What is a Mortgage

Writer and editor - Bryan Robinson | Updated on 2023-03-01


A mortgage is a loan that a bank or mortgage lender gives you to finance the purchase of a home. The home you buy acts as collateral for the loan. This means if you default on your mortgage payments, the lender can take your home. Mortgages are typically repaid over a period of 15 to 30 years.

The basics of a mortgage

As stated before, a mortgage is a loan that helps you finance the purchase of a home. When you get a mortgage, you agree to make regular payments over a set period of time, usually 15 or 30 years. Each payment is called a mortgage instalment.
The interest rate is the percentage of the loan that you pay to the lender as compensation for borrowing the money. The principal is the amount of money that you borrowed.
Your monthly mortgage instalments will be made up of both interest and principal payments. During the early years of your mortgage, most of your instalment will go towards paying off the interest with only a small amount going towards paying down the principal. But as time goes on, more and more of each instalment will go towards paying down the principal until, at the end of your mortgage term, your entire instalment will go towards principal repayment and your mortgage will be paid off.

The different types of mortgages

There are many different types of mortgages available to home buyers – fixed rate, adjustable rate, interest only, and so on. Not all of these types of mortgages will be right for every buyer, so it’s important to understand the differences between them before choosing the one that’s right for you.
Fixed rate mortgages:
As the name suggests, a fixed rate mortgage has an interest rate that stays the same for the entire term of the loan, typically 15 or 30 years. This makes budgeting for your monthly mortgage payment much easier because you know exactly how much it will be every month. The trade-off is that you may end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan than you would with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).
Adjustable rate mortgages:
An ARM has an interest rate that can change over time, typically in response to changes in the market. This means that your monthly payment could go up or down depending on market conditions. The advantage of an ARM is that you may be able to get a lower interest rate than you would with a fixed rate mortgage. The downside is that you could end up paying more in interest over time if rates rise.
Interest only mortgages:
With an interest only mortgage, you only have to pay the interest on your loan for a certain period of time, typically 5-10 years. After that, you will have to begin paying both interest and principal. Interest only mortgages can be helpful if you need some flexibility in your budget or if you expect your income to increase over time and want to keep your monthly payments low at first. However, they can also be risky because you could end up owing more on your loan than the original amount if property values decline or if rates rise after the interest only period ends.

The mortgage process

After the borrower makes an initial down payment, the lender provides additional funding that the borrower repays in monthly installments over a set period of time, typically 15 or 30 years. The mortgage process typically involves multiple lenders, real estate professionals, loan officers, and others who work together to get you the money you need to buy your home.

The benefits of a mortgage

A mortgage can help you afford a more expensive home than you could if you were paying cash.

The security of a mortgage

When you take out a mortgage, the lender will place a legal charge on your property. This gives them security should you fail to keep up repayments on your mortgage. The charge is registered at the Land Registry and will normally be for the full amount of the mortgage. It will state the name of the lender and any conditions attached to the mortgage, such as the need for Buildings Insurance.

The flexibility of a mortgage

A mortgage gives you the opportunity to own your own home, and with that comes a lot of freedom and flexibility. With a mortgage, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Choose your own home: When you rent, you’re usually limited to apartments or houses in specific areas. But with a mortgage, you can buy the home of your dreams – whether it’s a starter home or a mansion.
  • Build equity: With each mortgage payment, you’re building equity – ownership – in your home. And, if property values rise over time, your equity could grow even more.
  • Get tax breaks: The interest you pay on your mortgage is generally tax-deductible.* So, not only are you investing in your future, but you may also be able to save on your taxes today.

The tax benefits of a mortgage

The biggest tax break from owning a home comes from deducting mortgage interest. For most homeowners, this deduction cuts their annual tax bill by an amount that more than offsets the cost of paying their property taxes and, if they itemize, their state income taxes.
You can deduct the interest you pay on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt ($375,000 if you’re married but filing separately). The deduction is taken as an itemized deduction on your federal income tax return.
Mortgage interest is just one of the many write-offs you can take advantage of as a homeowner. You can also deduct the points paid to get your mortgage, as well as any local or state taxes paid on the purchase or transfer of real estate.

The disadvantages of a mortgage

There are a few disadvantages to taking out a mortgage, which will be discussed in this article.

The potential for negative equity

When you have a mortgage, your home is used as collateral against the money you’ve borrowed. This means if you fail to make your mortgage payments, the lender can foreclose on your home and take it back in order to recoup their losses.
One of the biggest risks associated with taking out a mortgage is the potential for negative equity. This occurs when the value of your home decreases below the amount you owe on your mortgage. If this happens, you could find yourself owing more money on your mortgage than your home is actually worth, which can make it difficult or even impossible to sell or refinance your home.
Negative equity is often the result of an unforeseen drop in housing prices, but it can also occur if you take out a mortgage that is too large in relation to the value of your home. This is why it’s important to be mindful of both the current value of your home and the potential for future changes in the housing market when considering how much to borrow.

The risk of repossession

If you miss mortgage repayments, your home could be repossessed and you could lose a lot of money. If your home is sold for less than the amount you owe on your mortgage, you will still be responsible for paying back the rest of the money to your lender.

The cost of a mortgage

The cost of a mortgage is one of the biggest disadvantages of homeownership. On average, Americans spend about $1,000 per month on their mortgage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that doesn’t even include all of the other costs that come with owning a home, such as property taxes, insurance, and repairs.
For some people, the monthly mortgage payment is manageable. But for others, it can be a real struggle to make ends meet. If you’re considering buying a home, be sure to consider all of the costs involved and make sure you can afford it before you sign on the dotted line.


In conclusion, a mortgage is a loan that is secured by real property. The lender (usually a bank or credit union) agrees to provide the borrower with a loan in exchange for the borrower agreeing to repay the loan over a period of time, typically 15 or 30 years. The borrower also agrees to pay interest on the loan. The interest rate may be fixed or variable, and is typically lower than the rates on unsecured loans such as credit cards.

Bryan Robinson

Bryan Robinson
Writer and editor

Bryan Robinson is a finance writer with expertise in lending and their interest rates, fees, contracts and more.
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