Second Mortgages

When you hear the term “second mortgage,” a negative connotation may come to mind. You may be thinking, “Why would I need a second mortgage?” I’m not in financial distress!

Well, times have changed, and gone are the days when homeowners put down large down payments and pay off their mortgages in a matter of years.

Nowadays, it’s quite common to hold a second mortgage, typically in the form of a home equity line as part of a combo loan.

Types of Second Mortgages

Many homeowners carry both a first and second mortgage, often closed concurrently during a home purchase transaction. In these cases, the second mortgage is referred to as a “piggyback loan” because it sits behind the first mortgage. Piggyback loans are used to extend financing terms, allowing borrowers to put down less on a home, or break up their loan into two separate amounts to produce a more favorable blended rate.

Two common formulas for a piggyback loan are an 80/10/10 or an 80/20. An 80/10/10 translates to 80% LTV on the first mortgage, 10% LTV on the second mortgage, and a 10% down payment. An 80/20 is an 80% first mortgage, a 20% second mortgage, and zero down payment.  Uh oh.

Second mortgages can also be opened after a first mortgage transaction is closed, as a source for additional funds. Homeowners can either elect to take a lump sum of cash in the form of a home equity loan, or opt for a home equity line of credit (HELOC), which allows them to draw specific amounts of money when needed using an associated credit card. Keep in mind that you need equity in your home to execute this type of transaction.

Second Mortgage Interest Rates

Monthly payments on second mortgages are typically pretty low relative to the first mortgage, but only because the loan amount is generally much lower.  Interest rates on second mortgages can be quite steep, we’re talking 12% in some cases, so be sure to do the math to ensure it’s the right choice.

Second mortgages are offered in both adjustable and fixed-rate options, with home equity loans typically fixed and home equity lines of credit variable.  Home equity lines of credit also come with an interest-only option during the draw period, as do some home equity loans early on.  In any case, you should have several options to choose from to find the right fit for your particular situation.

Advantages of Second Mortgages

Second mortgages that are closed concurrently with the first mortgage during a purchase transaction are also referred to as “purchase money second mortgages.” As mentioned earlier, these second mortgages allow homeowners to come in with a smaller down payment, or no down payment at all.

During a purchase transaction, the homeowner can break up the total loan amount into two separate loans called a combo loan. The risk is split between the two loans, allowing higher combined loan-to-values and lower blended interest rates.

Second mortgages in the form of piggyback loans also allow homeowners to avoid paying PMI, or private mortgage insurance. The savings can be quite substantial depending on how the loan breaks down, often saving the homeowner hundreds of dollars a month. If the first loan is kept at or below 80% loan-to-value, PMI needn’t be paid.

Additionally, breaking up your total loan amount between a first and second mortgage may allow you to keep your first mortgage under the conforming loan limit, which should help you obtain a lower interest rate if you’re in jumbo loan territory.

Second mortgages can also be opened after the purchase transaction is complete, as a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. This additional allowance of funds can provide a homeowner with much needed cash to improve the quality of their home or pay off high-interest loans, while avoiding a refinance of the existing first mortgage.

Disadvantages of Second Mortgages

Once you’ve got a second mortgage, it will be increasingly difficult to get any additional financing, such as a third mortgage. While it’s probably not common that a homeowner should require a third mortgage, emergencies do happen, and you may mind yourself trapped if you need more funds for any other reason.

Interest rates on second mortgages are typically quite high compared to first mortgages, and it’s quite common to receive an interest rate in the double-digits on a second mortgage. You could get a better deal with just one mortgage, or possibly even by paying mortgage insurance.

Many second mortgages are home equity lines of credit, which are tied to the prime rate. Whenever the prime rate is adjusted, the interest rate on your home equity line will change accordingly, effectively making it an adjustable-rate mortgage. When the Fed was raising the prime rate month after month in years past, many homeowners faced substantially higher monthly payments on their second mortgages.

Some home equity lines come with additional fees, such as an early closure fee, as well as minimum draw amounts that may exceed your personal needs. Make sure you read all the fine print to avoid any surprises.

Last but not least, second mortgages mean more debt, more interest due, and can potentially extend the amount of time it takes to pay off your first mortgage.

All that said, there are a number of pros and cons to opening a second mortgage, but they shouldn’t be looked upon as negative financing instruments, rather just another option to consider when seeking home loan financing.

One final note: Many mortgage lenders are reducing the availability of second mortgage programs as the secondary market continues to grapple with credit issues, so you may find it much more difficult to obtain one these days.

But second mortgages are still available, and can be found at a variety of banks and lenders nationwide.  The only difference now is that the LTV is often restricted to say 85%, versus 100% during the housing boom.

At the same time, there are still crazy loan programs like 125% second mortgages being offered by CashCall.  So there’s still plenty out there if you’re willing to pay a premium for it.

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