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Second Mortgages: What You Need to Know

What is a second mortgage? Isn’t just one mortgage enough? A second mortgage can allow you to access home equity for future purchases and great flexibility. Read on for more about the types available and what each will mean for you.

When most homeowners speak about second mortgages, they’re not talking about an additional mortgage used to buy a home as part of a combo loan, or refinancing an existing loan. They’re referring to a brand-new mortgage that sits in a second lien position behind an existing first mortgage. Second mortgages come in a few different shapes and sizes – and each can address a specific need.

The Home Improvement Loan

A second mortgage can be one loan paid out over time, used to either pull a sum of cash from the equity in your home or perhaps to undertake a home improvement project. For example, a couple who owns a home currently valued at $500,000 has an existing first mortgage balance of $250,000. Their family has begun to grow, and they will soon need another bedroom. They’ve looked into selling their three bedroom home and buying a home with four bedrooms, but that would mean borrowing more and having a larger mortgage than they currently have.

Instead, they decide to add onto their existing home. They work with an architect and a contractor and determine that the addition will cost another $50,000. They add on another $5,000 for “just in case” scenarios, and apply for a second mortgage in the amount of $55,000. The mortgage application is approved, and the lender deposits $55,000 into their bank account. The lender’s guidelines for the second lien required the combined loan to value—the combination of the first and second lien to be placed—was no greater than 80 percent of the current value of the home. This is referred to as the CLTV. The loan this couple received is a fixed-rate second lien with monthly payments stretched out over 15 years, but other terms are available.

Okay, now what if the 80 percent CLTV had posed a problem? What if the property had been worth $400,000 now, rather than $500,000? When improvements are made to a property, the lender can consider the future value of the property when reviewing the appraisal. Let’s say for a moment that adding the fourth bedroom increased the value of the property from $400,000 to $450,000. At the end of construction, the lender would have sent out an inspector who makes sure that that the construction had been completed and that the home’s value had risen to $450,000. In this example, the CLTV would now be 68, well below the 80 percent requirement. This type of arrangement, where a lump sum of cash is provided with a predetermined payment schedule, is referred to as a “closed end” second.

The HELOC Option

A more common type of second lien is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. A HELOC works much like an everyday credit card, yet the loan is secured by the property. HELOCs also have CLTV requirements that must be met, and they most often use the current market value of the property.

Let’s again assume the CLTV guideline is 80 percent, and consider a home currently appraised at $500,000 with an existing first lien mortgage balance $350,000. Since 80 percent of $500,000 is $400,000, and an existing lien of $350,000 is already in place, a HELOC for $50,000 can be obtained on this property.

Let’s say the couple decides to accept the $50,000 offer. They will now have $50,000 accessible to them just as they would with a credit card, but the interest rates will be substantially lower. Most HELOCS require a minimum amount to be withdrawn, but once repayment is made that balance is immediately reduced.

HELOCS have a draw period, typically the first 10 years, followed by a repayment period that lasts for the remaining term of the loan. Most HELOCs are set for 25 or 30-year terms and have adjustable rates that can fluctuate as rates rise and fall throughout the repayment period.

Subordination

A second lien is more than just another lien placed on a property subsequent and subservient to the first. The second mortgage does not have the same types of legal protection that the first mortgage has, and should the borrowers ever go into default, it’s possible the second lien lender will be left out in the cold, having to deal with the collection process well beyond the foreclosure date.

When a lender is forced to foreclose on a property, the “superior” liens are paid off before any others. A first mortgage used to buy and finance a property is such a lien. Other superior liens are those filed for delinquent property or income taxes. Support payments to an ex-spouse, and child support are superior to a second lien as well. So are mechanic’s liens filed when a contractor builds or makes improvements on a home.

Once all those liens are satisfied after a foreclosure auction, it’s possible there isn’t enough money left to pay off the second lien holder. This is one of the reasons why second lien interest rates will always be higher than what is available for a first lien mortgage used to purchase a home. Simply put, there is greater risk associated with these loans.

There are also times when homeowners fail to pay the second mortgage but are still paying the first mortgage to the satisfaction of the first lien holder. The second lien lender then has the right to foreclose on the property but again, any and all superior liens will be paid off first.

The two types of second liens: closed-end seconds and a HELOCs, are excellent ways to access home equity without having to refinance your entire mortgage to pull out cash, a practice referred to as a “cash-out” refinance. If you plan to use the funds for a specific purpose without the need for future funds, a closed-end second might be the better choice. If you want access to the equity over time with a revolving line of credit, then a HELOC is the best fit for you.

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