Mortgages – a beginner’s guide

Buying a home is the largest purchase you’re likely to make. Before you arrange your mortgage, make sure you know what you can afford to borrow. Find out where to get a mortgage, the different types and how the process works.

What is a mortgage?

A mortgage is a loan taken out to buy property or land. Most run for 25 years but the term can be shorter or longer.

The loan is ‘secured’ against the value of your home until it’s paid off. If you can’t keep up your repayments the lender can repossess (take back) your home and sell it so they get their money back.

Working out what you can afford

Don’t stretch yourself if you think you’ll struggle to keep up repayments, and also think about the running costs of owning a home such as household bills, council tax, insurance and maintenance.

Lenders will want to see proof of your income and certain expenditure, and if you have any debts. They may ask for information about household bills, child maintenance and personal expenses. Lenders want proof that you will be able to keep up repayments if interest rates rise. They may refuse to offer you a mortgage if they don’t think you’ll be able to afford it.

To find out how much you could borrow use our Affordability calculator.

How much can you afford to borrow?

Where to get a mortgage

You can apply for a mortgage directly from a bank or building society, choosing from their product range. Compare mortgages using our Mortgages comparison table.

You can also use a mortgage broker or independent financial adviser (IFA) who can compare different mortgages on the market, as well as mortgages which are not offered directly to customers.

Some brokers look at mortgages from the ‘whole market’ while others look at products from a number of lenders. They’ll tell you all about this, and whether they have any charges, when you first contact them.

Find out more about Choosing a Mortgage.

Use our Mortgage payments calculator to work out the repayment and interest amount.

Applying for a mortgage

You will be asked a range of questions about the type of mortgage you want, if it is appropriate for you and how long your mortgage should last. Depending on your answers, the lender or mortgage broker will be able to recommend a mortgage that meets your needs and circumstances. Taking advice will almost certainly be best unless you are very experienced in financial matters in general, and mortgages in particular.

If you are unhappy about the advice you receive, complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

It is sometimes possible to choose a mortgage without receiving advice – this is called an execution-only mortgage.

Execution-only mortgages are offered under limited circumstances.

You’d be expected to know exactly what you want to buy, interest rate and type, the length of the term, mortgage type and how much you want to borrow.

The lender will write to confirm that you haven’t received any advice and that the mortgage hasn’t been assessed to see if it’s suitable for you. In most cases, you must confirm in writing that you are aware of the consequences of taking out a mortgage without receiving advice, and that you are happy to go ahead.

If for some reason the mortgage turns out to be unsuitable for you later on, it will be very difficult to make a complaint.

Not all lenders will offer the execution-only option and mortgage brokers and financial advisers can’t deal with you on an execution-only basis.

If you go down the execution-only route, the lender will still carry out the same detailed affordability checks.

Your deposit – size matters

When buying a property, you will need to pay a deposit. This is a chunk of money that goes towards the cost of the property you’re buying.

The more deposit you have, the lower your interest rate could be. When talking about mortgages, you might hear people mentioning “Loan to Value” or LTV. Though this sounds complicated, it’s simply the amount of your home you own outright, compared to the amount that is secured against a mortgage.

For example, with a £20,000 deposit on a £200,000 property, the deposit is 10% of the price of the property, and the LTV is the remaining 90%. The mortgage is secured against this 90% portion.

The lower the LTV, the lower your interest rate is likely to be. This is because the lender takes less risk with a smaller loan. The cheapest rates are typically available for people with a 40% deposit.

How you pay back your mortgage

The money you borrow is called the capital and the lender then charges you interest on it till it is repaid. The type of mortgage you are able to apply for will depend on whether you want to repay interest only or interest and capital.

Repayment mortgage

With repayment mortgages you pay the interest and part of the capital off every month. At the end of the term, typically 25 years, you should manage to have paid it all off and own your home.

Interest-only mortgage

With interest-only mortgages, you pay only the interest on the loan and nothing off the capital (the amount you borrowed).

These mortgages are becoming much harder to come by as lenders and regulators are worried about homeowners being left with a huge debt and no way of repaying it.

You will have to have a separate plan for how you will repay the original loan at the end of the mortgage term.

Find out Ways of repaying an interest-only mortgage.

Combination of repayment and interest-only mortgages

You can ask your lender if you can combine both options, splitting your mortgage loan between a repayment and interest-only mortgage.

Different types of mortgage

Once you’ve decided how to pay back the capital and interest, you need to think about the mortgage type. Mortgages come with fixed or variable interest rates. With a fixed-rate mortgage your repayments will be the same for a certain period of time - typically two to five years - regardless of what interest rates are doing in the wider market. If you have a variable rate mortgage, the rate you pay could move up or down, in line with the Bank of England base rate.

There are various types of variable rate mortgages. For more information read our guides:

Mortgage types

Interest rates explained (PDF 498 KB)

Interest rate rises: Why they matter

Interest rates: What homeowners can do now to beat the rise

Your next step

Mortgage advice: where to go for the best mortgage deal