What Is Mortgage Assignment vs. Mortgage Assumption?

Mortgage assignment, usually involving a mortgage lender, is very different from mortgage assumption, involving a homebuyer. Mortgage assignments occur when the original lender transfers the mortgage loan to a third party. Lenders who sell mortgages, which is most of them, assign their mortgages to others, who become the owners of the loans. Mortgage assumption occurs when a homebuyer assumes the home seller's existing loan, making all future payments. Buyers become the new mortgage borrowers.

Due on Sale Clauses

Most contemporary mortgages include due on sale clauses. This means that if a transfer of ownership occurs in the form of a home sale, the current mortgage must be paid off, as the balance becomes due. Due on sale language eliminates the option for a buyer to assume the mortgage on the home she's buying. Due on sale clauses have little effect on mortgage assignments to buyers or other third parties. Due on sale language helps make mortgage assignments easier, as the loan buyer knows the mortgage will be paid off when the property is sold.

Government Loans

While most mortgage loans are sold and assigned to others, few mortgages are assumable. Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration mortgages, commonly called government loans, are the only legally assumable home loans left in the mortgage market. Government loans also may be assigned to third party buyers, as other mortgage loans are. Assuming government loans is not automatic, as the homebuyers must qualify for these mortgages, meeting FHA and VA income and credit guidelines.

Third Parties

While most contemporary mortgage assignments involve lenders selling their loans, borrowers may assign their mortgages, if their loan note language permits, to third parties. Although this is technically a form of mortgage assumption, it differs from traditional legal assumption in that the original borrower who assigned the mortgage remains responsible for the loan balance if the assignee does not make scheduled monthly payments. While both mortgage assignment and assumption involve third parties, the position of mortgage loan buyers and mortgage assignees is legally different.

Novation

While rare, novation is more of a hybrid of mortgage assumption and mortgage assignment. When permitted, the mortgage loan is both assumed by and assigned to another borrower. However, the original borrower is no longer responsible for monthly payments or personally liable for the balance of the loan. Legally, novation equals a new obligation, but with the same terms, including interest rate, of the former mortgage loan. Few contemporary mortgage loan notes permit this form of assumption and assignment.

Significance

Until the 1970s, mortgage assumptions were common, while mortgage assignments were rare. After the federal government created mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and after due on sale clauses became popular, the roles reversed. For the past four decades, few mortgage loans were assumable, while most mortgage loans were sold and assigned to third parties. The contemporary practices benefit lenders but do not help borrowers, particularly when interest rates rise. Lenders reduce their rate risk, shifting most of the risk to mortgage borrowers, since homebuyers cannot assume lower interest rate mortgage loans.

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