Understanding the Differences: Mortgage Note vs Deed of Trust

mortgage note template

When it comes to buying or refinancing a home, you’ll inevitably come across a bunch of complex-sounding terms and legal documents. Two of the most crucial ones are the Mortgage Note and the Deed of Trust. These documents play a vital role in the world of real estate transactions, but what exactly are they, and how do they differ?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the Mortgage Note vs the Deed of Trust in simple terms, helping you grasp the key distinctions between them. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer, a real estate enthusiast, or a mortgage note buyer looking to invest, this knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions in the world of real estate.

What is a Mortgage Note?

At its core, a Mortgage Note is a legally binding document that represents a borrower’s promise to repay a loan used to purchase real estate. Think of it as an “I owe you” statement from the borrower to the lender. This document outlines the terms of the loan, including the principal amount, interest rate, repayment schedule, and other essential terms and conditions.

The Parties Involved

  • Borrower: The person or entity borrowing money to purchase a property.
  • Lender: The financial institution or individual providing the loan.
  • Mortgage Note Holder: The entity that holds the Mortgage Note, which can be the lender or a third-party mortgage note buyer.

Purpose of a Mortgage Note

The primary purpose of a Mortgage Note is to define the financial obligations of the borrower to the lender. It sets the terms of repayment, including the interest rate and the duration of the mortgage loan. In case the borrower fails to meet their repayment obligations, the Mortgage Note serves as evidence of the debt owed.

Contents of a Mortgage Note

A typical Mortgage Note includes the following key elements:

  • The mortgage loan amount
  • Interest rate
  • Repayment schedule (monthly, bi-weekly, etc.)
  • Due date for each installment
  • Late payment penalties
  • Prepayment options and penalties (if any)
  • Escrow account details for property taxes and insurance
  • Lender’s contact information

Types of Mortgage Notes

There are various types of Mortgage Notes, but two of the most common are:

  • Fixed-Rate Mortgage Note: In this type of note, the interest rate remains constant throughout the loan’s term, providing predictability for borrowers.
  • Adjustable-Rate Mortgage (ARM) Note: With an ARM Note, the interest rate can change periodically, typically based on prevailing market rates. This can lead to fluctuating monthly payments.

What is a Deed of Trust?

A Deed of Trust, also known as a Trust Deed, is a legal document used in real estate transactions to secure the lender’s interest in the property. Unlike a Mortgage Note, a Trust Deeds involves three parties: the borrower, the lender, and a third-party trustee. This third party is a key differentiator between a Deed of Trust and a Mortgage.

The Parties Involved

  • Borrower: Just like in a Mortgage Note, the borrower is the person or entity purchasing the property and taking out the loan.
  • Lender: The entity providing the loan to the borrower.
  • Trustee: This third party, often a title company or attorney, holds legal title to the property on behalf of the lender until the loan is paid off.

Purpose of a Deed of Trust

The primary purpose of a Deed of Trust is to create a security interest in the property on behalf of the lender. It provides a mechanism for the lender to foreclose on the property if the borrower defaults on the loan, ultimately allowing the lender to recover their investment.

Contents of a Deed of Trust

A Deed of Trust typically includes the following key elements:

  • A legal description of the property
  • Identification of the borrower and lender
  • The loan amount
  • The trustee’s information and role
  • Provisions outlining the conditions under which the trustee can initiate foreclosure
  • The borrower’s rights and responsibilities
  • Signatures of all parties involved

Role of the Trustee

The trustee plays a pivotal role in a Deed of Trust arrangement. They hold legal title to the property until the loan is fully paid off. If the borrower defaults, the trustee has the authority to initiate the foreclosure process on behalf of the lender. This ensures that the lender has a streamlined method of recovering their investment in case of non-payment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mortgages:

Advantages: Explore the benefits of choosing a mortgage as a real estate financing option, such as flexibility in loan terms and potential tax advantages.

Disadvantages: Discuss the drawbacks of mortgages, including the possibility of longer foreclosure processes and potential higher closing costs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Deeds of Trust:

Advantages: Highlight the advantages of opting for a deed of trust, such as faster foreclosure processes and potential lower costs compared to mortgages.

Disadvantages: Examine the disadvantages of deeds of trust, including the involvement of a third-party trustee and less borrower-friendly foreclosure procedures in some cases.

Key Differences Between Mortgage Note and Deed of Trust

Now that we have a solid understanding of how mortgages and deeds of trust work, let’s explore the key differences between these two real estate financing options:

1. Number of Parties Involved:

  • Mortgage: In a mortgage, there are two parties involved, the borrower (mortgagor) and the lender (mortgagee).
  • Deed of Trust: In a deed of trust, there are three parties involved, the borrower (trustor), the lender (beneficiary), and the third-party trustee.

2. Role of Trustee:

  • Mortgage: In a mortgage, there is no trustee involved. The lender holds the lien on the property and must go through the legal process to foreclose.
  • Deed of Trust: In a deed of trust, a trustee holds legal title to the property until the loan is repaid. If the borrower defaults, the trustee can sell the property on behalf of the lender.

3. State Laws:

  • Mortgage: Mortgage laws and regulations vary by state, affecting the specifics of the mortgage agreement, including foreclosure procedures.
  • Deed of Trust: Deed of trust laws and regulations also vary by state and may influence the foreclosure process and other aspects of the agreement.

4. Trustee’s Role in Default:

  • Mortgage: In a mortgage, the lender is responsible for pursuing legal action in the event of default.
  • Deed of Trust: In a deed of trust, the trustee has the power to initiate foreclosure without needing to involve the court system.

5. Legal Title:

  • Mortgage: Legal title remains with the borrower until the loan is fully repaid. The lender has a lien on the property.
  • Deed of Trust: Legal title is held by the trustee until the loan is repaid, after which it is transferred to the borrower.

6. Promissory Note vs. Deed of Trust:

The promissory note is a common element in both mortgage and deed of trust arrangements. It outlines how the borrower pays the loan as an obligation. The deed of trust, however, is a unique element in the deed of trust arrangement, serving as a security instrument that grants the trustee certain powers.

7. Legal Advice

Both borrowers and lenders should seek legal counsel to understand the specific implications of mortgage or deed of trust agreements in their state. Legal professionals can help draft and review contracts to ensure compliance with laws and protect their client’s interests.

The Impact of State Laws on Mortgages and Deeds of Trust

State laws play a significant role in shaping the specifics of mortgage and deed of trust agreements. These laws can affect various aspects of the real estate financing process, including foreclosure procedures, redemption periods, and the legal rights of both borrowers and lenders.

It’s important to understand that real estate industry is primarily governed by state law, and as such, there can be considerable variation in how mortgages and most deeds of trust are structured and enforced from one state to another.

1. Foreclosure Procedures:

State laws determine whether a mortgage or deed of trust foreclosure process is judicial or non-judicial. Judicial Foreclosure: In some states, mortgage foreclosures require court involvement, which can be a lengthy and costly process.

Lenders must file a lawsuit to initiate foreclosure proceedings. Non-judicial Foreclosure: Other states allow non-judicial foreclosures for deeds of trust, where the trustee can initiate the foreclosure without going through the court system. This process is generally faster and more cost-effective.

2. Redemption Periods:

Laws may establish redemption periods, which are the timeframes during which borrowers have the right to reclaim their property by paying off the outstanding home loan balance and associated costs. The length of redemption periods can vary widely from state to state, and some states may not have redemption rights at all.

3. Legal Rights and Notices:

Also govern the specific legal rights and notices that must be provided to borrowers throughout the foreclosure process. These laws are designed to protect the interests of borrowers and ensure that they are informed of their rights and responsibilities.


To recap, a Mortgage Note represents a borrower’s promise to repay a loan, while a Deed of Trust is a security instrument that involves a trustee holding legal title to the property. These documents serve different functions and come with distinct legal structures, roles, and foreclosure processes.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice.


Written by Alan Noblitt

Alan Noblitt is the President of Seascape Capital, LLC, and works as both a real estate note buyer and a business note broker. Alan has an MBA from Arizona State University, a B.S. from the University of Wyoming, and is licensed as a California Real Estate Note Buyer.

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