What is a mortgage? – A First Time Buyers Guide

Taking out a mortgage for the first time can be daunting, especially with so many different deals to choose from. Here, we explain how they work.

Lisa Parker
April 24, 2020

What are mortgages?

A mortgage is essentially a loan you take out to help you buy a property. You usually pay it off over a period of several years while you are living in the property. Often mortgages start off on a special rate to begin with which typically lasts from two to five years. Once that rate finishes you’lltypically then move onto what’s known as the lender’s standard variable rate (SVR). This is often higher than the rate you started on, but you’ll be free to remortgage to another special deal at this point. When you apply for a mortgage, as with other types of loan, lenders will want to be certain you can afford to pay back what you owe. That means they’ll ask for lots of information about your income and outgoings to make sure you can afford the monthly payments.

How long do mortgages last?

A typical mortgage term is usually 25 years, but some lenders will allow longer terms of up to 30 years or even longer, depending on your age and circumstances. You can opt for a shorter term if you want. You might decide, for example, that if you can afford it, you want to choose a 15 or 10 year term, so you can pay off what you owe sooner. The longer the term you choose, the lower your monthly payments will be, but the more interest you’ll end up paying overall. If you choose a shorter mortgage term, your monthly payments will be higher, but you’ll clear your mortgage more quickly and pay less interest. When choosing how long you want your mortgage to be, think carefully about how much you can afford to pay each month. Comparing monthly costs over a range of different terms can help you make your decision.

Do I need a mortgage?

Most people won’t be able to afford to buy a property outright, so unless you’re lucky enough to have a significant amount of savings in place, you’ll usually need to take out a mortgage if you want to get on the property ladder. The amount you’ll need to borrow will depend on how much you’ve managed to save up as a deposit. You’ll usually need to save at least 5% of the property value to qualify for a mortgage, but the more you can afford to put down, the wider the choice of mortgages you’ll have available to you. For more information on low deposit options, head over to our pages dedicated to 90% mortgages or 95% mortgages.

Can I get a mortgage?

Whether or not you are eligible for a mortgage depends entirely on your individual circumstances. You’ll need to demonstrate to lenders that you’ll be able to afford the monthly payments, and they’ll also want to see how you’ve managed debts in the past. To do this, they’ll get a copy of your credit report, so it’s worth requesting a copy yourself before applying so you can see how good your score is. Ways to improve your credit score include closing down any credit accounts you no longer use, paying off as many debts as possible, and making sure you never miss debt repayments. You can find out more in our guides 'How does your credit score affect your ability to get a mortgage?' and 'What credit score is needed to buy a house?'

Helpful resources

We’ve got lots of information available to help you navigate your way through the mortgage maze. Here are some of our guides and mortgage calculators to help you work out how much you can afford to borrow, and how much it’s likely to cost.

Mortgage calculator: How much can I borrow?

Mortgage calculator: Loan to Value calculator

Guide: How to get a mortgage

Guide: The costs of buying a house

Guide: Mortgage Types explained

Guide: How much deposit do I need to buy a house?

Check your mortgage options

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Check your mortgage options

See the deals you qualify for & how much you could borrow.

Get started online