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 loan or an 80/20 loan.

An 80/10/10 translates to 80% loan-to-value (LTV) on the first mortgage, 10% LTV on the second mortgage, and a 10% down payment. In essence, you’re putting down just 10%, but keeping your first mortgage at the important 80% LTVor less threshold to avoid mortgage insurance.

For example, if the purchase price were $100,000, you’d get a first mortgage for $80,000, a second mortgage for $10,000, and bring $10,000 to the table in down payment money.

An 80/20 is an 80% first mortgage, a 20% second mortgage, and zero down payment.  Uh oh. These are less common today than they were in the early 2000s because lenders have become much more risk-averse.

Using the same example, you’d have an $80,000 first mortgage and a $20,000 second mortgage with no down payment whatsoever. This was a simple, yet risky way to get a mortgage with no skin in the game.

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.

It might be in your best interest (the puns just won’t stop) to put more money down or explore other alternatives such as a larger first mortgage amount if the interest rate is sky-high.

Second mortgages are offered in both adjustable and fixed-rate options, with home equity loans typically fixed and home equity lines of credit variable and tied to the prime rate.

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 and credit unions 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 plenty out there if you’re willing to pay a premium for it.


  1. Maximal Kewl June 17, 2015 at 10:52 am -

    I have had both Chase & BofA as my Mortgage servicer, both told me on my home in Oregon they would not reconsider PMI until 60 months had passed. Maybe the laws vary from state to state… but the chances your mortgage will end up being serviced by one of them as high. And PMI is only deductible under 110,000.

  2. soony c sandore August 6, 2016 at 4:11 am -

    looking for a 2nd mortgage for one year on a home in Rancho Park in Los Angeles, ca 90064.

    House is on for sale at $1,450K.
    1st mortgage is 700K.

    credit score is 600.

  3. Michael Cohen October 10, 2016 at 4:34 pm -

    I am buying a house – was going to do an 80/10/10 – I got the first mortgage approved and before starting the process for the 2nd, my loan officer told me (for the first time) that getting a second lien on the house will raise the rate of the first mortgage – is that legal?

  4. Colin Robertson October 11, 2016 at 7:30 am -


    Yes, there are often pricing adjustments for loans with a subordinate financing…

  5. Diane January 11, 2017 at 8:13 pm -

    We have a first mortgage with a mortgage co, no problem. About four yrs after we got a second mortgage from a personal lender, now the mortgage is done , she wants her money , we are having trouble getting a loan , she is threading to make us sell our house,,, doesn’t, the first mostgage people can make her stop doing this ,because we have had no trouble paying either , second mortgage just wants to get out of it ,can she make us sell are home

  6. Colin Robertson January 12, 2017 at 12:04 pm -


    I don’t know the terms of your agreement with her, may want to read the fine print in the agreement. Generally, second lien lenders won’t foreclose unless there’s sufficient equity for them to get paid back after the first lender is made whole.

  7. Gilberto March 11, 2017 at 4:30 pm -

    I have mortgage 80% and 20% I’m ok on my 80% but on my 20% no, so they say I’m in foreclosure whit the 20% so he tell me the house is not my anymore but I speak with the 80% and they said they can’t duet that because we are the majority in the loan …so what can I do?? I live in Houston tx.

  8. Colin Robertson March 13, 2017 at 7:17 pm -


    In general, it’s possible for junior lienholders (second mortgage lenders) to start the foreclosure process, though they are secondary to the first lien lender in terms of recovering monies. In some cases they may then negotiate with the first lien lender to improve their position so they don’t wind up with nothing.

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