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Depending on the size of the loan and the prevailing practice in the country the term may be short (10 years) or long (50 years plus). In the UK and U.S., 25 to 30 years is the usual maximum term (although shorter periods, such as 15-year mortgage loans, are common). Mortgage payments, which are typically made monthly, contain a repayment of the principal and an interest element. The amount going toward the principal in each payment varies throughout the term of the mortgage. In the early years the repayments are mostly interest. Towards the end of the mortgage, payments are mostly for principal. In this way the payment amount determined at outset is calculated to ensure the loan is repaid at a specified date in the future. This gives borrowers assurance that by maintaining repayment the loan will be cleared at a specified date, if the interest rate does not change. Some lenders and 3rd parties offer a bi-weekly mortgage payment program designed to accelerate the payoff of the loan.


A standard or conforming mortgage is a key concept as it often defines whether or not the mortgage can be easily sold or securitized, or, if non-standard, may affect the price at which it may be sold. In the United States, a conforming mortgage is one which meets the established rules and procedures of the two major government-sponsored entities in the housing finance market (including some legal requirements). In contrast, lenders who decide to make nonconforming loans are exercising a higher risk tolerance and do so knowing that they face more challenge in reselling the loan. Many countries have similar concepts or agencies that define what are "standard" mortgages. Regulated lenders (such as banks) may be subject to limits or higher risk weightings for non-standard mortgages. For example, banks and mortgage brokerages in Canada face restrictions on lending more than 80% of the property value; beyond this level, mortgage insurance is generally required.

Mortgage borrowers can be individuals mortgaging their home or they can be businesses mortgaging commercial property (for example, their own business premises, residential property let to tenants or an investment portfolio). The lender will typically be a financial institution, such as a bank, credit union or building society, depending on the country concerned, and the loan arrangements can be made either directly or indirectly through intermediaries. Features of mortgage loans such as the size of the loan, maturity of the loan, interest rate, method of paying off the loan, and other characteristics can vary considerably. The lender's rights over the secured property take priority over the borrower's other creditors which means that if the borrower becomes bankrupt or insolvent, the other creditors will only be repaid the debts owed to them from a sale of the secured property if the mortgage lender is repaid in full first.

According to Anglo-American property law, a mortgage occurs when an owner (usually of a fee simple interest in realty) pledges his or her interest (right to the property) as security or collateral for a loan. Therefore, a mortgage is an encumbrance (limitation) on the right to the property just as an easement would be, but because most mortgages occur as a condition for new loan money, the word mortgage has become the generic term for a loan secured by such real property. As with other types of loans, mortgages have an interest rate and are scheduled to amortize over a set period of time, typically 30 years. All types of real property can be, and usually are, secured with a mortgage and bear an interest rate that is supposed to reflect the lender's risk.

A mortgage loan, or simply mortgage, is used either by purchasers of real property to raise funds to buy real estate, or alternatively by existing property owners to raise funds for any purpose, while putting a lien on the property being mortgaged. The loan is "secured" on the borrower's property through a process known as mortgage origination. This means that a legal mechanism is put into place which allows the lender to take possession and sell the secured property ("foreclosure" or "repossession") to pay off the loan in the event the borrower defaults on the loan or otherwise fails to abide by its terms. The word mortgage is derived from a "Law French" term used by English lawyers in the Middle Ages meaning "death pledge", and refers to the pledge ending (dying) when either the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure. Mortgage can also be described as "a borrower giving consideration in the form of a collateral for a benefit (loan)."

In the UK variable-rate mortgages are more common than in the United States. This is in part because mortgage loan financing relies less on fixed income securitized assets (such as mortgage-backed securities) than in the United States, Denmark, and Germany, and more on retail savings deposits like Australia and Spain. Thus, lenders prefer variable-rate mortgages to fixed rate ones and whole-of-term fixed rate mortgages are generally not available. Nevertheless, in recent years fixing the rate of the mortgage for short periods has become popular and the initial two, three, five and, occasionally, ten years of a mortgage can be fixed. From 2007 to the beginning of 2013 between 50% and 83% of new mortgages had initial periods fixed in this way.

Graduated payment mortgage loan have increasing costs over time and are geared to young borrowers who expect wage increases over time. Balloon payment mortgages have only partial amortization, meaning that amount of monthly payments due are calculated (amortized) over a certain term, but the outstanding principal balance is due at some point short of that term, and at the end of the term a balloon payment is due. When interest rates are high relative to the rate on an existing seller's loan, the buyer can consider assuming the seller's mortgage. A wraparound mortgage is a form of seller financing that can make it easier for a seller to sell a property. A biweekly mortgage has payments made every two weeks instead of monthly.

Once the mortgage application enters into the final steps, the loan application is moved to a Mortgage Underwriter. The Underwriter verifies the financial information that the applicant has provided to the lender. Verification will be made for the applicant's credit history and the value of the home being purchased. An appraisal may be ordered. The financial and employment information of the applicant will also be verified. The underwriting may take a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes the underwriting process takes so long that the provided financial statements need to be resubmitted so they are current. It is advisable to maintain the same employment and not to use or open new credit during the underwriting process. Any changes made in the applicant's credit, employment, or financial information can result in the loan being denied.

A study issued by the UN Economic Commission for Europe compared German, US, and Danish mortgage systems. The German Bausparkassen have reported nominal interest rates of approximately 6 per cent per annum in the last 40 years (as of 2004). In addition, they charge administration and service fees (about 1.5 per cent of the loan amount). However, in the United States, the average interest rates for fixed-rate mortgages in the housing market started in the tens and twenties in the 1980s and have (as of 2004) reached about 6 per cent per annum. However, gross borrowing costs are substantially higher than the nominal interest rate and amounted for the last 30 years to 10.46 per cent. In Denmark, similar to the United States mortgage market, interest rates have fallen to 6 per cent per annum. A risk and administration fee amounts to 0.5 per cent of the outstanding debt. In addition, an acquisition fee is charged which amounts to one per cent of the principal.

Budget loans include taxes and insurance in the mortgage payment; package loans add the costs of furnishings and other personal property to the mortgage. Buydown mortgages allow the seller or lender to pay something similar to points to reduce interest rate and encourage buyers. Homeowners can also take out equity loans in which they receive cash for a mortgage debt on their house. Shared appreciation mortgages are a form of equity release. In the US, foreign nationals due to their unique situation face Foreign National mortgage conditions.

In most of Western Europe (except Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany), variable-rate mortgages are more common, unlike the fixed-rate mortgage common in the United States. Much of Europe has home ownership rates comparable to the United States, but overall default rates are lower in Europe than in the United States. Mortgage loan financing relies less on securitizing mortgages and more on formal government guarantees backed by covered bonds (such as the Pfandbriefe) and deposits, except Denmark and Germany where asset-backed securities are also common. Prepayment penalties are still common, whilst the United States has discouraged their use. Unlike much of the United States, mortgage loans are usually not nonrecourse debt.

This policy is typically paid for by the borrower as a component to final nominal (note) rate, or in one lump sum up front, or as a separate and itemized component of monthly mortgage payment. In the last case, mortgage insurance can be dropped when the lender informs the borrower, or its subsequent assigns, that the property has appreciated, the loan has been paid down, or any combination of both to relegate the loan-to-value under 80%.

Typically, this may lead to a higher final price for the buyers. This is because in some countries (such as the United Kingdom and India) there is a stamp duty which is a tax charged by the government on a change of ownership. Because ownership changes twice in an Islamic mortgage, a stamp tax may be charged twice. Many other jurisdictions have similar transaction taxes on change of ownership which may be levied. In the United Kingdom, the dual application of stamp duty in such transactions was removed in the Finance Act 2003 in order to facilitate Islamic mortgages.

In virtually all jurisdictions, specific procedures for foreclosure and sale of the mortgaged property apply, and may be tightly regulated by the relevant government. There are strict or judicial foreclosures and non-judicial foreclosures, also known as power of sale foreclosures. In some jurisdictions, foreclosure and sale can occur quite rapidly, while in others, foreclosure may take many months or even years. In many countries, the ability of lenders to foreclose is extremely limited, and mortgage market development has been notably slower.

In addition to the two standard means of setting the cost of a mortgage loan (fixed at a set interest rate for the term, or variable relative to market interest rates), there are variations in how that cost is paid, and how the loan itself is repaid. Repayment depends on locality, tax laws and prevailing culture. There are also various mortgage repayment structures to suit different types of borrower.

In most countries, a number of more or less standard measures of creditworthiness may be used. Common measures include payment to income (mortgage payments as a percentage of gross or net income); debt to income (all debt payments, including mortgage payments, as a percentage of income); and various net worth measures. In many countries, credit scores are used in lieu of or to supplement these measures. There will also be requirements for documentation of the creditworthiness, such as income tax returns, pay stubs, etc. the specifics will vary from location to location.

Mortgage loans are generally structured as long-term loans, the periodic payments for which are similar to an annuity and calculated according to the time value of money formulae. The most basic arrangement would require a fixed monthly payment over a period of ten to thirty years, depending on local conditions. Over this period the principal component of the loan (the original loan) would be slowly paid down through amortization. In practice, many variants are possible and common worldwide and within each country.

Upon making a mortgage loan for the purchase of a property, lenders usually require that the borrower make a down payment; that is, contribute a portion of the cost of the property. This down payment may be expressed as a portion of the value of the property (see below for a definition of this term). The loan to value ratio (or LTV) is the size of the loan against the value of the property. Therefore, a mortgage loan in which the purchaser has made a down payment of 20% has a loan to value ratio of 80%. For loans made against properties that the borrower already owns, the loan to value ratio will be imputed against the estimated value of the property.

In an attempt to cool down the real estate prices in Canada, Ottawa introduced a mortgage stress test effective 17 October, 2016. Under the stress test every home buyer with less than 20% down payment (high ratio) undergo a test where borrowers affordability is judged based on mortgage rate of 4.64% with 25 years amortization if they want to get a mortgage from any federally regulated lender.This stress test has lowered the maximum mortgage approved amount by almost 20% for all borrowers in Canada. Maximum amortization on home mortgages has been reduced back to 30 years instead of 35.
Many other specific characteristics are common to many markets, but the above are the essential features. Governments usually regulate many aspects of mortgage lending, either directly (through legal requirements, for example) or indirectly (through regulation of the participants or the financial markets, such as the banking industry), and often through state intervention (direct lending by the government, by state-owned banks, or sponsorship of various entities). Other aspects that define a specific mortgage market may be regional, historical, or driven by specific characteristics of the legal or financial system.

In April 2014, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) released guidelines for mortgage insurance providers aimed at tightening standards around underwriting and risk management. In a statement, the OSFI has stated that the guideline will "provide clarity about best practices in respect of residential mortgage insurance underwriting, which contribute to a stable financial system." This comes after several years of federal government scrutiny over the CMHC, with former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty musing publicly as far back as 2012 about privatizing the Crown corporation.

Mortgage lending will also take into account the (perceived) riskiness of the mortgage loan, that is, the likelihood that the funds will be repaid (usually considered a function of the creditworthiness of the borrower); that if they are not repaid, the lender will be able to foreclose on the real estate assets; and the financial, interest rate risk and time delays that may be involved in certain circumstances.

The two basic types of amortized loans are the fixed rate mortgage (FRM) and adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) (also known as a floating rate or variable rate mortgage). In some countries, such as the United States, fixed rate mortgages are the norm, but floating rate mortgages are relatively common. Combinations of fixed and floating rate mortgages are also common, whereby a mortgage loan will have a fixed rate for some period, for example the first five years, and vary after the end of that period.

A resurgence in the equity release market has been the introduction of interest-only lifetime mortgages. Where an interest-only mortgage has a fixed term, an interest-only lifetime mortgage will continue for the rest of the mortgagors life. These schemes have proved of interest to people who do like the roll-up effect (compounding) of interest on traditional equity release schemes. They have also proved beneficial to people who had an interest-only mortgage with no repayment vehicle and now need to settle the loan. These people can now effectively remortgage onto an interest-only lifetime mortgage to maintain continuity.

In the event of repossession, banks, investors, etc. must resort to selling the property to recoup their original investment (the money lent), and are able to dispose of hard assets (such as real estate) more quickly by reductions in price. Therefore, the mortgage insurance acts as a hedge should the repossessing authority recover less than full and fair market value for any hard asset.

Interest-only lifetime mortgage schemes are offered by two lenders currently – Stonehaven & more2life. They work by having the options of paying the interest on a monthly basis. By paying off the interest means the balance will remain level for the rest of their life. This market is set to increase as more retirees require finance in retirement.

The mortgage industry of the United Kingdom has traditionally been dominated by building societies, but from the 1970s the share of the new mortgage loans market held by building societies has declined substantially. Between 1977 and 1987, the share fell from 96% to 66% while that of banks and other institutions rose from 3% to 36%. There are currently over 200 significant separate financial organizations supplying mortgage loans to house buyers in Britain. The major lenders include building societies, banks, specialized mortgage corporations, insurance companies, and pension funds.

The most common mortgage in Canada is the five-year fixed-rate closed mortgage, as opposed to the U.S. where the most common type is the 30-year fixed-rate open mortgage. Throughout the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, Canada's mortgage market continued to function well, partly due to the residential mortgage market's policy framework, which includes an effective regulatory and supervisory regime that applies to most lenders. Since the crisis however, the low interest rate environment that as arisen has contributed to a significant increases in mortgage debt in the country.

Commercial mortgages typically have different interest rates, risks, and contracts than personal loans. Participation mortgages allow multiple investors to share in a loan. Builders may take out blanket loans which cover several properties at once. Bridge loans may be used as temporary financing pending a longer-term loan. Hard money loans provide financing in exchange for the mortgaging of real estate collateral.

On July 28, 2008, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced that, along with four large U.S. banks, the Treasury would attempt to kick start a market for these securities in the United States, primarily to provide an alternative form of mortgage-backed securities. Similarly, in the UK "the Government is inviting views on options for a UK framework to deliver more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages, including the lessons to be learned from international markets and institutions".

Home ownership rates are comparable to the United States, but overall default rates are lower. Prepayment penalties during a fixed rate period are common, whilst the United States has discouraged their use. Like other European countries and the rest of the world, but unlike most of the United States, mortgages loans are usually not nonrecourse debt, meaning debtors are liable for any loan deficiencies after foreclosure.

In some countries with currencies that tend to depreciate, foreign currency mortgages are common, enabling lenders to lend in a stable foreign currency, whilst the borrower takes on the currency risk that the currency will depreciate and they will therefore need to convert higher amounts of the domestic currency to repay the loan.

Until recently[when?] it was not uncommon for interest only mortgages to be arranged without a repayment vehicle, with the borrower gambling that the property market will rise sufficiently for the loan to be repaid by trading down at retirement (or when rent on the property and inflation combine to surpass the interest rate)[citation needed].

The customer-facing aspects of the residential mortgage sector are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and lenders' financial probity is overseen by a separate regulator, the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) which is part of the Bank of England. The FCA and PRA were established in 2013 with the aim of responding to criticism of regulatory failings highlighted by the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and its aftermath.

Many countries have a notion of standard or conforming mortgages that define a perceived acceptable level of risk, which may be formal or informal, and may be reinforced by laws, government intervention, or market practice. For example, a standard mortgage may be considered to be one with no more than 70–80% LTV and no more than one-third of gross income going to mortgage debt.

Flexible mortgages allow for more freedom by the borrower to skip payments or prepay. Offset mortgages allow deposits to be counted against the mortgage loan. In the UK there is also the endowment mortgage where the borrowers pay interest while the principal is paid with a life insurance policy.

Recent Financial Services Authority guidelines to UK lenders regarding interest-only mortgages has tightened the criteria on new lending on an interest-only basis. The problem for many people has been the fact that no repayment vehicle had been implemented, or the vehicle itself (e.g. endowment/ISA policy) performed poorly and therefore insufficient funds were available to repay balance at the end of the term.

In the U.S. a partial amortization or balloon loan is one where the amount of monthly payments due are calculated (amortized) over a certain term, but the outstanding balance on the principal is due at some point short of that term. In the UK, a partial repayment mortgage is quite common, especially where the original mortgage was investment-backed.

Some lenders may also require a potential borrower have one or more months of "reserve assets" available. In other words, the borrower may be required to show the availability of enough assets to pay for the housing costs (including mortgage, taxes, etc.) for a period of time in the event of the job loss or other loss of income.

The charge to the borrower depends upon the credit risk in addition to the interest rate risk. The mortgage origination and underwriting process involves checking credit scores, debt-to-income, downpayments, and assets. Jumbo mortgages and subprime lending are not supported by government guarantees and face higher interest rates. Other innovations described below can affect the rates as well.

The mortgage industry of the United States is a major financial sector. The federal government created several programs, or government sponsored entities, to foster mortgage lending, construction and encourage home ownership. These programs include the Government National Mortgage Association (known as Ginnie Mae), the Federal National Mortgage Association (known as Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (known as Freddie Mac).

Mortgage insurance is an insurance policy designed to protect the mortgagee (lender) from any default by the mortgagor (borrower). It is used commonly in loans with a loan-to-value ratio over 80%, and employed in the event of foreclosure and repossession.
The US mortgage sector has been the center of major financial crises over the last century. Unsound lending practices resulted in the National Mortgage Crisis of the 1930s, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s and the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 which led to the 2010 foreclosure crisis.

Both of these methods compensate the lender as if they were charging interest, but the loans are structured in a way that in name they are not, and the lender shares the financial risks involved in the transaction with the homebuyer.[citation needed]
For older borrowers (typically in retirement), it may be possible to arrange a mortgage where neither the principal nor interest is repaid. The interest is rolled up with the principal, increasing the debt each year.

In Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is the country's national housing agency, providing mortgage loan insurance, mortgage-backed securities, housing policy and programs, and housing research to Canadians. It was created by the federal government in 1946 to address the country's post-war housing shortage, and to help Canadians achieve their homeownership goals.
Within the European Union, covered bonds market volume (covered bonds outstanding) amounted to about EUR 2 trillion at year-end 2007 with Germany, Denmark, Spain, and France each having outstandings above 200,000 EUR million. Pfandbrief-like securities have been introduced in more than 25 European countries—and in recent years also in the U.S. and other countries outside Europe—each with their own unique law and regulations.

Bali, Indonesia is an exception to the rule of most home purchase being funded by a mortgage. Instead, most properties there are paid with cash due to the lack of available mortgages.

There are many types of mortgages used worldwide, but several factors broadly define the characteristics of the mortgage. All of these may be subject to local regulation and legal requirements.
Moving forward, the FSA under the Mortgage Market Review (MMR) have stated there must be strict criteria on the repayment vehicle being used. As such the likes of Nationwide and other lenders have pulled out of the interest-only market.

These arrangements are variously called reverse mortgages, lifetime mortgages or equity release mortgages (referring to home equity), depending on the country. The loans are typically not repaid until the borrowers are deceased, hence the age restriction.
An alternative scheme involves the bank reselling the property according to an installment plan, at a price higher than the original price.

Many countries have lower requirements for certain borrowers, or "no-doc" / "low-doc" lending standards that may be acceptable under certain circumstances.

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