For College Students

Mortgages for College Students

Confused about how mortgages work? You’re not alone! Let’s break down the basics.


Buying a home is an exciting milestone in life. As a college student, it may seem like a far-off goal. But it’s never too early to start preparing for this big moment! 

By breaking down complex terms and walking you through the process, this is the perfect beginner’s guide into the world of mortgages. Understanding mortgages now that you’re still in school can help you make informed decisions and plan for your future – whether you want to buy a family home in the suburbs or a short-term rental property at a tropical destination. 

What Is a Mortgage?

A mortgage is a loan specifically designed to help people purchase homes. It’s a legal agreement between you (the borrower) and a lender, typically a bank or mortgage company. The lender provides the funds needed to buy the property, and in return, you agree to repay the loan (usually with interest) over a set period.

What Are the Different Types of Mortgages?

Although there are several types of mortgages, these are two of the most common mortgages that you may encounter:

  • Fixed-rate mortgages: With this type of mortgage, the interest rate remains unchanged throughout the loan term. This offers stability and predictable monthly payments, making it easier to budget. Think of it like having a consistent rent payment for your home.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs): ARMs have an interest rate that can change over time. Usually, they have an initial fixed rate for a certain period, and after that, the rate adjusts periodically based on market conditions. ARMs can be a good option if you plan to sell or refinance before the rate adjusts. But it’s important to note that they do involve some uncertainty because the interest rate can fluctuate.

What Is the Mortgage Process?

Understanding the mortgage process can help you prepare for homeownership in the future. Here’s an overview of the steps involved:

  • Pre-approval: This step involves providing your financial information to a lender, who will review your creditworthiness. If pre-approved, you’ll receive a letter stating the loan amount you qualify for. Getting pre-approved before you start looking at homes helps you understand your budget and shows sellers that you’re a serious buyer.
  • House hunting: Now that you’re pre-approved, you can begin searching for properties within your budget. Take into account factors such as location, size, and affordability.
  • Loan application: After finding the right property, you’ll need to submit a formal loan application to the lender. At this point, you’ll need to provide detailed information about your finances, employment history, and the property itself. The lender will use this information to assess your ability to repay the loan.
  • Underwriting: The lender will review your application, verify the information you provided, and evaluate your creditworthiness. They may also conduct a home appraisal to ensure the property’s value aligns with the loan amount. Be sure to read the fine print, because this step is important for you to ensure a fair transaction.
  • Closing: If the lender approves your application, you’ll move on to the closing stage. During closing, you’ll sign the final loan documents, pay any necessary fees, and officially become a homeowner!

What Is a Down Payment?

A down payment is a crucial part of the home-buying process. It’s the initial payment you make towards purchasing your home, typically a percentage of the total price. For example, if the home price is $200,000 and the down payment is 10%, you’ll need to pay $20,000 upfront.

How Do Down Payments Work?

Down payments have multiple purposes. First, they demonstrate your commitment to the purchase and provide a sense of security to the lender. Second, they reduce the amount of money you need to borrow, which can affect your mortgage’s interest rate and overall cost.

The down payment size can vary, but experts agree that you should aim for at least 20% of the home’s price. Some loan programs allow for smaller down payments, such as 3% or 5%. It’s important to note that a smaller down payment may require additional costs, such as private mortgage insurance (PMI), to protect the lender in case of default.

How Long Is a Mortgage For?

Mortgage term is the length of time over which you agree to repay the loan. Common mortgage terms are 15, 20, or 30 years, although other options may be available. 

When deciding on a term, consider your financial situation and long-term goals. The longer the term, the more total interest you’ll end up paying over time. Shorter terms usually have higher monthly payments but result in less interest. 

Mortgage Payments Explained

Although it may seem like nitty gritty details, understanding what makes up your mortgage payments is critical to managing your finances effectively. Mortgage payments consist of several components:


The principal is the amount of money you borrowed to buy the home. Each payment you make reduces the outstanding principal balance.


Interest is the cost of borrowing money. The dollar amount of your interest payment is calculated based on the outstanding principal balance and the interest rate. In the early years of your mortgage, a significant portion of your payment goes toward interest.


Property taxes are imposed by local governments and are a percentage of the property’s value. They contribute to public services like schools, roads, and parks. Your lender may collect a portion of the annual property taxes along with your mortgage payment to hold in an escrow account until the taxes are due.


Mortgage insurance and homeowners insurance are important for protecting your investment. Mortgage insurance is required if your down payment is less than 20% of the home price and protects the lender in case of default. Homeowners insurance protects your property and belongings against damages and liabilities.

The Payment Schedule

The mortgage payment schedule provides a detailed breakdown of how each payment is divided between principal and interest. Most payments initially go toward interest, while a smaller portion goes toward the principal. But this distribution eventually reverses over time, with more of the payment being applied to the principal.

For example, we will use a $1 million, 30-year loan. The partial schedule below demonstrates how the distribution of payments shifts over time.

Payment Principal  Interest  Principal Balance 
1 $1,440.82 $3,333.33 $998,559.18
12 $1,494.54 $3,279.61 $982,389.64
180 $2,614.01 $2,160.14 $645,428.00
360 $4,758.29 $15.86 $0.00

When Should You Get a Mortgage?

Deciding when to get a mortgage depends on your personal circumstances and goals. While there’s no right or wrong answer here, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How stable is my income?
  • Do I have an emergency savings account?
  • Can I cover my current financial obligations?
  • Can I afford a mortgage?
  • Do I have a positive credit history and a good credit score?
  • Are the current market conditions beneficial?
  • What are my long-term financial goals?

Important Mortgage Definitions

Here are some important mortgage-related definitions to help you get a better grasp of this topic:

  • Equity: Equity is the difference between the market value of your home and the outstanding balance of your mortgage. As you make mortgage payments and the property value appreciates, your equity grows. It’s an important financial asset that can provide opportunities for future investments or home improvements.
  • Amortization: Amortization is the process of paying off your mortgage over time through regular payments. It involves gradually reducing the principal balance and paying interest. The amortization schedule outlines the specific breakdown of each payment, indicating how much goes toward principal and interest.
  • Refinancing: Refinancing is the process of replacing your current mortgage with a new one, typically to secure a lower interest rate or change the loan term. It can help you save money over the long term or access equity for other purposes. Refinancing is worth considering if the financial benefits outweigh the costs.
  • Credit Score: Your credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness. Lenders use it to evaluate your risk as a borrower. A higher credit score can lead to better loan terms and interest rates. To maintain a good credit score, be sure to pay your bills on time, keep your credit utilization low, and avoid taking on excessive debt.
  • Closing Costs: Closing costs are the fees and expenses associated with finalizing a mortgage. They include items like loan origination fees, appraisal fees, title insurance, and attorney fees. It’s important to budget for these costs, as they can add several thousand dollars to the overall price of buying a home.

Books and Resources to Learn More About Mortgages

Ready to become an expert on mortgages? Whether you dream of being a realtor one day or the owner of an apartment building, here are some of our favorites that are sure to answer any unanswered questions: 

What Next?

Understanding mortgages is a valuable skill for college students planning their future. Remember, buying a home is a significant financial commitment; it’s wise to start learning about them now. With careful planning and a solid understanding of mortgages, you can pave the way to achieving your homeownership dreams!

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About the Author

Lucia Caldera

Lucia Caldera is a writer who specializes in personal finance. Her goal is to create approachable content that sparks financial wellness and unlocks personal growth. Lucia's work reflects her passion for financial education as the key to reducing the wealth gap for future generations.

Last updated on: June 19, 2023