Wooden house in neighborhood
Sarah-Jane Joel/Getty Images

The term “mortgage” is used whenever a person buys a home with a loan, but it’s not always the right terminology. Some states do not use mortgages. Instead, they use a legal document known as a deed of trust.

It’s a legally binding contract for a real estate transaction. Anyone buying a home should understand what a deed of trust is and how it differs from a traditional mortgage.

What is a deed of trust?

There are three parties in a deed of trust: the lender, the homebuyer or borrower, and a trustee. The trustee is a third party who plays the role of intermediary for the real estate transaction. This is unlike a mortgage, in which there are just two parties involved: the lender and the borrower.

With a deed of trust, the lender gives the borrower the funds to make the purchase. The borrower provides the lender with a promissory note. The promissory note outlines the terms of the loan and the borrower’s promise to pay. At this point, the borrower transfers the real property interest to the trustee. The real property interest is simply a term used to describe the right to that real estate property. Here’s why that matters.

Because the trustee holds the interest in the real estate, the trustee can take action if the borrower fails to make payments on time or fails to follow all that was agreed to in the promissory note. If the borrower stops paying the loan, for example, the trustee has the legal right to take full control of the property. The trustee’s job is to correct the default. To do this, the trustee may have to sell the home to repay the borrower.

In most cases, the trustee is a title company, though it can be a third party such as an attorney. Additionally, the rights and processes for the trustee to follow are not the same in every state. In some situations, the trustee merely holds the lien on the property and is given only a few rights in terms of handling defaults on the loan.

How a deed of trust differs from a mortgage

In a traditional mortgage, the borrower agrees to the terms of the loan from the lender. If the borrower defaults on the mortgage loan, the lender has the legal right to start the foreclosure process. In states where a mortgage is used, the foreclosure process is generally done in a court of law. Foreclosure is a lengthy process that tends to be costly because of legal fees.

The deed of trust does not require a legal process in a court system. The trustee maintains the controlling interest in the property until the debt is paid in full. Any deed of trust with a power-of-sale clause, which is nearly always present, allows the trustee to sell the home.

Which states use the deed of trust framework?

Deeds of trust are used in 35 states, while nine states permit both mortgages and deeds of trust. In these situations, the terms of the mortgage agreement and promissory note will outline what the ultimate contract requires.

How does this impact the homebuyer?

Anyone buying a home with a deed of trust should know that the home can be foreclosed on quickly, without any legal proceeding in a court of law. There may not be an opportunity to get caught up on the loan.

Homebuyers or others entering into new mortgage loans should take the time to find out whether they have a mortgage or a deed of trust. In many cases, this can determine how any legal transaction will move forward if the terms of the contract are breached.

Use Bankrate’s calculator to determine how much house you can afford to buy.

Promoted Stories