Unlock Your Dream Home: The Ultimate Guide to Your First Mortgage

Unlock Your Dream Home: The Ultimate Guide to Your First Mortgage

Learn all about first mortgages, their payment structures, tax benefits, and how they differ from second mortgages.

Marcio VasconcelosMarcio Vasconcelos

Published on June 10, 2024

A first mortgage is the primary loan taken out to purchase a property. They are typically long-term loans, often with terms ranging from 15 to 30 years. These loans are not insured or guaranteed by the federal government and adhere to guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest investors in the secondary mortgage market. They can be either conforming, which means they meet these guidelines, or non-conforming, such as jumbo loans that exceed the set limits.

How Does a First Mortgage Work?

A first mortgage is primarily used to finance the purchase of a home. To secure this type of mortgage, you typically need to provide a down payment, which is a percentage of the home's purchase price paid upfront. The remainder of the purchase price is borrowed through the mortgage. You then repay the mortgage over time through monthly payments, which include both principal and interest.

In the context of home loans, the first mortgage holds the senior lien position. This means it takes precedence over any subsequent loans or liens on the property. If a borrower defaults, the lender holding the first mortgage has the first claim on the proceeds from the sale of the foreclosed property.

For example, if you take out a first mortgage to buy a home and later obtain a home equity loan (a second mortgage), the first mortgage lender has the priority claim in the event of default. The second mortgage lender can only claim any remaining funds after the first mortgage has been satisfied. This hierarchy ensures that the primary lender's risk is minimized.

How Does the First Mortgage Payment Work?

Understanding how the first mortgage payment works is crucial for managing your finances effectively. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Principal and Interest

The mortgage payment is primarily composed of two parts: principal and interest. The principal is the amount you borrowed, and the interest is the cost of borrowing that money. Initially, a larger portion of your monthly payment goes towards interest, but as you pay down the loan, more of your payment goes towards reducing the principal.

Property Taxes and Homeowner’s Insurance

In addition to the principal and interest, your monthly mortgage payment may include property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. These amounts are held in an escrow account by your lender, who then pays these bills on your behalf. This ensures that your property taxes and insurance premiums are paid on time and protects both you and the lender from potential losses.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

If your down payment is less than 20% of the home’s purchase price, you may be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender in case you default on your loan. This cost is added to your monthly mortgage payment and typically ranges from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original loan amount per year.

Monthly Payment Breakdown Example

For a $300,000 loan with a 4% interest rate, the monthly payment for principal and interest would be approximately $1,432. Adding property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and PMI, the total monthly payment could be around $1,800.

First Mortgage vs. Second Mortgage

A first mortgage is the initial loan taken out to purchase a property, and it holds the primary lien position. A second mortgage is any subsequent loan that uses the property as collateral. 

Second mortgages, which include home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), are subordinate to the first mortgage. This means that in the event of a foreclosure, the first mortgage is paid off before any funds are allocated to the second mortgage.

Key Points to Remember:

Priority: The first mortgage has priority over other liens on the property.
Payments: Typically include principal, interest, property taxes, and insurance.
Tax Deductions: Mortgage interest is often tax-deductible.
LTV Ratio: Measures the loan amount against the property's value.
Loan Limits: Set by the FHFA, vary by county and loan type.
First vs. Second Mortgage: The first mortgage is primary; second mortgages are subordinate.

What Are the Tax Implications of a First Mortgage?

Interest paid on a first mortgage is typically tax-deductible, which can provide significant savings for homeowners. However, the tax benefits depend on various factors, including the loan amount, the homeowner's tax bracket, and any changes to tax laws. Homeowners should consult with a tax advisor to understand the specific implications for their situation.

Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV) on Mortgages

The loan-to-value ratio (LTV) is a financial term used by lenders to express the ratio of a loan to the value of an asset purchased. For mortgages, the LTV ratio is calculated by dividing the loan amount by the appraised value of the property. A lower LTV ratio indicates less risk to the lender because the borrower has more equity in the property.


For a home valued at $400,000 with a mortgage of $320,000, the LTV ratio would be 80%.

First Mortgage FAQs

Loan Limits on Mortgages

Loan limits on mortgages can vary depending on the type of loan and the location of the property. Conforming loan limits are set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and vary by county. In 2024, for most areas in the United States, the conforming loan limit for a single-family home is $726,200, but in high-cost areas, the limit can be as high as $1,089,300.

Understanding these aspects of first mortgages can help potential homeowners navigate the home buying process more effectively. For more detailed advice tailored to your specific situation, it's recommended to consult with a mortgage advisor or financial planner.

Who Owns the First Mortgage?

The lender who provides the initial loan owns the first mortgage. This could be a bank, credit union, or other financial institution. Over time, the loan might be sold to another lender or an investor, but the terms of the mortgage remain the same for the borrower. It's important for borrowers to keep track of who holds their mortgage for accurate payment records and potential refinancing opportunities.

Can I Have Two Mortgages at the Same Time? 

Yes, you can have two mortgages simultaneously. The first mortgage is the primary loan used to purchase the property. A second mortgage, such as a home equity loan or line of credit, can be taken out against the equity in your home. The first mortgage lender has the primary claim on the property, while the second mortgage lender has a secondary claim. This hierarchy impacts the risk and repayment priority for each loan.

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