What is Mortgage?

Legal Definition
A mortgage involves the transfer of an interest in land as security for a loan or other obligation. It is the most common method of financing real estate transactions. The mortgagor is the party transferring the interest in land. The mortgagee, usually a financial institution, is the provider of the loan or other interest given in exchange for the security interest. Normally, a mortgage is paid in installments that include both interest and a payment on the principle amount that was borrowed. Failure to make payments results in the foreclosure of the mortgage. Foreclosure allows the mortgagee to declare that the entire mortgage debt is due and must be paid immediately. This is accomplished through an acceleration clause in the mortgage. Failure to pay the mortgage debt once foreclosure of the land occurs leads to seizure of the security interest and its sale to pay for any remaining mortgage debt. The foreclosure process depends on state law and the terms of the mortgage. The most common processes are court proceedings (judicial foreclosure) or grants of power to the mortgagee to sell the property (power of sale foreclosure). Many states regulate acceleration clauses and allow late payments to avoid foreclosure. Some states use instruments called deeds of trust instead of traditional mortgages.

Three theories exist regarding who has legal title to a mortgaged property. Under the title theory title to the security interest rests with the mortgagee. Most states, however, follow the lien theory under which the legal title remains with the mortgagor unless there is foreclosure. Finally, the intermediate theory applies the lien theory until there is a default on the mortgage whereupon the title theory applies.

The mortgagor and the mortgagee generally have the right to transfer their interest in the mortgage. Some states hold that even when the purchaser of a property subject to a mortgage does not explicitly take over the mortgage the transfer is assumed. Mortgages employ due-on-sale and due-on-encumbrance clauses to prevent the transfer of mortgages. These clauses allow acceleration (having the principal and interest become due immediately) of the mortgage. In 1982, Congress made these clauses enforceable nationwide by passage of the Garn-St Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. The law of contracts and property govern the transfer of the mortgage's interest.

If the mortgage being foreclosed is not the only lien on the property then state law determines the priority of the property interests. For example, Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code governs conflicts between mortgages on real property and liens on fixtures (personal property attached to a piece of real estate).

When a mortgage is a negotiable instrument it is governed by Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code. See Negotiable Instruments. A mortgage may be used as a security interest by the mortgage. See Secured Transactions.

The law of mortgages is mainly governed by state statutory and common law. Mortgages are regulated by federal or state law or agencies depending on under whose law they were chartered or established. The Office of Thrift Supervision, an office in the Department of the Treasury, regulates federally chartered savings associations. The Comptroller of the Currency charters and regulates national banks. Federal credit unions are chartered and regulated by the National Credit Union Administration.

Federal agencies that purchase loans and mortgages are the Federal National Mortgage Association or Fannie Mae, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation or Freddie Mac, and the Government National Mortgage Association or Ginnie Mae. The federal government also insures mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Legal Definition
Contracts, conveyancing. Mortgages are of several kinds: as the concern the kind of property, mortgaged, they are mortgages of lands, tenements, and, hereditaments, or of goods and chattels; as they affect the title of the thing mortgaged, they are legal and equitable.

2. In equity all kinds of property; real or personal, which are capable of an absolute sale, may be the subject of a mortgage; rights in remainder and reversion, franchises, and choses in action, may, therefore, be mortgaged; But a mere possibility or expectancy, as that of an heir, cannot. 2 Story, Eq. Jur. 1021; 4 Kent, Com. 144; 1 Powell, Mortg. 17, 23; 3 Meri. 667.

3. A legal mortgage of lands may be described to be a conveyance of lands, by a debtor to his creditor, as a pledge and security for the repayment of a sum of money borrowed, or performance of a covenant; 1 Watts, R. 140; with a proviso, that such conveyance shall be void on payment of the money and interest on a certain day, or the performance of such covenant by the time appointed, by which the conveyance of the land becomes absolute at law, yet the, mortgagor has an equity of redemption, that is, a right in equity on the performance of the agreement within a reasonable time, to call for a re-conveyance of the land. Cruise, Dig. t. 15, c. 1, s. 11; 1 Pow. on Mortg. 4 a, n.; 2 Chip. 100; 1 Pet. R. 386; 2 Mason, 531; 13 Wend. 485; 5 Verm. 532; 1 Yeates, 579; 2 Pick. 211.

4. It is an universal rule in equity that once a mortgage, always a mortgage; 2 Cowen, R. 324; 1 Yeates, R. 584; every attempt, therefore, to defeat the equity of redemption, must fail. See Equity of Redemption.

5. As to the form, such a mortgage must be in writing, when it is intended to convey the legal title. 1 Penna. R. 240. It is either in one single deed which contains the whole contract - and which is the usual form - or, it is two separate instruments, the one containing an absolute conveyance, and the other a defeasance. 2 Johns. Ch. Rep. 189; 15 Johns. R. 555; 2 Greenl. R. 152; 12 Mass. 456; 7 Pick. 157; 3 Wend, 208; Addis. 357; 6 Watts, 405; 3 Watts, 188; 3 Fairf. 346; 7 Wend. 248. But it may be observed in general, that whatever clauses or covenants there are in a conveyance, though they seem to import an absolute disposition or conditional purchase, yet if, upon the whole, it appears to have been the intention of the parties that such conveyance should be a mortgage only, or pass an estate redeemable, a court of equity will always so construe it. Vern. 183, 268, 394; Prec Ch. 95; 1 Wash. R 126; 2 Mass. R. 493; 4 John. R. 186; 2 Cain. Er. 124.

6. As the money borrowed on mortgage is seldom paid on the day appointed, mortgages have now become entirely subject to the court of chancery, where it is an established rule that the mortgagee holds the estate merely as a pledge or security for the repayment of his money; therefore a mortgage is considered in equity as personal estate.

7. The mortgagor is held to be the real owner of the land, the debt being considered the principal, and the land the accessory; whenever the debt is discharged, the interest of the mortgagee in the lands determines of course, and he is looked on in equity as a trustee for the mortgagor.

8. An equitable mortgage of lands is one where the mortgagor does not convey regularly the land, but does some act by which he manifests his determination to bind the same for the security of a debt he owes. An agreement in writing to transfer an estate as a security for the repayment of a sum of money borrowed, or even a deposit of title deeds, and a verbal agreement, will have the same effect of creating an equitable mortgage. 1 Rawle, Rep. 328; 5 Wheat. R. 284; 1 Cox's Rep. 211. But in Pennsylvania there is no such a thing as an equitable mortgage. 3 P. S. R. 233. Such an agreement will be carried into execution in equity against the mortgagor, or any one claiming under him with notice, either actual or constructive, of such deposit having been made. 1 Bro. C. C. 269; 2 Dick. 759; 2 Anstr. 427; 2 East, R. 486; 9 Ves. jr. 115; 11 Ves. jr. 398, 403; 12 Ves. jr. 6, 192; 1 John. Cas. 116; 2 John. Ch. R. 608; 2 Story, Eq. Jur. 1020. Miller, Eq. Mortg. passim.

9. A mortgage of goods is distinguishable from a mere pawn. 5 Verm. 532; 9 Wend. 80; 8 John. 96. By a grant or conveyance of goods in gage or mortgage, the whole legal title passes conditionally to the mortgagee, and if not redeemed at the time stipulated, the title becomes absolute at law, though equity will interfere to compel a redemption. But, in a pledge, a special property only passes to the pledgee, the general property remaining in the pledger. There have been some cases of mortgages of chattels, which have been held valid without any actual possession in the mortgagee; but they stand upon very peculiar grounds and may be deemed exceptions to the general rule. 2 Pick. R. 607; 5 Pick. R. 59; 5 Johns. R. 261; Sed vide 12 Mass. R. 300; 4 Mass. R. 352; 6 Mass. R. 422; 15 Mass. R. 477; 5 S. & R. 275; 12 Wend. 277: 15 Wend. 212, 244; 1 Penn. 57. Vide, generally,, Powell on Mortgages; Cruise, Dig. tit. 15; Viner, Ab. h. t.; Bac. Ab. h. t., Com. Dig. h. t.; American Digests, generally, h. t.; New, York Rev. Stat. p. 2, c. 3; 9 Wend. 80; 9 Greenl. 79; 12 Wend. 61; 2 Wend. 296; 3 Cowen, 166; 9 Wend. 345; 12 Wend. 297; 5 Greenl. 96; 14 Pick. 497; 3 Wend. 348; 2 Hall, 63; 2 Leigh, 401; 15 Wend. 244; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.

10. It is proper to, observe that a conditional sale with the right to repurchase very nearly resembles a mortgage; but they are distinguishable. It is said that if the debt remains, the transaction is a mortgage, but if the debt is extinguished by mutual agreement, or the money advanced is not loaned, but the grantor has a right to refund it in a given time, and have a reconveyance, this is a conditional sale. 2 Edw. R. 138; 2 Call, R. 354; 5 Gill & John. 82; 2 Yerg. R. 6; 6 Yerg. R. 96; 2 Sumner, R. 487; 1 Paige, R. 56; 2 Ball & Beat. 274. In cases of doubt, however, courts of equity will always lean in favor of a mortgage. 7 Cranch, R. 237; 2 Desaus. 564.

11. According to the laws of Louisiana a mortgage is a right granted to the creditor over the property of his debtor, for the security of his debt, and gives him the power of having the property seized and sold in default of payment. Civ. Code of Lo. art. 3245.

12. Mortgage is conventional, legal or judicial. 1st. The conventional mortgage is a contract by which a person binds the whole of his property, or a portion of it only, in favor of another, to secure the execution of some engagement, but without divesting himself of the possession. Civ. Code, art. 3257.

13. - 2d. Legal mortgage is that which is created by operation of law: this is also called tacit mortgage, because it is established by the law, without the aid of any agreement. Art. 3279. A few examples will show the nature of this mortgage. Minors, persons interdicted, and absentees, "have a legal mortgage on the property of their tutors and curators, as a security for their administration; and the latter have a mortgage on the property of the former for advances which they have made. The property of persons who, without being lawfully appointed curators or tutors of minors, &c., interfere with their property, is bound by a legal mortgage from the day on which the first act of interference was done.

14. - 3d. The judicial mortgage is that resulting from judgments, whether these be rendered on contested cases or by default, whether they be final or provisional, in favor of the person obtaining them. Art. 3289.

15. Mortgage, with respect to the manner in which it binds the property, is divided into general mortgage, or special mortgage. General mortage is that which binds all the property, present or future, of the debtor. Special mortgage is that which binds only certain specified property. Art. 3255.

16. The following objects are alone susceptible of mortgage: 1. Immovables, subject to alienation, and their accessories considered likewise as immovable. 2. The usufruct of the same description of property with its accessories during the time of its duration. 3. Slave's. 4. Ships and other vessels. Art. 3256.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
An estate created by a conveyance absolute in its form, but intended to secure the performance of some act, such as the payment of money, and the like, by the grantor or some other person, and to become void if the act is performed agreeably to the terms prescribed at the time of making such conveyance. 1 Washb. Real Prop. 475. A conditional conveyance of land, designed as a security for the payment of money, the fulfiliment of some contract, or the performance of some act, and to be void upon such payment, fulfillment, or performance. Mitchell v. Burnham, 44 Me. 299. A debt by specialty, secured by a pledge of lands, of which the legal ownership is vested in the creditor, but of which, in equity, the debtor and those claiming under him remain the actual owners, until debarred by judicial sentence or their own laches. Coote, Mortg. 1. The foregoing definitions are applicable to the common-law conception of a mortgage. But in many states in modern times, it is regarded as a mere lien, and not as creating a title or estate. It is a pledge or security of particniar property for the payment of a debt or the performance of some other obligation, whatever form the transaction may take, but is not now regarded as a conveyance in effect, though it may be cast in the form of a conveyance. See Until v. Goddard, 28 Mont 237, 72 Pac. 621, 98 Am. St Rep. 553; Johnson v. Robinson, 68 Tex. 399, 4 S. W. 62o ; In re McConnell's Estate, 74 Cal. 217, 15 Pac. 746; Killebrew v. Hines, 104 N. C. 182, 10 S. E. 159, 17 Am. St. Ren. 672. To the same purport are also the following statutory definitions: Mortgage is a right granted to the creditor over the property of the debtor for the security of his debt, and gives him the power of having the property seized and sold in default of payment. Civ. Code La. art. 3278. Mortgage is a centract by which specific property is hypothecated for the performance .of an act, without the necessity of a change of possession. Civ. Code Cal. ยง 2920.
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
A lien; a transfer of property as security for a debt. See 1 Pet. (U. S.) 386, 7 L. Ed. 189. See, also, 7 Am. St. Rep. 32, note.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary