Principal vs. Principle
- Attention loan officers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, and so on
- The words “principal” and “principle” are two very different words
- They are constantly used incorrectly by those working in the housing industry
- Even by major mortgage companies and journalists that should know better!
Allow me to get testy about grammar for a minute (moment). I know I know, it’s lame to be a member of the grammar police and go after folks for using a word incorrectly.
I’m sure I use words incorrectly all the time.
In fact, maybe I should have used a synonym of incorrectly that second time around to mix things up.
But in this particular case, we’re talking about two completely different words that sound exactly the same but have entirely different meanings.
And they often get confused in the mortgage world, with the word “principle” typically used in place of the correct “principal.”
The scary part is that mortgage professionals and high-ranking journalists make this mistake all the time. Perhaps that’s why I have a bone to pick.
What Is Mortgage Principal?
- The word principal means first or primary
- But it has a different meaning when it comes to money
- It is defined as the original amount invested or loaned
- In other words, it’s your loan amount if we’re talking about a mortgage
Well, the word principal generally means “first.” That’s why the head of a school is known as the principal, because they’re basically the one in charge (just watch out for the superintendent!).
When it comes to money, the word principal takes on a different meaning; the original amount invested or loaned.
So in the case of a mortgage, the principal balance would be the loan amount, which declines over time as it is paid off.
If you were to take out a $200,000 mortgage, that $200,000 would be the principal balance.
And each month you would make a payment with some portion going toward the principal and some going toward interest.
Of that amount, $288.16 would go toward the principal balance, lowering it to $199,711.84. The rest of the payment, $666.67, would go toward interest.
For those who want to get a head start on paying down their mortgage, you can make an extra payment to principal, which means the excess amount goes toward principal once the interest is covered for the month.
So you can pay an extra $100 or $500 or round up your payment. Often you’ll need to tell the lender or loan servicer that you want the additional amount over your payment due to go toward principal so they know where to apply it.
As a Matter of Principle
- What about the word principle, which is often misused?
- It’s something completely different that has nothing to do with mortgages
- Defined as a rule or code that governs one’s behavior
- For example, you might have principles to live by like always telling the truth
What about the word “principle?” Well, for starters it’s always a noun, whereas principal can be both a noun or an adjective (principal vs. principal balance).
It can mean a variety of different things, but perhaps the best definition is a rule (or code) that governs one’s behavior.
For example, someone might do something out of principle because it aligns with their moral beliefs. A vegetarian may not eat meat as a matter of principle.
Or someone may not do business with a large corporate bank out of principle because they disagree with their lending practices.
I suppose someone could decide not to pay their mortgage out of principle, or do something else money-related based on their principles, but that might be a stretch.
Can I Make Principal-Only Payments on My Mortgage?
When you make your mortgage payment each month, you might see an option to pay X amount toward principal.
This might be a section below the payment that says “Additional principal” or a box you can check to allocate funds toward the principal balance on top of your minimum payment.
However it’s presented, this option allows you to select an amount of your choosing that you’d like to apply to your outstanding loan balance.
So if your regular payment is $2,500, and you want to pay $500 extra toward principal, it’d be $3,000 total.
And all $500 above the regular payment would go toward knocking out the loan balance, as opposed to interest.
The following month, you’d still have to make the same minimum payment, since extra payments do not lower future ones, but you’d owe less interest.
This means the payment allocation would be more principal-heavy to account for a smaller amount of interest due.
Just note that your loan servicer or lender may treat an amount paid below the minimum amount due as a partial payment, and simply hold it until there are enough funds to make one full payment.
So if you plan to make a principal-only payment, either do so on top of the minimum payment, or reach out to your servicer/lender directly to ensure you can make a separate payment toward principal only.
This way it will be applied correctly and without delay.
While paying extra may not be for everyone, especially those with fixed-rate mortgages set at 2-3%, it can be can beneficial if your rate is a lot higher.
Or if you’re simply debt-averse and don’t have a better place to put your money.
In the end, if you’re talking about your home loan, the word “principal” is likely the version of these very similar words you’re looking for.
Of course, in principle it may not matter, the bank will probably send your money to the right place even if you write “principle” on the check.
(photo: Roberta Romero)