What is a second mortgage loan or "junior-lien"?
A second mortgage or junior-lien is a loan you take out using your house as collateral while you still have another loan secured by your house.
Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are common examples of second mortgages. Some second mortgages are “open-end” (meaning you can continue to take cash out up to the maximum credit amount and, as you pay down the balance, can draw again up to the same limit) and other second mortgage loans are “closed-end” (in which you receive the entire loan amount upfront and cannot redraw after that).
The term “second” means that if you can no longer pay your mortgages and your home is sold to pay off the debts, this loan is paid off second. If there is not enough equity to pay off both loans completely, your second mortgage loan lender may not get the full amount it is owed. As a result, second mortgage loans often carry higher interest rates than first mortgage loans.
By taking out a second mortgage, you are adding to your overall debt burden. Anytime you add on to your overall debt burden, you make yourself more vulnerable in case you then experience financial difficulties that affect your ability to repay your debts. It is important to know that a major risk with home equity loans or home equity lines of credit is that if you cannot repay a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, you could potentially lose your home because you are using the equity in your home as collateral.
When you use home equity to pay off other debts you really aren’t paying them off. You are merely taking out one loan to repay another. The interest rates may be lower in the short term, but that’s only because you are using your home as collateral. The risk is that if you can’t repay your home equity loan, you could lose your home.
Plus, if you take on more debt, that could make repaying that new debt and existing loans difficult. For example, taking out a mortgage to pay off a five year car loan may have you making payments and paying additional interest for ten, fifteen, or even thirty years. Be careful about trading short-term debt for long-term debt at a higher cost to you.