Mortgage Basics

Simply put, a mortgage is a loan secured by real property and paid in installments over a set period of time.

The mortgage secures your promise that the money borrowed for your home will be repaid.

According to Wikipedia:

A mortgage loan is a loan secured by real property through the use of a document which evidences the existence of the loan and the encumbrance of that realty through the granting of a mortgage which secures the loan. However, the word mortgage alone, in everyday usage, is most often used to mean mortgage loan.

Components of a Mortgage:

1. Mortgage Approval:

Qualifying for a mortgage requires meeting a pre-determined set of guidelines established by a lender, which may include credit history, income, employment and assets.

In addition to personal qualifying factors, a property must also meet certain standards set by lenders before a borrower can obtain a mortgage loan secured by real estate.

2. Mortgage Payments

On a traditional 30 or 15 years fixed rate mortgage program that involves principal and interest, each payment made is divided into two parts (we’re not including taxes or homeowners insurance as part of this discussion):

The first part of the mortgage payment, which is commonly referred to as principal, goes to paying down the initial amount borrowed.

The second part is the interest paid for the money borrowed to purchase the property.

The amount paid in interest decreases each month, as the amount paid towards the principal balance increases. This apportioning is referred to as amortization.

Other types of mortgage payments available can include options for paying interest only or a teaser rate.

Either way, it is extremely important to have a solid understanding of the full payment and terms before moving forward with a particular option.

3. Mortgage Programs

Mortgage Programs come in many different types of flavors and colors depending on the down payment and/or monthly budget a borrower has been approved for.

There are also federally insured mortgages, such as FHA or VA loans, which have more flexible qualifying guidelines.

4. Closing Costs / Fees

The actual cost of obtaining a mortgage mainly depends on whether or not the borrower is paying points for a lower mortgage rate.  In some cases, there are also other loan processing and underwriting fees associated with the work involved in the transaction.

Fortunately, there are several consumer protection policies implemented by the government to help borrowers understand their options during the initial mortgage pre-qualification process. However, please keep in mind that there may be other closing costs not associated with a mortgage or real estate transaction to be aware of. Appraisal, pre-paid property taxes, insurance and interest, HOA dues and inspections are a few additional out-of-pocket expenses you should budget for.

5.  Mortgage Rates

While mortgage interest rates may change several times a day, there are a few market factors you can pay attention to which may impact your final payment.

Whether you’re shopping for the best rate, or trying to determine the difference between the Note Rate and APR, it definitely helps to understand what questions to ask a mortgage lender about your specific loan scenario.

Understanding Credit


Credit is one of the most important components in the mortgage approval process.

Lenders look at a borrower’s credit score, number of open accounts, payment history, type of credit borrowed and a series of other factors when determining what level of risk to assess to each lending scenario.

Down payment requirements, loan programs, flexibility on income and even interest rates can be impacted by a slight bump in a credit score.

According To Wikipedia:

A credit score in the United States is a number representing the creditworthiness of a person or the likelihood that person will pay his or her debts.

A credit score is primarily based on a statistical analysis of a person’s credit report information, typically from the three major American credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

The Fair Isaac Corporation, known as FICO, created the first credit scoring system in 1958, for American Investments, and the first credit scoring system for a bank credit card in 1970, for American Bank and Trust.

The three credit reporting agencies in the United States of America, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, collect data about consumers used to compile credit reports. The credit agencies use FICO software to generate FICO scores, which are sold to lenders. Each individual actually has three credit scores at any given time for any given scoring model because the three credit agencies have their own databases, gather reports from different creditors, and receive information from creditors at different times.

In the United States, a resident is permitted by law to view their credit report once a year at no charge by visiting the website AnnualCreditReport.com. The individual’s “credit score” information is available for an additional fee from each of the three credit reporting agencies. In addition, the Fair Isaac Corporation sells FICO scores directly to consumers using data from Equifax and TransUnion.

A FICO score is between 300 and 850, exhibiting a left-skewed distribution with 60% of scores near the right between 650 and 799.

Once credit has been established and maintained, credit scores are based on five factors to varying degrees: payment history (35%), total amounts owed (30%), length of time (15%), type of credit (10%) and new credit (10%).

The largest impact on credit scores is payment history and amount owed, which is why it is important to pay bills on time.

Debt should be kept to a minimum and funds should be moved around as little as possible. It may be beneficial to leave all accounts open, even if they have a $0 balance.

Different types of credit (ie. mix of credit cards, installment loans and fixed payments) can also be beneficial to a credit score.

However, too many installment loans can negatively affect credit.

Although time is a necessary factor for improving credit scores, this can be controlled by keeping the accounts that are opened during the same time period to a minimum.

By following these guidelines over an extended period of time, credit scores can be maintained and improved in order to improve the borrower’s loan potential and interest rate.

Key Factors That Impact Your Score:

1. Payment History (35%)

It is essential to pay your credit bills on time. Every 30 days late, collection, judgment, or Bankruptcy significantly drops your score.

2. Amount You Owe Compared to Balances (30%)

Your available credit compared to the amount owed. It’s a good rule-of-thumb to be at 40% or less of the available balances

3. Length of Credit History (15%)

Easy rule-of-thumb: the longer your accounts are open, the more positive impact it will have on your overall credit score.  In fact, if you happen to have a card that is over 10 years old with even a little activity, it would probably be a bad idea to close that card.

4. Mix of Credit (10%)

Generally speaking, if you have loans, such as a car loan, as well as open credit cards, it helps prove to creditors that you have experience borrowing money.

5. New Credit Applications (10%)

There is a model that compensates for people shopping rates on home and car loans, but it can hurt your credit score to have multiple reports pulled in a short amount of time.

Factors That DO NOT Impact Credit:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Employment History
  • Income
  • Marital Status
  • If you’ve been turned down for credit
  • Length of time at current address
  • Whether you own a home or rent
  • Information not contained in your credit report

Establishing Credit:

Several factors can be used to establish credit initially, including bank accounts, employment history, residence history and utility bills.

Although they are not reported directly to credit bureaus, bank account history is important to lenders for first time loans and should be kept in good standing.

While they are also not reported to credit bureaus, utility bills (such as electric, telephone, cable and water) can also show a lender the risk associated with a new borrower.

Credit may be initially established through a bank, in which a credit card is linked to a specific amount of money deposited in the bank.  If the credit card is not kept in good standing, the bank can then take the secured funds for payment.

Initial credit may also be established with a department store credit card (for example), but borrowers should beware of the high interest rates associated with these cards and pay off the balances in full.