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As of June 25, 2018, we’ve made some changes to the way our mortgage approvals work. You can read more about our Power Buyer ProcessTM.

Buying a home can sometimes feel like learning a new language. Preapprovals, appraisals and the fact that “concessions” don’t involve hot dogs at a baseball game can be more than a little bewildering for first-time homebuyers. If you’re in the market for a mortgage, the more you know, the more confident you’ll be with each transaction during the life of the loan. If you find yourself scratching your head over mortgage lingo, we’d like to make your contract a little clearer by explaining two items that are often confused for one another: a promissory note and a mortgage.

What’s a Promissory Note?

Essentially, a promissory note is an agreement that promises that the money borrowed from a lender will be paid back by the borrower. “It also includes how the loan is to be repaid, such as the monthly amount and the length of time for repayment,” explains David Bakke, a finance expert at MoneyCrashers.com.

Although the home loan process involves both a mortgage and a promissory note, a promissory note can be used singularly in a lending relationship between two individuals. In this case, a promissory note is simply a promise to pay back the amount of money that is borrowed in a set amount of time.

“Another way to think of it is that the promissory note is the IOU for the home loan,” says David Reiss, who teaches about residential real estate as a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

What Is a Mortgage?

The second part of the home loan involves a mortgage, also referred to as a deed of trust. While a promissory note provides the financial details of the loan’s repayment, such as the interest rate and method of payment, a mortgage specifies the procedure that will be followed if the borrower doesn’t repay the loan.


“The actual home loan (or mortgage) provides information as far as the lender being able to demand complete repayment if the loan goes into default, or that the property can be sold if the buyer fails to repay,” says Bakke.

In the case of a home loan, the promissory note is a private contract between the client and the lender, while the mortgage is filed in the regional government records office. “Once you have paid off your loan your lender will record a document that releases you from the liability of the deed of trust and the promissory note,” says Ross Kilburn, CEO of Ark Law Group, PLLC.

It’s a Package Deal

In the home loan process, a mortgage and a promissory note are not a question of one or the other, but rather, both play distinct roles in the relationship between the lender and borrower. “A home loan refers to a transaction where a borrower borrows money from the lender and in turn signs a promissory note that reflects the indebtedness as well as a mortgage that gives a security interest in the home in case the debt is not paid back,” explains Reiss.

However, a few specific situations do exist in which one might use a promissory note in real estate without the accompanying mortgage part of the home loan. “Just using a promissory note in real estate transactions is a lot less common, but you will see them where maybe a family member is selling a piece of property to another family member (happens a lot in Kansas in the farming community),” says Nick Puckett, an attorney with GuardYourGrad.com.

Are you ready to start shopping for a mortgage? Review the steps in our guide to make sure you’re heading in the right direction! Still have questions? Talk to a Home Loan Expert to get your questions answered and start on your home loan today.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I signed the note but not the mortgage instrument according to the credit union because I wasn’t originally on title and in fact was only added 4 years later when husband signed a quit claim and walked away from house rather than refi without my name as ordered by court in divorce. Now today I’m on title and note but never have been on the mortgage instrument. I frankly believe this is a lie and a cover up of something shady either from ex husband or credit union.

    1. Hi Andrea:

      The credit union should have physical copies of these transaction records they can show you and if for whatever reason you don’t trust these, you may be able to get a lot of the information from the county by looking at public records associated with the house. Hope this helps!

      1. Yes they showed me the security instrument that is missing my name and the note which my signature is on. They claim I didn’t sign the security instrument ever and that sounds odd. Why would a spouse be on a note but not a party to the mortgage or not on title? Why would anyone do that?

        1. Those are good questions, Andrea. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ready answer. I think you would be best served by getting an attorney involved at this point.

  2. I was wondering if a promissory note is helpful to have while “house shopping”. This way both borrower & realtor know what your eligible for. If this is the case, where do you get the promissory note from? Mortgage lender or simply your bank?

    1. Hi Loren:

      You don’t need a promissory note to do the shopping. What you’re referring to is a mortgage preapproval. That’s where a lender looks at your income and pulls your credit in order to get a realistic idea of what you can afford. The preapproval also helps the realtor and seller know that you are a serious buyer because you’ve gone ahead and taken steps to line up mortgage financing and you have the resources to make the offer you make. If you would like to get started with a preapproval online, you can do so through Rocket Mortgage or by speaking with one of our Home Loan Experts at (888) 980-6716. Hope this helps!

      Kevin Graham

  3. That was helpful and consistent with what I have been told. But I am trying to find out if there are two borrowers, husband and wife, listed on the mortgage, but only one of them on them on the promissory note, are both equally liable if it later turns out that they were not actually married?

    1. Hi Robert:

      They go together typically. If you sign the mortgage, you sign the note. If you had a situation where that wasn’t the case, I’m not really sure of the answer. You would have to talk to an attorney about the local laws in that case.

      Kevin Graham

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