What Is an Assumable Mortgage?

An assumable mortgage is a type of financing arrangement whereby an outstanding mortgage and its terms are transferred from the current owner to a buyer. By assuming the previous owner's remaining debt, the buyer can avoid obtaining their own mortgage.

Key Takeaways

  • An assumable mortgage is an arrangement in which an outstanding mortgage and its terms can be transferred from the current owner to a buyer.
  • When interest rates rise, an assumable mortgage is attractive to a buyer who takes on an existing loan with a lower rate.
  • USDA, FHA, and VA loans are assumable when certain criteria are met.
  • The buyer need not be a military member to assume a VA loan.
  • Buyers must still qualify for the mortgage to assume it.

Understanding Assumable Mortgages

Many homebuyers typically take out a mortgage from a lending institution to finance the purchase of a home or property. The contractual agreement for repaying the loan includes the interest that the borrower must pay, as well as the principal repayments to the lender.

If the homeowner decides to sell their home later, they may be able to transfer their mortgage to the homebuyer. In this case, the original mortgage taken out is assumable.

An assumable mortgage allows a homebuyer to assume the current principal balance, interest rate, repayment period, and any other contractual terms of the seller's mortgage. Rather than going through the rigorous process of obtaining a home loan from the bank, a buyer can take over an existing mortgage. There could be a cost-saving advantage if current interest rates are higher than the interest rate on the assumable loan.

In a period of rising interest rates, the cost of borrowing also increases. When this happens, borrowers will be faced high-interest rates on any loans approved. Therefore, an assumable mortgage is likely to have a lower interest rate, an attractive feature to buyers. If the assumable mortgage has a locked-in interest rate, it will not be impacted by rising interest rates.

An assumable mortgage is attractive to buyers when the existing mortgage rate is lower than current market rates.

Types of Assumable Mortgages

Some of the most popular types of mortgages are assumable: Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Veteran's Administration (VA), and USDA. Conventional loans are not assumable, however. Buyers who wish to assume a mortgage from a seller must meet specific requirements and receive approval from the agency sponsoring the mortgage.

FHA Loans

FHA loans are assumable when both transacting parties meet the requirements for the assumption. For instance, the property must be used by the seller as their primary residence. Buyers must first verify that the FHA loan is assumable and then apply as they would for an individual FHA loan. The seller's lender will verify that the buyer meets the qualifications, including being creditworthy. If approved, the mortgage will be assumed by the buyer. However, unless the seller is released from the loan, they are still responsible for it.

VA Loans

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers mortgages to qualified military members and spouses of military members. However, to assume a VA loan, the buyer need not be a member of the military to qualify. Although, the lender and the regional VA loan office will need to approve the buyer for the loan assumption, and most often, buyers who assume VA loans are military members.

For loans initiated before March 1, 1988, buyers may freely assume the VA loan. In other words, the buyer does not need the approval of the VA or the lender to assume the mortgage.

USDA Loans

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans are offered to buyers of rural properties. They require no down payment and often have low-interest rates. To assume a USDA loan, the buyer must meet the standard qualifications, such as meeting credit and income requirements, and receive approval from the USDA to transfer title. The buyer may assume the existing rate of interest and loan terms or new rates and terms. Even if the buyer meets all requirements and received approval, the mortgage cannot be assumed if the seller is delinquent on payments.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Assumable Mortgages

The advantages of acquiring an assumable mortgage in a high-interest rate environment are limited to the amount of existing mortgage balance on the loan or the home equity. For example, if a buyer is purchasing a home for $250,000 and the seller's assumable mortgage only has a balance of $110,000, the buyer will need to make a down payment of $140,000 to cover the difference. Or the buyer will need a separate mortgage to secure the additional funds.

A disadvantage is when the home's purchase price exceeds the mortgage balance by a significant amount, requiring the buyer to obtain a new mortgage. Depending on the buyer's credit profile and current rates, the interest rate may be considerably higher than the assumed loan.

Usually, a buyer will take out a second mortgage on the existing mortgage balance if the seller’s home equity is high. The buyer may have to take out the second loan with a different lender from the seller’s lender, which could pose a problem if both lenders do not cooperate with each other. Also, having two loans increases the risk of default, especially when one has a higher interest rate.

If the seller’s home equity is low, however, the assumable mortgage may be an attractive acquisition for the buyer. If the value of the home is $250,000 and the assumable mortgage balance is $210,000, the buyer need only put up $40,000. If the buyer has this amount in cash, they can pay the seller directly without having to secure another credit line.

Pros
  • Buyers may get rates lower than current market rates

  • Buyers may not have to secure new lines of credit

  • Buyers do not have large out-of-pocket costs when the equity is low

Cons
  • Buyers may need substantial down payments when the equity is high

  • Lenders may not cooperate when a second mortgage is needed

  • The risk of default increases with two mortgages

Special Considerations for Assumable Mortgages

The final decision over whether an assumable mortgage can be transferred is not left to the buyer and seller. The lender of the original mortgage must approve the mortgage assumption before the deal can be signed off by either party. The homebuyer must apply for the assumable loan and meet the lender’s requirements, such as having sufficient assets and being creditworthy.

A seller is still responsible for any debt payments if the mortgage is assumed by a third party unless the lender approves a release request releasing the seller of all liabilities from the loan.

If approved, the title of the property is transferred to the buyer who makes the required monthly repayments to the bank. If the transfer is not approved by the lender, the seller must find another buyer that is willing to assume his mortgage and has good credit.

A mortgage that has been assumed by a third party does not mean that the seller is relieved of the debt payment. The seller may be held liable for any defaults which, in turn, could affect their credit rating. To avoid this, the seller must release their liability in writing at the time of assumption, and the lender must approve the release request releasing the seller of all liabilities from the loan.

Assumable Mortgages FAQs

What Does Assumable Mean?

Assumable refers to when one party takes over the obligation of another. In terms of an assumable mortgage, the buyer assumes the existing mortgage of the seller. Often, once the mortgage is assumed, the seller is no longer responsible for the debt.

What Does Not Assumable Mean?

Not assumable means that the buyer cannot assume the existing mortgage from the seller. Conventional loans are non-assumable. Some mortgages have non-assumable clauses, preventing buyers from assuming mortgages from the seller.

How Does an Assumable Loan Work?

To assume a loan, the buyer must qualify with the lender. If the price of the house exceeds the remaining mortgage, the buyer must remit a down payment that is the difference between the sale price and the mortgage. If the difference is substantial, the buyer may need to secure a second mortgage.

How Do I Know if My Mortgage Is Assumable?

There are certain types of loans that are assumable. For example, USDA, VA, and FHA loans are assumable. Each agency has specific requirements that both parties must fulfill for the loan to be assumed by the buyer. The USDA requires that the house is in a USDA-approved area, the seller must not be delinquent on payments, and the buyer must meet certain income and credit limits. The buyer should first confirm with the seller and the seller's lender if the loan is assumable.

Is an Assumable Mortgage Good?

When current interest rates are higher than an existing mortgage's rates, assuming a loan may be the favorable option. Also, there are not as many costs due at closing. On the other side, if the seller has a considerable amount of equity in the home, the buyer will either have to pay a large down payment or secure a second mortgage for the balance not covered by the existing mortgage.

The Bottom Line

An assumable mortgage may be attractive to buyers when current mortgage rates are high and because closing costs are considerably lower than those associated with traditional mortgages. However, if the owner has a lot of equity in the home, the buyer may need to pay a substantial down payment or secure a new loan for the difference in the sale price and the existing mortgage. Also, not all loans are assumable, and if so, the buyer must still qualify with the agency and lender. If the benefits outweigh the risks, an assumable mortgage might be the best option for homeownership.