What Is a Deed of Trust?

A deed of trust (also known as a trust deed) is a document sometimes used in financed real estate transactions, generally instead of a mortgage. Deeds of trust transfer the legal title of a property to a third party—such as a bank, escrow company, or title company—to hold until the borrower repays their debt to the lender.

Although deeds of trust are less common than they once were, some 20 states still mandate the use of one when financing is involved in the purchase of real estate. States where trust deeds are common include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. A few states—such as Kentucky, Maryland, and South Dakota—allow the use of both trust deeds and mortgages.

Key Takeaways

  • A deed of trust is a document used in real estate transactions. It represents an agreement between the borrower and a lender to have the property held in trust by a neutral and independent third party until the loan is paid off.
  • Deeds of trust are used as an alternative to a mortgage, but there are differences between these arrangements.
  • A mortgage involves only two parties: the borrower and the lender. A deed of trust adds an additional party, a trustee, that holds the home’s title until the loan is repaid.
  • There are also different foreclosure arrangements related to these two documents.

How Deeds of Trust Work

Deeds of trust are used in financed real estate transactions: that is, when someone borrows money to buy real estate. During such a transaction, a lender gives the borrower money in exchange for one or more promissory notes linked to a deed of trust.

The deed of trust performs an important role in these transactions: The deed transfers legal title to the real property to an impartial trustee, typically a title company, escrow company, or bank, which holds it as collateral for the promissory notes. The equitable title—the right to obtain full ownership—remains with the borrower, as does full use of and responsibility for the property.

This state of affairs continues throughout the repayment period of the loan. The trustee holds the legal title until the borrower pays the debt in full, at which point the title to the property becomes the borrower’s. If the borrower defaults on the loan, then the trustee takes full control of the property.

A deed of trust can be used as an alternative to a mortgage. A mortgage involves two parties: a borrower (or mortgagor) and a lender (or mortgagee). In contrast, a deed of trust involves three parties: a borrower (or trustor), a lender (or beneficiary), and the trustee.

Deed of Trust vs. Mortgage

Deeds of trust can be compared with mortgages. Deeds of trust and mortgages are both used in bank and private loans for creating liens on real estate—that is, establishing a property as collateral for a loan. Because of this, and contrary to popular usage, a mortgage is not technically a loan to buy a property; it’s an agreement that pledges the property as collateral for the loan.

A deed of trust is different from a mortgage in a couple of ways:

First, a mortgage involves two parties: a borrower (or mortgagor) and a lender (or mortgagee). In contrast, a trust deed involves three parties: a borrower (or trustor), a lender (or beneficiary), and the trustee. The trustee holds title to the property for the lender’s benefit; if the borrower defaults, then the trustee will initiate and complete the foreclosure process at the lender’s request.

Second, mortgages and trust deeds have different foreclosure processes:

  • With a mortgage, the lender must pursue a judicial foreclosure. This is a court-supervised process enforced when the lender files a lawsuit against the borrower for defaulting on a mortgage. The process is time-consuming and expensive.
  • In contrast, a deed of trust lets the lender commence a faster and less expensive nonjudicial foreclosure, bypassing the court system and adhering to the procedures outlined in the trust deed and state law. If the borrower does not make the loan current, then the property is put up for auction through a trustee’s sale.

Is a deed of trust the same as a mortgage?

No. A mortgage only involves two parties: the borrower and the lender. A deed of trust adds an additional party, a trustee, who holds the home’s title until the loan is repaid. There are also different foreclosure arrangements related to these two documents.

What is the advantage of a deed of trust over a mortgage?

A deed of trust has a crucial advantage over a mortgage from the lender’s point of view. If the borrower defaults on the loan, then the trustee has the power to foreclose on the property on behalf of the beneficiary.

Are trust deeds a good idea?

Trust deeds can be a valuable aid to financial stability, but they are not right for everybody. They are best suited to people who have a regular income and can commit to regular payments. This is due to the stricter, faster foreclosures available with deeds of trust vs. regular mortgages.

The Bottom Line

A deed of trust is a document used in real estate transactions. It represents an agreement between the borrower and a lender to have the property held in trust by a neutral and independent third party until the loan is paid off.

Deeds of trust are used as an alternative to a mortgage, but there are differences between these arrangements. A mortgage only involves two parties: the borrower and the lender. A deed of trust adds an additional party, a trustee, who holds the home’s title until the loan is repaid. There are also different foreclosure arrangements related to these two documents.

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  1. Rocket Lawyer. “Which States Allow Deeds of Trust?