Mortgage Types

By: Kirk Haverkamp
Updated and reviewed: Aug 6, 2013

Use our mortgage types tables to learn more about different mortgages, their advantages and disadvantages as well as common uses.

Descriptions and uses

Mortgage type Description Used for
30-year fixed-rate Long-term mortgage designed to be paid off in 30 years at a set interest rate Home purchase, mortgage refinance, cash-out refinance, home equity loan, jumbo mortgage, FHA, VA, USDA
15-20 year fixed-rate Medium-term mortgages designed to be paid off in 15-20 years at a set rate Home purchase, mortgage refinance, cash-out refinance, home equity loan, jumbo mortgage, FHA, VA.
ARM Mortgage with interest rate that varies over time, based on market conditions Home purchase, mortgage refinance, home equity loans, HELOCs, interest-only loans, jumbo mortgages.
Interest-only Interest payments only for a fixed period of time before principle must be paid off Home construction loans, HELOCs, jumbo loans, ARMs, balloon payments
Piggyback Loan A second mortgage, or lien, used to cover part of the purchase price of a home. Partial or entire down payment in order to avoid paying for mortgage insurance; funding jumbo portion of high-end home purchase so that the rest can be covered with a lower-rate conforming loan. Fixed-rate, ARMs, jumbo loans.
Home Equity Loan Loan secured by the equity in the borrower's home; that is, the home serves as collateral for the loan. A type of second mortgage, or lien. Borrowing money for any purpose desired by the homeowner, often home improvements or other major expenses. Fixed-rate, ARM, interest-only, balloon payment options.
HELOC A type of home equity loan in which you have a pre-set limit you can borrow against as needed. Usually divided into a draw period, during which you can borrow money, followed by a repayment period. Borrowing money at irregular intervals for any purpose desired. Draw period is usually an interest-only ARM; repayment usually a fixed-rate loan.
Reverse Mortgage A category of home equity loans for persons age 62 and above. Monthly stipends to supplement retirement income; monthly cash advances for a limited time; HELOC to draw as needed.
Refinance Taking out a new mortgage to pay off and replace an existing mortgage Obtaining more desirable loan terms than current mortgage offers, such as lower interest rate, lower monthly payments, shorter or longer payoff terms, replace adjustable-rate loan with fixed-rate loan or vice versa, among others. Options include fixed-rate, ARM, VA, FHA and USDA.
Cash-out Refinance A single transaction to both refinance your current mortgage and borrow against your available home equity. Borrowing money for any purpose desired by the homeowner, in addition to any of the other potential uses of refinancing. Fixed-rate or ARM.
HARP Refinance Government-backed program to help homeowners with low- and negative-equity (underwater) mortgages refinance to more favorable terms. Stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program. Refinancing primary mortgages. 30-year, 20-year and 15-year fixed-rate options.
FHA Loan Government program designed to facilitate home ownership. Home purchase, refinancing, cash-out refinance, home improvement loans. 30-year, 15-year fixed-rate, ARMs, HELOCS
VA Loan Home loan program for members and veterans of the armed forces and certain others. Home purchase, mortgage refinancing, home improvement loans, cash-out refinance. 30- and 15-year fixed-rate, ARM.
USDA Rural Development Loan Program to assist low- to moderate-income persons purchase a modest home in rural areas and small communities. Home purchases, refinancing. 30-year fixed-rate mortgage only

Advantages and disadvantages

Mortgage type Advantages Disadvantages
30-year fixed-rate Low monthly payments, rate doesn't change, payments stable, attractive rates, most common mortgage type. Long-term commitment, higher rates than shorter-term loans, equity builds slowly; higher long-term interest cost than shorter-term loans.
15-20 year fixed-rate Lower rates than 30-year mortgage, rate doesn’t change, stable payments, shorter payoff, build equity quickly, less interest paid over time. Higher monthly payments than a 30-year loan, lower interest payments could affect ability to itemize deductions on tax returns.
ARM Low initial rates; greater payment flexibility than short-term fixed-rate loans. Unpredictable; rate may adjust higher; monthly payments may increase substantially; refinancing may be needed to prevent large payment increases when rates are rising.
Interest-only Deferred payments on principle; flexibility to make additional payments if desired. Higher rates than on fully amortizing loans; higher payments during amortization period than on loans where principle payments begin immediately.
Piggyback Loan Higher interest rate on piggyback loan may be cheaper than paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI). Paying conforming rate on portion of jumbo mortgage reduces interest payments. Second lien can make refinancing more difficult. Separate bill to pay each month. Shorter amortization on piggyback loans can make monthly payments higher than they would be for a single primary mortgage.
Home Equity Loan Allows you to borrow money at a lower interest rate than other, nonsecured types of loans. Interest usually tax-deductable. Could lose home through foreclosure if you fail to make payments. Rates are higher than on a primary lien mortgage (such as a cash-out refinance). Reduced equity can make refinancing more difficult. Can delay the time you own your home free and clear.
HELOC Borrow what you need, when you need it; little or no closing costs; lower initial rates than standard home equity loans; interest usually tax-deductable. May be tempted to borrow more than you need; variable interest rate could mean higher payments than you expect; could lose home through foreclosure if you fail to make payments.
Reverse Mortgage No need to repay funds borrowed for as long as you reside in the home; loan liability cannot exceed equity in home; borrowers choosing lifetime stipend option continue to receive payments even if equity is exhausted; payments are tax-free. Costs are significantly higher than for other types of home equity loans; draining equity may leave borrower without financial reserves; extended stay in medical care facility could cause loan to come due and borrower to lose home.
Refinance May be able to get lower interest rate, lower monthly payments, pay off loan faster, switch from adjustable-rate loan to fixed-rate or vice versa. Must pay closing costs for new mortgage, which may offset the advantages of a lower interest rate.
Cash-out Refinance Lower interest rate than a standard home equity loan; borrower does not carry second lien with a separate monthly bill; may be able to reduce rate on entire mortgage; other potential advantages of a standard refinance. Higher closing costs than on a home equity loan; borrowing against home equity may increase likelihood of foreclosure in a financial crisis.
HARP Refinance Enables homeowners to refinance when they would otherwise find it difficult or impossible to do so due to a lack of home equity. Interest rates obtained through HARP refinancing will be higher than those available to borrowers with more home equity. Limited to mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. No cash-out refinance. Cannot be used to refinance second liens.
FHA Loan Down payments as little as 3.5 percent of home value, competitive mortgage rates, easy refinancing for borrowers who currently have FHA loans, less stringent credit restrictions than on conventional mortgages. Loan limits restrict amount that can be borrowed; higher costs for mortgage insurance than on standard loans; borrowers putting up less than 10 percent down required to carry mortgage insurance for life of the loan.
VA Loan 100 percent financing available (0 down payment); competitive mortgage rates even with no down payment; easy refinancing (streamline). May not be used to buy a second home if you have exhausted your benefit on your primary home. Cannot be used to purchase property used solely for investment purposes.
USDA Rural Development Loan Up to 100 percent financing (no down payment), competitive rates, inexpensive mortgage insurance, broad definition of "rural" includes many suburban areas. Relatively low loan limits; cannot be used for purchases in urban areas; waiting periods can be long; must be able to show present housing is inadequate; not offered by most lenders.

Best and less suited for

Mortgage type Best suited for Less suited for
30-year fixed-rate Homebuyers looking for affordable, stable payments; refinancers looking to minimize monthly payments; buyers/owners expecting to remain in the property a long time. Borrowers refinancing a 30-year loan they've paid down over a number of years; those expecting to move within a few years; those with variable incomes who need a more flexible payment schedule.
15-20 year fixed-rate Buyers refinancing after paying down the balance on their original mortgage; those seeking to pay off their mortgage relatively quickly. Home purchase mortgage, unless the home is very affordable by your standards; borrowers who need more flexible payment schedules.
ARM Borrowers seeking to minimize their short-term rate and/or payments; homeowners who plan to move in 3-10 years; high-value borrowers who do not want to tie up their money in home equity. Borrowers who are uncomfortable with unpredictability; those who would be financially pressed by higher mortgage payments; borrowers with little home equity as a cushion for refinancing.
Interest-only HELOCs, construction loans that will be eventually be refinanced into a conventional mortgage; home purchases by well-off borrowers seeking payment flexibility; short-term loans. Long-term mortgages, financially inexperienced borrowers.
Piggyback Loan Buyers purchasing high-end properties; borrowers putting up less than 20 percent down who wish to avoid paying for mortgage insurance. Homebuyers able to make 20 percent down payment; those who anticipate rising home values will enable them to cancel PMI in a few years.
Home Equity Loan Borrowers who need to borrow a lump sum cash for a specific purpose. Borrowers who need to borrow varying sums over a period of time. Those paying an above-market rate on their primary mortgage may be better served by a cash-out refinance.
HELOC Borrowers who need need to make periodic expenditures over time and/or are unsure of the total amount they'll need to borrow. Borrowers who need to borrow a single lump sum; those who are not disciplined in their spending habits.
Reverse Mortgage Retirees who need additional monthly income to be able to continue to live independently; retirees who need to borrow occasional sums but lack the means to repay them. Retirees who are counting on using their home equity to help fund transition to assisted living; those who wish to keep their home in the family or preserve their inheritance for their heirs.
Refinance Borrowers currently paying above-market interest rates; borrowers who wish to shorten their loan term; borrowers who want to replace an ARM with a more predictable fixed-rate; borrowers facing a balloon payment. Borrowers with a mortgage rate only slightly higher than current market rates; borrowers who do not plan to stay in the home long enough to recoup the cost of refinancing.
Cash-out Refinance Homeowners seeking a home equity loan who would also benefit from refinancing their current mortgage. Homeowners seeking a home equity loan who would gain little or no savings from refinancing their current mortgage.
HARP Refinance Underwater borrowers or those with less than 20 percent home equity; those seeking to refinance at a lower interest rate; borrowers with an ARM or upcoming balloon payment who wish to convert to a fixed-rate loan. Borrowers with non-Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages; those with at least 20 percent home equity; those seeking an ARM or cash-out refinance.
FHA Loan First-time homebuyers, buyers who cannot put up a large down payment, borrowers purchasing a low- to mid-priced home, buyers seeking to buy and improve a home with a single mortgage (203k program). Borrowers purchasing a high-end home; those able to put up a down payment of 10 percent or more.
VA Loan Members and veterans of the armed forces, their surviving spouses, and persons attached to certain defense-related institutions. Non-veterans; veterans and active duty members who have exhausted their basic entitlement or who are looking to purchase investment property.
USDA Rural Development Loan First-time buyers with young families; those presently living in crowded or outdated housing; residents of rural areas or small communities; those with limited incomes. Urban dwellers, households with above-median incomes; single persons or couples without children.