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Edited By : Kim Borwick
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The main difference between a promissory note and a mortgage is that a promissory note is the written agreement containing the details of the mortgage loan, whereas a mortgage is a loan that is secured by real property. A promissory note is often referred to as a mortgage note and is the document generated and signed at closing.

A mortgage, or mortgage loan, is a loan that allows a borrower to finance a home. You may also hear a mortgage called a home loan. These terms all mean the same thing. A mortgage is a loan secured by property that is used as collateral, which the lender can seize if the borrower defaults on the loan.

The promissory note is exactly what it sounds like — the borrower’s written, signed promise to repay the loan.

Promissory Notes

Promissory notes, also known as mortgage notes, are written agreements in which one party promises to pay another party a certain amount of money at a later date in time. Banks and borrowers typically agree to these notes during the mortgage process. When a borrower takes out a loan, promissory notes legally bind them to repay it.

Promissory notes also help private parties in owner financing safeguard the lending process. When a borrower pays the seller directly, mortgage lenders or banks are not involved. Owner financing refers to a loan from a private entity, as opposed to a traditional lender.

The note is a written contract that provides the lender with the power to enforce their rights through a lien, foreclosure or eviction.

What Is a Mortgage?

A mortgage is a loan specifically for financing real estate. The mortgage gives a lender the right to take the property should a borrower fail to pay. During the repayment period, the title of the house is used as collateral to secure the loan.

Many consumers do not have the cash to purchase a property outright. According to a 2017 Harvard study, roughly 40 million people cannot afford the home they currently live in. Mortgages allow homeowners to make incremental payments until they’ve paid off their loans and own their homes.

In the case of owner financing, the owner of the property is the lender, and the buyer makes payments to the property owner until the loan is paid off, at which point, the title is transferred to the buyer.

Deeds and Titles

Each time you make a payment on your mortgage, you build equity. During this time, the lender owns more of the house than the borrower, and they have the title.

A title is a conceptual term that refers to a person’s ownership of a piece of property. Lenders relinquish the title to a property through the execution of a deed when the loan is paid off entirely, at which point the bank or private seller fills out the deed transferring title to the new owner.

This is the final step to fully owning a home or property. Once the title is acquired, the borrower becomes the owner and has the right to do what they please with the property.

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What Can Be Sold?

Promissory notes and titles can be sold.

Selling a Promissory Note
The person who owns the promissory note may sell it. Lenders typically sell promissory notes when they no longer want to be responsible for the loan or they need a lump sum of cash. The buyer of the note assumes the responsibility of collecting the money. The terms of the note can be changed if both parties make new arrangements, but the original agreement stands after the sale.
Selling a Title
A property owner may sell the title to the property, which involves drawing up a deed to transfer the title to a new owner.

What Happens When a Borrower Defaults on a Mortgage

When a borrower fails to make the mortgage payments, the lender can pursue foreclosure by following state guidelines.

According to a study by Wharton University of Pennsylvania, states impose several requirements on lenders who want to foreclose on a property, concerning the following:
  • The number and timing of notices that the lender must send
  • Whether the borrower holds a statutory right to cure the default
  • The length of any post-sale redemption period
  • Whether the lender is permitted to pursue a post-sale deficiency judgment, allowing it to seize other borrower assets
Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making financial decisions.
Last Modified: July 29, 2020

7 Cited Research Articles

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  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (2017, February). What is a mortgage? Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/what-is-a-mortgage-en-99/
  2. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. (2017). The State of the Nation’s Housing. Retrieved from https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/harvard_jchs_state_of_the_nations_housing_2017_chap1.pdf
  3. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (n.d.). Promissory Notes. Retrieved from https://www.investor.gov/protect-your-investments/fraud/types-fraud/promissory-notes
  4. Loftsgordon, A. (2020, March 14). The Difference Between a Promissory Note and a Mortgage. Retrieved from https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/bankruptcy/foreclosures/the-difference-between-a-promissory-note-and-a-mortgage.html
  5. LegalNature.com. (2019, October). Using a Promissory Note to Purchase a Home. Retrieved from https://www.legalnature.com/guides/using-a-promissory-note-to-purchase-a-home
  6. RocketLawyer.com. (2012, August). What's the Difference Between a Property Deed and a Title?. Retrieved from https://www.rocketlawyer.com/article/whats-the-difference-between-a-property-deed-and-a-title-ps.rl
  7. Feinstein, B.D. (2020). State Foreclosure Law: A Neglected Element of the Housing Finance Debate. Retrieved from https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/issue-brief/v6n10.php