be fully released under the assumption. Failure to obtain such a release renders the original mortgagor liable if the person assuming the mortgage fails to make the monthly payments.

Automated underwriting

A computer-driven process for informing the loan applicant very quickly, sometimes within a few minutes, whether the applicant will be approved, rejected, or asked for additional information. The quick decision is based on information provided by the applicant, which is subject to later verification, and other information retrieved electronically including information about the borrower's credit history and the subject property.

Balloon mortgage

A mortgage which is payable in full after a period that is shorter than the term. It therefore has a balloon that must be repaid or refinanced. On a 7-year balloon loan, for example, the payment is usually calculated over a 30-year period, and the balance at the end of the 7th year must be repaid or refinanced at that time.

Biweekly mortgage

A mortgage on which the borrower pays half the monthly payment every two weeks. Because this results in 26 (rather than 24) payments per year, the biweekly mortgage amortizes before term.

Bridge loan

A short-term loan, usually from a bank, that "bridges" the period between the closing date of a home purchase and the closing date of a home sale. To qualify for a bridge loan, the borrower must have a contract to sell the existing house. The Bridge loan allows the borrower to pull some equity out of the existing home to assist with downpayment and settlement charges on the new home.

Cash-Out refi

Refinancing for an amount in excess of the balance on the old loan plus settlement costs. The borrower takes "cash-out" of the transaction.

Closing costs

Costs that the borrower must pay at the time of closing, in addition to the down payment and points. Also referred to as "settlement costs".


Money paid to a real estate agent or broker by the seller as compensation for finding a buyer and completing the sale. Usually it is a percentage of the sale price--6 to 7 percent on houses, 10 percent on land.

Conforming mortgage

A loan eligible for purchase by the two major Federal agencies that buy mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Conventional Mortgage

A mortgage loan not insured by HUD or guaranteed by the Veterans' Administration. It is subject to conditions established by the lending institution and State statutes. The mortgage rates may vary with different institutions and between States. (States have various interest limits.)

Conversion option

The option to convert an ARM to an FRM at some point during its life.


A lender who delivers loans to a wholesaler against prior price commitments the wholesaler has made to the correspondent. The commitment protects the correspondent against pipeline risk.

Credit Report

A report from a credit bureau containing detailed information on an individual's credit history.

Credit Score

A single numerical score, based on an individual's credit history, that measures that individual's credit worthiness. Credit scores are as good as the algorithm used to derive them.

Down Payment

Down payment is the difference between the sales price and maximum mortgage amount.

Earnest Money

The deposit money given to the seller or his agent by the potential buyer upon the signing of the agreement of sale to show that he is serious about buying the house. If the sale goes through, the earnest money is applied against the down payment. If the sale does not go through, the earnest money will be forfeited or lost unless the binder or offer to purchase expressly provides that it is refundable.

Easement Rights

A right-of-way granted to a person or company authorizing access to or over the owner's land. An electric company obtaining a right-of-way across private property is a common example.


An obstruction, building, or part of a building that intrudes beyond a legal boundary onto neighboring private or public land, or a building extending beyond the building line.


A legal right or interest in land that affects a good or clear title. It can take numerous forms, such as zoning ordinances, easement rights, claims, mortgages, liens, charges, a pending legal action, unpaid taxes, or restrictive covenants. A title search is all that is usually done to reveal the existence of such encumbrances.


The value of a homeowner's unencumbered interest in real estate. Equity is computed by subtracting from the property's fair market value the total of the unpaid mortgage balance and any outstanding liens or other debts against the property. A homeowner's equity increases as he pays off his mortgage or as the property appreciates in value. When the mortgage and all other debts against the property are paid in full the homeowner has 100% equity in his property.


Funds paid by one party to another (the escrow agent) to hold until the occurrence of a specified event, after which the funds are released to a designated individual or entity. In FHA mortgage transactions an escrow account usually refers to the funds a mortgagor pays the lender at the time of the periodic mortgage payments. The money is held in a trust fund, provided by the lender for the buyer. Such funds should be adequate to cover yearly anticipated expenditures for mortgage insurance premiums, taxes and hazard insurance premiums.

FHA mortgage

A mortgage on which the lender is insured against loss by the Federal Housing Administration, with the borrower paying the mortgage insurance premium. The major advantage of an FHA mortgage is that the required down payment is very low.

First mortgage

The first-priority claim against the property in the event the borrower defaults on the loan.

Fixed rate mortgage (FRM)

A mortgage on which the interest rate is specified in the loan contract and remains unchanged throughout the term of the mortgage.


An option which the borrower may exercise at the time of the application to allow the rate and points to vary with changes in market conditions rather than to "lock in" those prevailing at that time. The borrower may elect to lock at any point but must do so within 5 business days before the closing.

Fully amortizing payment

The monthly mortgage payment which, if maintained unchanged through the remaining life of the loan at the then-existing interest rate, will pay off the loan over the remaining life.

Fully indexed interest rate

The current index value plus the margin on an ARM. Most ARMs have initial interest rates well below the fully indexed rate. If the index does not change from its initial level, after the initial rate period ends the interest rate will rise to the fully indexed rate after a period determined by the interest rate increase cap. For example, if the initial rate is 4% for 1 year, the fully indexed rate 7%, and the rate adjusts every year subject to a 1% rate increase cap, the 7% rate will be reached at the end of the third year.

Good faith estimate

The list of settlement charges that the lender is obliged to provide the borrower within three business days of receiving the loan application.

Graduated payment mortgage (GPM)

A mortgage on which the payment rises by a constant percent for a specified number of periods, after which it levels out over the remaining term and amortizes fully. For example, the payment might increase by 7.5% every 12 months for 60 months, after which it is constant for the remaining term at a fully amortizing level.

Graduation period

The interval at which the payment rises on a GPM.

Graduation rate

The percentage increase in the payment on a GPM.

Hazard Insurance

Insurance purchased by the borrower, and required by the lender, to protect the property against loss from fire and other hazards. It is the second "I" in PITI.

Housing expense

The sum of mortgage payment, hazard insurance, property taxes, and homeowner association fees. Referred to as PITI; principle and interest, taxes and insurance

Housing expense ratio (or Front Ratio)

The ratio of housing expense to borrower income, which is used (along with the total expense ratio and other factors) in qualifying borrowers.

Initial rate period

The number of months for which the initial rate holds. On ARMs this period can range from 3 months to 10 years, but on an FRM the initial rate holds for the life of the loan.

Interest rate adjustment period

The frequency of rate adjustments on an ARM after the initial rate period is over. The rate adjustment period is sometimes but not always the same as the initial rate period. As an example, using common terminology, a 3/3 ARM is one in which both periods are 3 years while a 3/1 ARM has an initial rate period of 3 years after which the rate adjusts every year.

Interest rate ceiling

The highest interest rate possible under an ARM contract; same as "lifetime cap." It is often expressed as a specified number of percentage points above the initial interest rate.

Interest rate decrease cap

The maximum allowable decrease in the interest rate on an ARM each time the rate is adjusted. It is usually 1 or 2 percentage points.

Interest rate floor

The lowest interest rate possible under an ARM contract. Floors are less common than ceilings.

Interest rate increase cap

The maximum allowable increase in the interest rate on an ARM each time the rate is adjusted. It is usually 1 or 2 percentage points.

Interest rate index

The specific interest rate series to which the interest rate on an ARM is tied, such as "Treasury Constant Maturities, 1-Year," or "Eleventh District Cost of Funds." All the indices are published regularly in readily available sources.

Interest rate Margin

The amount added to the interest rate index, ranging generally from 2 to 3 percentage points, to obtain the fully indexed interest rate on an ARM. The margin is the constant.


A borrower who owns or purchases a property as an investment rather than as a primary residence.

Jumbo mortgage

A mortgage larger than the maximum eligible for purchase by the two Federal agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, currently $333,700 (see Non-conforming mortgage). However, some lenders use the term to refer to programs for even larger loans, such as, e.g., greater than $500,000.


A claim by one person on the property of another as security for money owed. Such claims may include obligations not met or satisfied, judgments, unpaid taxes, materials, or labor. The lender's right to claim the borrower's property in the event the borrower defaults. If there is more than one lien, the claim of the lender holding the first lien will be satisfied before the claim of the lender holding the second lien, which in turn will be satisfied before the claim of a lender holding a third lien, etc.

Loan-to-value ratio

The loan amount divided by the lesser of the selling price or the appraised value. Also referred to as LTV.


An option exercised by the borrower, at the time of the loan application or later, to "lock in" the rates and points prevailing in the market at that time. The lender and borrower are committed to those terms, regardless of what happens between that point and the closing date.

Lock period

The number of days for which any lock or cap holds.


The period until the last payment is due.

Maximum loan amount

The largest loan size permitted on a particular loan program. For programs where the loan is targeted for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac, the maximum will be the largest loan eligible for purchase by these agencies. On FHA loans, the maximums are set by the Federal Housing Administration, and vary somewhat by geographical area.

Maximum loan to value ratio

The maximum allowable loan-to-value ratio on the selected loan program.

Maximum lock

The maximum period for which the lender will provide a rate/point commitment on any program. The most common maximum lock period is 60 days, but on some programs the maximum is 90 days; only a few go beyond 90 days.

Minimum down payment

The minimum allowable ratio of down payment to sale price on any program. If the minimum is 10%, for example, it means that you must make a down payment of at least $10,000 on a $100,000 house, or $20,000 on a $200,000 house.

Monthly debt service

Monthly payments required on credit cards, installment loans, home equity loans, and other debts but not including payments on the loan applied for.

Monthly total expenses (or Back Ratio)

Monthly housing expense plus monthly debt service.


A lien or claim against real property given by the buyer to the lender as security for money borrowed. Under government-insured or loan-guarantee provisions, the payments may include escrow amounts covering taxes, hazard insurance, water charges, and special assessments. Mortgages generally run from 10 to 30 years, during which the loan is to be paid off.

Mortgage broker

An independent contractor who offers the loan products of multiple lenders, termed wholesalers. A mortgage broker counsels on the loans available from different wholesalers, takes the application, and usually processes the loan. When the file is complete, but sometimes sooner, the lender underwrites the loan and funds it. In contrast to a correspondent, a mortgage broker does not fund a loan.

Mortgage Commitment

written notice from the bank or other lending institution saying it will advance mortgage funds in a specified amount to enable a buyer to purchase a house.

Mortgage company

A lender who sells all loans in the secondary market. As distinguished from a portfolio lender, who retains loans in its portfolio. Mortgage companies may or may not service the loans they originate.

Mortgage insurance (PMI-Private Mortgage Insurance)

Insurance provided the lender against loss on a mortgage in the event of borrower default.

Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP)

The payment made by a borrower to the lender for transmittal to HUD to help defray the cost of the FHA mortgage insurance program and to provide a reserve fund to protect lenders against loss in insured mortgage transactions.

Mortgage Note

A written agreement to repay a loan. The agreement is secured by a mortgage, serves as proof of indebtedness, and states the manner in which it shall be paid. The note states the actual amount of the debt that the mortgage secures and renders the mortgagor personally responsible for repayment.

Mortgage program

A bundle of characteristics of a mortgage including whether it is an FRM, ARM, or Balloon, the term, the initial rate period on an ARM, whether it is FHA-insured or VA-guaranteed, and if is not FHA or VA whether it is "conforming" (eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae of Freddie Mac) or "non-conforming".


The lender in a mortgage agreement.


The borrower in a mortgage agreement.

Negative amortization

A rise in the loan balance when the mortgage payment is less than the interest due. Sometimes called deferred interest.

Negative amortization cap

The maximum amount of negative amortization permitted on an ARM, usually expressed as a percentage of the original loan amount (e.g., 110%). Reaching the cap triggers an automatic increase in the payment, usually to the fully amortizing payment level, overriding any payment increase cap.

Non-conforming mortgage

A mortgage that does not meet the purchase requirements of the two Federal agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because it is too large or for other reasons such as poor credit or inadequate documentation.

Non-Permanent resident alien

A non-citizen with a green card employed in the US. As distinct from a permanent resident alien, which lenders do not distinguish from US citizens. Non-permanent resident aliens are subject to somewhat more restrictive qualification requirements than US citizens.

Origination fee

An upfront fee charged by some lenders, expressed as a percent of the loan amount. Should be added to points in determining the total fees charged by the lender that are expressed as a percent of the loan amount.


Shorthand for principal, interest, taxes and insurance, which are the components of the monthly housing expense.


A map or chart of a lot, subdivision or community drawn by a surveyor showing boundary lines, buildings, improvements on the land, and easements.


A point is one percent of the amount of the mortgage loan. An upfront cash payment required by the lender as part of the charge for the loan, expressed as a percent of the loan amount; e.g., "3 points" means a charge equal to 3% of the loan balance. It is common today for lenders to offer a wide range of rate/point combinations, especially on fixed rate mortgages (FRMs), including combinations with negative points. On a negative point loan the lender contributes cash toward meeting closing costs. Positive and negative points are sometimes termed "discounts" and "premiums," respectively.


The process of determining whether a customer has enough cash and sufficient income to meet the qualification requirements set by the lender on a requested loan. It is subject to verification of the information provided by the applicant. The Qualification may or may not take into account the credit history of the borrower.


Payment of mortgage loan, or part of it, before due date. Mortgage agreements may restrict the right of prepayment either by limiting the amount that can be prepaid in any one year or charging a penalty for prepayment. The Federal Housing Administration does not permit such restrictions in FHA insured mortgages.


The basic element of the loan as distinguished from interest and mortgage insurance premium. In other words, principal is the amount upon which interest is paid.


What the lender does with your loan application. Processing involves compiling and maintaining the file of information about the transaction, including the credit report, appraisal, verification of employment and assets, and so on. The processing file is handed off to underwriting for the loan decision.

Qualification rate

The interest rate used in calculating the initial mortgage payment in qualifying a borrower. The rate used in this calculation may or may not be the initial rate on the mortgage.

Qualification ratios

Requirements stipulated by the lender that the ratio of housing expense to borrower income, and housing expense plus other debt service to borrower income, cannot exceed specified maximums, e.g., 28% and 35%. These may reflect the maximums specified by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; they may also vary with the loan-value ratio and other factors.

Qualification requirements

Standards imposed by lenders as conditions for granting loans, including maximum ratios of housing expense and total expense to income, maximum loan amounts, maximum loan-to-value ratios, and so on. Can be viewed as a quantifiable subset of underwriting requirements, which is more comprehensive and takes account of the borrower's

Rate protection

Protection against the danger that rates will rise between the time a borrower applies for a loan and the time the loan closes. This protection can take the form of a "lock" where the rate and points are frozen at their initial levels until the loan closes; or a "cap" where the rates and points cannot rise from their initial levels but they can decline if market rates decline. In either case, the protection only runs for a specified period. If the loan is not closed within that period, the protection expires and the borrower will either have to accept the terms quoted by the lender on new loans at that time, or start the shopping process anew.

Rate/point options

All the combinations of interest rate and points that are offered on a particular program. On an ARM, rates and points may also vary with the margin and interest rate ceiling.


The process of the same mortgagor paying off one loan with the proceeds from another loan.

Required cash

The total cash required of the home buyer to close the transaction, including down payment, points and fixed dollar charges paid to the lender, any portion of the mortgage insurance premium that is paid up-front, and other settlement charges associated with the transaction such as title insurance, taxes, etc. The total required cash is shown on the Good Faith Estimate of Settlement that every borrower receives.

Second mortgage

The second-priority claim against a property in the event that the borrower defaults on the loan. The lender who holds the second mortgage gets paid only after the lender holding the first mortgage is paid.


Administering loans between the time of disbursement and the time the loan is fully paid off. This includes collecting monthly payments from the borrower, maintaining records of loan progress, assuring payments of taxes and insurance, and pursuing delinquent accounts.

Special Assessments

A special tax imposed on property, individual lots or all property in the immediate area, for road construction, sidewalks, sewers, street lights, etc.

Subordinate financing

A second lien on the property securing the loan at the time of closing. This arises when there is a second lien on the property at the time the new loan is taken out, and the new loan does not pay it off.


A map or plat made by a licensed surveyor showing the results of measuring the land with its elevations, improvements, boundaries, and its relationship to surrounding tracts of land. A survey is often required by the lender to assure him that a building is actually sited on the land according to its legal description.

Swing loan

See Bridge loan.

Temporary buy down

A reduction in the mortgage payment in the early years of the loan in exchange for an upfront cash payment provided by the home buyer, the seller, or both. As an illustration, a 2-1 buy down on an 8% loan results in a payment in year 1 calculated at 6%, in year two the payment is calculated at 7%, and in year 3 and thereafter it is calculated at 8%. The upfront cash payment must be large enough to cover the difference between the reduced payments made in the first two years by the borrower and the regular payment calculated at 8% received by the lender.


The period used to calculate the monthly mortgage payment. The term is usually but not always the same as the maturity. On a 7-year balloon loan, for example, the maturity is 7 years but the term in most cases is 30 years.


As generally used, the rights of ownership and possession of particular property. In real estate usage, title may refer to the instruments or documents by which a right of ownership is established (title documents), or it may refer to the ownership interest one has in the real estate.

Title Insurance

Protects lenders or homeowners against loss of their interest in property due to legal defects in title. Title insurance may be issued to a "mortgagee's title policy." Insurance benefits will be paid only to the "named insured" in the title policy, so it is important that an owner purchase an "owner's title policy", if he desires the protection of title insurance.

Title Search

A check of the title records, generally at the local courthouse, to make sure the buyer is purchasing a house from the legal owner and there are no liens, overdue special assessments, or other claims or outstanding restrictive covenants filed in the record, which would adversely affect the marketability or value of title.


The process of examining all the data about the borrower(s), property, etc. to determine whether the mortgage applied for by the borrowers should be issued.

Underwriting requirements

The standards imposed by lenders in determining whether a borrower qualifies for a loan. These standards are more comprehensive than qualification requirements in that they include an evaluation of the borrower's creditworthiness.

VA mortgage

A mortgage on which the lender is insured against loss by the Veterans Administration. The major advantage of a VA mortgage is that the required down payment is very low, and maximum allowable loan amounts are higher than on FHA loans, but only veterans are eligible.

Waive escrows

The borrower has the right to pay taxes and insurance directly. This is in contrast to the standard procedure where the lender adds a charge to the monthly mortgage payment that is deposited in an escrow account, from which the lender pays the borrower's taxes and insurance when they are due. On some loans lenders will not waive escrows, and on loans where waiver is permitted lenders are likely either to charge for it in the form of a small increase in points and/or restrict it to borrowers making a large down payment.