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Deed of Trust vs Mortgage

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Deed of Trust vs Mortgage | Debexpert

When it comes to purchasing property and obtaining a home loan, there are two common legal instruments that come into play: the deed of trust and the mortgage. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct differences that can impact the rights and responsibilities of both borrowers and lenders. Additionally, in the context of these instruments, you might encounter options to sell a mortgage note, which can be an important consideration for lenders seeking liquidity. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key differences between a deed of trust and a mortgage, as well as the implications of deciding to sell a mortgage note, allowing you to make informed decisions when navigating the real estate and lending landscape.

Key takeaway:
A deed of trust and a mortgage are both legal instruments used in real estate transactions to secure a loan against a property. While a mortgage involves two parties (borrower and lender), a deed of trust involves three parties (borrower, lender, and trustee), with the trustee holding legal title to the property until the loan is fully repaid.

1. What is a Deed of Trust?

A deed of trust is a legal document that secures a loan by using the property itself as collateral. It involves three parties: the borrower (also known as the trustor), the lender, and a neutral third party called the trustee. The borrower, typically a homebuyer, executes the deed of trust, granting the trustee temporary control over the property's title until the loan is repaid in full. This arrangement provides protection for the lender, as it allows them to initiate foreclosure proceedings if the borrower defaults on the loan.

The trustee's role in a deed of trust is crucial. They hold the legal title to the property on behalf of the lender, ensuring that the lender's interests are protected throughout the loan repayment period. In the event of default, the trustee has the authority to sell the property and use the proceeds to satisfy the outstanding loan balance.

2. Understanding a Mortgage

While a deed of trust involves three parties, a mortgage is a direct contract between the borrower and the lender. In a mortgage agreement, the borrower pledges the property as security for the loan. Unlike a deed of trust, where the trustee holds the title, the borrower retains ownership of the property in a mortgage.

When a borrower takes out a mortgage, the lender places a lien on the property, which serves as a legal claim against the property until the loan is repaid. This lien prevents the borrower from selling the property without satisfying the outstanding loan balance.

3. Similarities Between Deeds of Trust and Mortgages

Although deeds of trust and mortgages have distinct differences, they share some similarities. Both instruments allow lenders to place a lien on the property, giving them the right to initiate foreclosure proceedings if the borrower fails to fulfill their loan obligations. In both cases, the property serves as collateral, providing security for the loan.

4. Differences Between Deeds of Trust and Mortgages

While deeds of trust and mortgages share similarities, there are several key differences that borrowers and lenders should be aware of.

a. Number of Parties Involved

One significant difference between a deed of trust and a mortgage is the number of parties involved in the transaction. In a mortgage, there are only two parties: the borrower and the lender. The borrower directly pledges the property as collateral to the lender. In contrast, a deed of trust adds a third party to the equation: the trustee. The trustee acts as a neutral intermediary, holding the title to the property until the loan is repaid.

b. Foreclosure Process

Another crucial difference between a deed of trust and a mortgage is the foreclosure process. In mortgage agreements, lenders typically have to go through a judicial foreclosure process if the borrower defaults on the loan. This involves filing a lawsuit and obtaining a court order to foreclose on the property. Judicial foreclosure processes can be time-consuming and costly for both the lender and the borrower.

In contrast, deeds of trust often allow for non-judicial foreclosure, which can be faster and less expensive. In non-judicial foreclosure, the trustee has the power to initiate foreclosure proceedings without involving the court system. The specific procedures for non-judicial foreclosure vary by state and are outlined in the deed of trust agreement.

c. Rights of Redemption

The concept of "right of redemption" is an essential aspect to consider when comparing deeds of trust and mortgages. Right of redemption refers to the borrower's legal right to reclaim their property after a foreclosure process has begun or has already taken place. In some states, borrowers have the opportunity to repay the outstanding debt, including the principal balance and any associated costs, to regain ownership of their property.

Deeds of trust states often have more lenient rights of redemption compared to mortgage-only states. In some cases, borrowers in deed of trust states may have up to a year to redeem their property after a foreclosure sale. However, the specific rights of redemption vary significantly by state, so borrowers should familiarize themselves with their state's laws and consult with legal professionals for guidance.

5. Prevalence of Deeds of Trust and Mortgages

The prevalence of deeds of trust and mortgages varies across different states in the United States. Over 30 states, including the District of Columbia, allow for the use of deeds of trust in real estate transactions. In these states, deeds of trust are more common than mortgages. However, several mortgage-only states, such as Florida, New York, and Vermont, exclusively utilize mortgages as the primary legal instrument for securing home loans.


Understanding the key differences between a deed of trust and a mortgage, as well as other lending instruments like balloon notes, is crucial for both borrowers and lenders in the real estate and lending industry. While both deeds of trust and mortgages serve the purpose of securing a loan with collateral, the inclusion of a trustee and the foreclosure process are the primary distinctions between the two. Balloon notes, on the other hand, introduce unique payment structures and loan terms that can significantly impact a lending agreement. By familiarizing yourself with these differences, you can make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of property ownership and loan agreements with confidence. If you have specific questions or require legal advice regarding deeds of trust, mortgages, or balloon notes, it is always recommended to consult with a qualified attorney.

Written by
Carlos Aispuro
Lender Relationship Director

With thirty years of experience in banking, debt collections, compliance, audit, and governance, I have supported strategic plans and improved customer experiences. I possess hands-on knowledge in crucial C-Suite areas, including developing new policies and procedures, optimizing their models, and exploring new tools to help institutions achieve their goals more effectively.

  • Banking, debt collections, compliance, audit, and governance expert
  • Crucial C-Suite areas expert



Who holds a mortgage note?

The mortgage note is the legal document that proves ownership of the mortgage loan to the lender or investor. A mortgage-backed securities investor is one potential buyer of a note that has been sold by the original lender. Payments due from the borrower are to be made to the note holder, who may also opt to sell or transfer the note to another person. The capacity to collect mortgage payments or foreclose in the case of default is dependent on the lender's ability to track down the note's current holder.

What else is a mortgage note called?

Promissory note, real estate lien note, and deed of trust note are all terms that can be used to refer to a mortgage note. Both of these names relate to the same thing: a legally binding agreement outlining the terms and conditions of a mortgage loan. Mortgage notes can have different terms based on the lender, the borrower's credit, and the mortgage agreement. Borrowers and investors in the mortgage note market would do well to familiarize themselves with these various terminologies.

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