mortgage, in law, device for protecting a creditor by giving him an interest in property of his debtor. In common law a mortgage was a conditional sale; i.e., the mortgagor (debtor) sold realty (real property mortgage) or personal property (chattel mortgage), but if the debtor paid the debt by a certain time the sale was voided. The mortgagee (creditor) held legal title, the mortgagor equitable title; both estates were salable. Today Great Britain and a majority of states in the United States view mortgages as liens on property. The practical result under the two systems is the same. If the mortgagor does not pay the debt, the creditor seeks a court-ordered sale of the property (foreclosure), and the debt is paid out of the proceeds. During economic depressions many jurisdictions enact temporary mortgage moratorium statutes that give courts the discretionary power to refuse to foreclose mortgages.
In a reverse mortgage, a homeowner borrows against the value of a house to receive a line of credit, monthly payments, or a lump sum. Reverse mortgages are used by elderly homeowners as a way of obtaining cash, and normally the loan is paid off when the homeowner dies (or sells the property). Most such mortgages are made through the Federal Housing Administration's Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, which places restrictions and protections on reverse mortgages. Mortgage insurance provides protection for both the lender and borrower, and the borrower cannot be forced to sell the house if the value of the reverse mortgage plus accrued interest and fees exceeds that of the home. The borrower may risk foreclosure, however, if taxes are unpaid or homeowner's insurance lapses.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.