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Deed of Trust vs Mortgage

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Pen Lying on Contract Signature Line

Deed of Trust vs Mortgage comparison is very subtle. Both create liens on real estate. Also, bank loans and private loans use both.  Also, they’re both considered, by law, evidence of a debt since they’re generally recorded in the property location’s county.  So, hard money lenders tend to operate more in trust deed states because the foreclosure laws are more flexible.

The Scoop

Both documents, a mortgage and a trust deed, use real estate to secure repayment of a loan.  However, they vary in the number of parties involved in the lien transaction, the name of the documents, and the method of foreclosure used if the underlying debt is not paid per the terms of the loan agreement. In most states, law dictates whether a mortgage or a trust deed is recorded.  However, some states permit either document to be used.

Before diving into the differences between the mortgage and deed of trust, let’s first define a promissory note (sometimes referred to as just a “note”) and understand its role in relation to borrowing real estate.

Simply put, a promissory note is a promise to pay a debt at agreed upon terms.  A promissory note is generally not recorded and contains details about the loan such as the maturity date, interest rate (i.e. fixed, variable, etc), payment amount, and frequency. A promissory note itself is not secured by the real estate. In order to secure repayment of the promissory note with real estate, a lender uses either a mortgage or deed of trust which are also sometimes referred to as “security documents” because they secure the promissory note to the real estate to create a permanent record in the county in which the real property is located. This recorded document puts the public on notice and creates “notice of the lien” to anyone who may have reason to research title to the property.

The Difference

There are two primary distinctions between a mortgage and a trust deed:

  1. the number of parties involved in the transaction, and
  2. the procedure for enforcing the lien via foreclosure.

Number of Parties

A mortgage involves two parties: a Borrower (the Mortgagor) and a Lender (the Mortgagee)

A trust deed involves three parties: a Borrower (the Trustor), a Lender (the Beneficiary), and the title company, escrow company, or bank (the Trustee) that holds title to the lien for the benefit of the lender and whose sole function is to initiate and complete the foreclosure process at the request of the lender.

Foreclosure Procedures

A court supervised foreclosure process enforces a mortgage.   Known as a judicial foreclosure, the process includes the lender filing a lawsuit against the borrower.

A trust deed gives the lender (i.e. banks or hard money lenders) the option to bypass the court system.  So, by following the procedures outlined in the trust deed and applicable state law, they can do a non-judicial foreclosure.  Also knows as a trustee’s sale.  If the trustee conducts a foreclosure sale, trustee conveys title to the new owner via a “Trustee’s Deed.”  However, if there are no bidders at the trustee sale, the property reverts back to the beneficiary (lender).  And title still transfers from the trustee to the lender using the Trustee’s Deed.

Types of Foreclosure

Judicial Foreclosure

This process requires the lender to file a lawsuit in order to obtain a judgment. It is time consuming and expensive, but it does have an added benefit for the lender. If the foreclosure auction isn’t enough to pay off the note, options exist.  The lender can sue the borrower(s) for the remaining balance owed, known as a deficiency judgment. In some states, lenders can elect to do a judicial foreclosure to preserve the option of a deficiency judgment.  Even if a trust deed secures the property. Hard money lenders prefer a non-judicial process which is why more private loans are originated in trust deed states as they are friendlier to private money lending.

A judicial foreclosure also provides a “right of redemption” to the borrower, even after the property sells at auction. Therefore, the borrower can repay the lender after the foreclosure sale, within a certain time frame (which varies by state), and thus reacquire title to the property.

Non-Judicial Foreclosure

This is becoming the most common process for foreclosure because it is faster and less expensive.  Many states recently passed laws that allow for the use of trust deeds.  With a non-judicial procedure, the lender issues proper notice(s) and follows certain rules. Then, if the borrower doesn’t bring the loan current, the property goes to a trustee’s sale.  Unlike a judicial foreclosure, once the property sells, the borrower has no right of redemption.

The lender and/or state law ultimately determine which security instrument to use.  However, a prospective borrower must understand what he/she is signing, their rights, and exact procedures in the property’s location state.

Ross Hamilton

Ross Hamilton

Ross Hamilton started investing in real estate in 2001 at 19 years of age and in his early 20’s, using the profits earned from his real estate investing business, Ross founded ConnectedInvestors.com. In 2015, Ross and his team consolidated the hard and private money lending space when they opened the doors to CiX.com. CiX facilitates over $3B in fix and flip and buy and hold funding requests each month. Ross was nominated by Entrepreneur magazine as Emerging Entrepreneur of 2011, serves on the Forbes Real Estate Council and is a professionally published author.

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