How Mortgages Work

Other Types of Mortgages

Let's start with a risky type of mortgage called a balloon mortgage. A balloon mortgage is a short-term mortgage (five to seven years) that's amortized as if it's a 30-year mortgage. The advantage is that you end up making relatively low monthly payments for five years, but here's the kicker. At the end of those five years, you owe the bank the remaining balance on the principal, which is going to be awfully close to the original loan amount. This "balloon" payment can be a killer. If you can't flip or refinance the home in five years, you're out of luck.

Reverse mortgages actually pay you as long as you live in your home. These loans are designed for homeowners age 62 and older who need an inflow of cash, either as a monthly check or a line of credit. Essentially, these homeowners borrow against the equity in their homes, but they don't have to pay the loan back as long as they don't sell their homes or move. The downside is that the closing costs can be very high, and you still have to pay taxes and mortgage insurance [source: Moore].

Three agencies of the federal government work with lenders to offer discounted rates and loan terms for qualifying borrowers: Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Rural Housing Service (RHS), which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These agencies don't directly lend money to borrowers. Rather, they insure the loans made by approved mortgage lenders. This includes the refinancing of mortgages that have become unaffordable. Borrowers with bad credit histories might find it easier to secure a loan from an FHA-approved lender, since the lender knows that if the borrower fails to pay back the loan, the government will pick up the bill. FHA loans only require a 3 percent down payment, all of which can come from a family member, employer or charitable organization [source: HUD]. Commercial mortgages wouldn't allow that.

Veterans Administration loans, like FHA loans, are guaranteed by the agency, not lent directly to borrowers.VA-backed loans offer generous terms and relaxed requirements to qualified veterans. Vets can pay no money down as long as the home price doesn't exceed the loan limits for the county.

If you live in a rural area or small town, you may qualify for a low-interest loan through the Rural Housing Service. RHS offers both guaranteed loans through approved lenders and direct loans that are government funded. Theyenable low-income families to get loans for homes.

On the next page, learn all about interest. What do all these percentages mean, anyway?