There’s a lot of vocab to learn when you’re looking for a home loan. To make things even trickier, in many cases these are specialized uses of everyday words. Here are some terms you might come across.
APR. APR is short for annual percentage rate. This number represents the total cost of borrowing money to buy a home because it combines your interest rate with fees, points and other lender charges. Looking at the APR different lenders offer gives you another way to compare costs.
Appraisal. After you have applied for a mortgage, the lender has an appraiser compare the details of the home you want to buy with similar properties that have recently sold in your area. This tells the lender the property’s value, which is important because it won’t let you borrow more than the home is worth.
Closing. Closing has two different but related meanings when it comes to buying a home. It can refer to the time between applying for a mortgage and actually signing the paperwork and receiving the keys, or it can refer to that last day when the loan “closes.”
Loan Estimate. The Loan Estimate is a document that you’ll get when you are preapproved for a mortgage. It shows all the costs related to getting a home loan, including rates and fees. The Loan Estimate also shows which costs are set in stone and which you can shop around for. All lenders have to use the same format, which makes Loan Estimates easy to compare.
Mortgage broker. A mortgage broker is an independent agent who can help you with the home loan process. Based on your needs, they’ll present you with loan options and help you work with the lender that you choose. You don’t have to work with a mortgage broker. With the amount of information readily available online, it’s easier to do research and compare loans than it used to be.
Mortgage originator. A mortgage originator is the lender that initially provides your home loan. You’ll work with the mortgage originator from your initial application through closing day.
Mortgage servicer. A mortgage servicer is the company that handles your mortgage once you own the home. You send the servicer your monthly payment, it manages your escrow account and you’ll call it with any questions about your home loan. In some cases, your mortgage originator will also service the mortgage, but most of the time, originators resell mortgages to servicers.
Second mortgage. A second mortgage is another loan on a home that already has a first, or primary, mortgage. Also called “junior liens,” second mortgages are a way to access the equity in your home as spendable funds without selling or refinancing. Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit are two types of second mortgages.
Points. Sometimes called mortgage points or discount points, points are optional fees that you can pay when buying a home in order to reduce your interest rate. One point usually costs 1% of the total amount you’re borrowing, and for each point you buy, the lender reduces your interest rate by 0.25 percentage point. When you’re comparing interest rates, check whether points are included — sometimes lenders will add points to their sample rate calculations to make their interest rates appear lower.
Preapproval. A mortgage preapproval is a letter from a lender stating how much they might be willing to lend you to buy a home. A preapproval doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely get the loan, but because it’s based on the lender verifying some of your financial information — including doing a credit check — a preapproval shows real estate agents and home sellers that you’re a legit buyer.
Prequalification. A mortgage prequalification is a more informal way to estimate how much you might be able to borrow to buy a home. You provide a lender with basic information like your income and credit score range, and they’ll tell you what kinds of loans you could be able to get. Since the lender doesn’t independently verify any of your financial info, a prequalification doesn’t carry as much weight as a preapproval.
Title. The title represents the home’s ownership history. If a home has a “clear title,” that means that the current owner has the right to sell the property and no one else can make a claim to it. Title issues can crop up if there are judgments against the property owner (for example, unpaid taxes). Getting a title search is part of the closing process.
Underwriting. Underwriting is the process lenders use to make sure that borrowers are qualified. It happens after you apply for a mortgage, and it can last for weeks. During this time, an underwriter will look closely at your finances, plus examine the house’s appraisal and the title search, to make a final determination as to whether to give you a mortgage. Once the underwriter gives the go-ahead, you’ll get the Closing Disclosure (a finalized version of the Loan Estimate) and be able to schedule the closing.