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How Does a Second Mortgage Differ from a First Mortgage?

Jul 26, 2008
A second mortgage typically refers to a secured loan that is subordinate to another loan against the same property. Proceeds from a second mortgage can generally be used by the borrower for any purpose. Often proceeds from second mortgages are used to pay off consumer debt, such as credit cards or car loans. Proceeds can also be used for home improvements, college tuition, or to take a vacation. Some borrowers use second mortgages to secure lines of credit for future needs.

Until a few years ago, the total amount of debt from the 1st and 2nd mortgages combined could exceed 80% of the total market value of the home. Recently however, low interest rates combined with a competitive marketplace have created a lending environment where some lenders have approved 2nd mortgages that, when combined with the balance due on the 1st mortgage, total as high as 125% of the home value.

Most financial advisors will warn you that carrying that much debt on your home is never a good idea. In my practice, I never recommend borrowing more than 100% of the value of your home and would rarely recommend a second mortgage with a loan to value of greater than 90%.

A second mortgage is always subordinate to the first mortgage. This means that in the event of a default, the property is sold and the proceeds are used to pay the first mortgage first, including any legal costs and other costs of the sale. The remaining proceeds are applied to the second mortgage. If there is not enough money remaining from the sale of the home, the second mortgage does not get paid.

A Higher Interest Rate

When determining the interest rate that a lender is willing to loan money out for a home mortgage, he looks at the risk level to him for loaning that money. This is the reason that a high risk borrower with a poor credit history gets charged a higher interest rate than a low risk borrower with a strong credit history.

This theory also holds true for a second mortgage. Because a second mortgage lender is (by definition) second in position to be paid off in the event of a default, and because there is a greater chance that in default there may not be enough equity in the home to pay off the second mortgage in full, second mortgages are almost always given at a higher interest rate regardless of who the borrower is.

Terms available for Second Mortgages

In general, the terms given for second mortgages are shorter than those for first mortgages - primarily because the dollar amount of the second is generally much lower than that of the first.

2nd mortgage repayment terms can vary considerably, so look around for the one that is best for you. Then usually range in length from 5 to 20 years, with the majority being 10 to 15 years. A few lenders may even offer a 30 year amortization. Just like first mortgages, the longer the maturity, the higher the interest rate. Conversely (just like first mortgages), the higher the credit score - the lower the interest rate.

Types of Second Mortgages

Not only can the length of the second mortgage vary, so can other repayment terms. The majority of second mortgages, however, are paid back in equal monthly payments with a portion of the payment going to interest and a portion to the principal balance - just like a first mortgage.

The two most common types of second mortgages are the fixed rate and the home equity line of credit (HELOC). The former is a standard offering. The home equity line of credit is a little unique and has been very popular. The loan typically calls for interest only payments for the first 5 to 10 years and then the line of credit is frozen at the outstanding balance of the loan. At that point, the loan payments are recast and a standard principal and interest payment is established for the remaining 10 to 20 years. The HELOC's are typically priced with a variable interest rate that is most commonly indexed to the New York City prime interest rate.

HELOC interest rates are similar to other loan pricing; the lower the FICO score and the higher the loan to value, the higher the interest rate.

When considering a second home mortgage, be sure to shop around and then talk to lenders to ensure that you get the best deal for you!
About the Author
Mike Cotter has been a professional lender for over 30 years. He began his career in the commercial banking industry in 1976 and in 1982 opened his own commercial bank and served as President and CEO for 10 years. He has been a successful mortgage broker for over 16 years and owns Micott Mortgage.
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