The Federal Reserve Board eagle logo links to home page

A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Financings. Illustration of a house with trees behind it.


Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)

A mortgage that does not have a fixed interest rate. The rate changes during the life of the loan based on movements in an index rate, such as the rate for Treasury securities or the Cost of Funds Index. ARMs usually offer a lower initial interest rate than fixed-rate loans. The interest rate fluctuates over the life of the loan based on market conditions, but the loan agreement generally sets maximum and minimum rates. When interest rates increase, generally your loan payments increase; and when interest rates decrease, your monthly payments may decrease. For more information on ARMs, see the Consumer Handbook on Adjustable-Rate Mortgages.


The process of fully paying off indebtedness by installments of principal and earned interest over a specific amount of time.

Annual percentage rate (APR)

The cost of credit expressed as a yearly rate. For closed-end credit, such as car loans or mortgages, the APR includes the interest rate, points, broker fees, and certain other credit charges that the borrower is required to pay. An APR, or an equivalent rate, is not used in leasing agreements.

Application fee

Fees that are charged when you apply for a loan or other credit. These fees may include charges for property appraisal and a credit report.

Appraisal fee

The charge for estimating the value of property offered as security.

Cash-out refinancing

When refinancing, taking a loan for more than you owe on your existing mortgage. Your existing mortgage is paid off and you receive an additional payment for the balance of the new loan. You might do this if you want to make home improvements or pay for a child's education. Cash-out refinancing removes some of the equity you have built up in your home.

Closing (or settlement) costs

Fees paid when you close (or settle) on a loan. These fees may include application fees; title examination, abstract of title, title insurance, and property survey fees; fees for preparing deeds, mortgages, and settlement documents; attorneys' fees; recording fees; estimated costs of taxes and insurance; and notary, appraisal, and credit report fees. Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), the borrower receives a "good faith estimate" of closing costs within three days of application. The good faith estimate lists each expected cost as an amount or a range.


In housing markets, equity is the difference between the fair market value of the home and the outstanding balance on your mortgage plus any outstanding home equity loans. In vehicle leasing markets, equity is the positive difference between the trade-in or market value of your vehicle and the loan payoff amount.


The holding of money or documents by a neutral third party before closing on a property. It can also be an account held by the lender (or servicer) into which a homeowner pays money for taxes and insurance.

Good faith estimate

An estimated breakdown of the costs of a mortgage loan. The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) requires your mortgage lender to give you a good faith estimate of all your closing costs within 3 business days of submitting your application for a loan, whether you are purchasing or refinancing a home. The actual expenses at closing may be somewhat different from the good faith estimate.


The rate used to determine the cost of borrowing money, usually stated as a percentage and as an annual rate.

Interest rate

The price paid for borrowing money, usually stated in percentages and as an annual rate.

Loan origination fees

Fees charged by the lender for processing a loan; often expressed as a percentage of the loan amount.

Lock-in agreement

A written agreement guaranteeing a homebuyer a specific interest rate on a home loan provided that the loan is closed within a certain period, such as 60 or 90 days. Often the agreement also specifies the number of points to be paid at closing.


A contract, signed by a borrower when a home loan is made, that gives the lender the right to take possession of the property if the borrower fails to pay off, or defaults on, the loan.

Negative amortization

Occurs when the monthly payments in an adjustable-rate mortgage loan do not cover all the interest owed. The interest that is not paid in the monthly payment is added to the loan balance. This means that even after making many payments, you could owe more than you did at the beginning of the loan. Negative amortization can occur when an ARM has a payment cap that results in monthly payments that are not high enough to cover the interest due or when the minimum payments are set at an amount lower than the amount you owe in interest.

Payment cap

A limit on the amount that your monthly mortgage payment on a loan may change, usually a percentage of the loan. The limit can be applied each time the payment changes or during the life of the mortgage. Payment caps may lead to negative amortization because they do not limit the amount of interest the lender is earning.

Points (also called discount points)

One point is equal to 1 percent of the principal amount of a mortgage loan. For example, if a mortgage is $200,000, one point equals $2,000. Lenders frequently charge points in both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages to cover loan origination costs or to provide additional compensation to the lender or broker. Points are paid usually on the loan closing date and may be paid by the borrower or the home seller, or split between the two parties. In some cases, the money needed to pay points can be borrowed, but doing so will increase the loan amount and the total costs. Discount points (sometimes called discount fees) are points that the borrower voluntarily chooses to pay in return for a lower interest rate.

Prepayment penalty

Extra fees that may be due if you pay off your loan early by refinancing the loan or by selling the home. The penalty is usually limited to the first 3 to 5 years of the loan’s term. If your loan includes a prepayment penalty, make sure you understand the cost. Compare the length of the prepayment penalty period with the first adjustment period of the ARM to see if refinancing is cost-effective before the loan first adjusts. Some loans may have a prepayment penalty even if you make a partial prepayment. Ask the lender for a loan without a prepayment penalty and the cost of that loan.


The amount of money borrowed or the amount still owed on a loan.


The process of paying off an existing mortgage by taking out a new mortgage.


The period from the time that a loan is made until it is fully paid.

A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Refinancings | Federal Agency Contacts

Last update: August 27, 2008