What Is a Chattel Mortgage, and When Would You Use One?

Mortgages, Non-Conventional Mortgage, Types of Mortgages

If you’re a nomad at heart but want to keep a roof over your head, you’re likely in the market for a mobile home (aka a manufactured home). And the best way to finance your purchase will likely be a chattel mortgage. 

Chattel mortgages are loans you get on personal property (aka chattel) that can move.

If you suspect chattel mortgages are different from conventional mortgages, you would be right. We’ve rounded up the details you’ll need to understand the loan, how it works and when to use one.

What Chattel Loans Are Used For

While 42% of chattel mortgages buy manufactured homes,[1] you can use them to finance the purchase of modular homes, vehicles, and heavy machinery such as farm and construction equipment.

Manufactured Or Mobile Home

The term “mobile home” is pretty obsolete. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines it as a manufactured home built before June 15, 1976.[2]

How Chattel Mortgages Work

At first blush, a chattel mortgage may look like any other mortgage. A chattel mortgage is a secured loan that requires underwriting. The borrower receives a lump-sum payment they repay with interest over a predetermined loan term. Pretty standard, right?

But chattel mortgages have some differences you should know about, including that the loans don’t finance the cost of land. 

What’s the difference between a chattel mortgage and a traditional mortgage?

Chattel and traditional mortgages share a fundamental similarity: You can use both to finance the purchase of a home. But their similarities end there. 

  • Property requirements: A traditional home loan finances fixed, stationary homes. A chattel mortgage finances movable property, like manufactured homes.
  • Financing land: Unlike a traditional mortgage, you can’t use a chattel mortgage to buy land. If you want to own land, you’ll need to lease or buy the land separately.
  • Collateral: Traditional mortgages and chattel mortgages are secured by collateral. The collateral for a traditional mortgage is the land and the structure(s) on it. The collateral for a chattel mortgage is personal property, like a manufactured home or construction equipment.
  • Repayment period: The typical repayment period for a traditional mortgage is 30 years. The repayment length for chattel mortgages is rarely ever more than 20 years.

Where To Find Chattel Mortgages

Chattel mortgages aren’t as common as traditional mortgages, but you can still find chattel mortgage lenders. Check out:

  • Chattel mortgage lenders’ websites
  • Online and brick-and-mortar banks
  • Manufactured home dealers

Government alternatives to chattel mortgages

You’re not limited to chattel mortgages to buy manufactured, mobile, or other prefab homes. You can also look into federal programs to see what government-backed loans are available. 

While the federal government backs these loans, a lender will process, approve and issue the mortgage.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): The USDA’s Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program can help you finance manufactured homes. The loan has strict eligibility requirements. The manufactured home must be brand-new, at least 400 square feet and fixed to a permanent foundation.[3]
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): A VA-backed purchase loan allows qualifying service members, veterans, and surviving spouses to buy manufactured or modular homes. To qualify, the property must have at least 400 square feet of interior living space and be fixed to a permanent foundation.[4][5]
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): The HUD Title 1 program allows FHA-approved lenders to offer mortgages for manufactured homes. Manufactured homes have a loan limit of $69,678 ($92,904 for a manufactured home and lot). The home must be a primary residence, and borrowers must provide proof of income and proof of funds.[6]

Pros and Cons of Chattel Mortgages

Before taking out a chattel mortgage, consider the pros and cons.

Shorter loan terms

Chattel mortgages usually have shorter terms than traditional mortgages, so you’ll pay off your loan sooner.

They aren’t limited to manufactured homes

Chattel mortgages can finance other purchases, including heavy equipment and cars.

Tax benefits

You can claim tax deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes.[7]

Relaxed eligibility requirements

You may qualify for a chattel mortgage even if your credit and income wouldn’t qualify you for a traditional mortgage. Chattel mortgage lenders usually require a minimum credit score of 575 (more or less). That’s considerably lower than the 620 minimum for conventional mortgages.[8]

Higher interest rates

Chattel mortgages usually have higher interest rates than traditional mortgages. If you take out a chattel mortgage, you’ll pay an average of 1% – 2% more in interest than you’d pay with a traditional mortgage.

Fewer borrowing options

Lenders that offer traditional mortgages aren’t hard to come by. And there are a wide variety of options. Chattel mortgages aren’t offered by many lenders and have fewer borrowing options.

Risk of repossession

Remember, a chattel loan is a secured loan. The movable personal property you’re financing will serve as the loan’s collateral. Like a traditional loan, if you default on your chattel mortgage, your lender can repossess the property you bought with the loan.

Chattel Mortgage FAQs

How much of a down payment do you need for a chattel loan?

The minimum down payment required for a chattel loan is typically 5% of the purchase price.

What happens when you default on a chattel mortgage?

If you default on your chattel mortgage, your lender has the right to repossess the property that secured the loan.

Should I choose a chattel mortgage or a regular mortgage?

Chattel mortgages and regular mortgages each have their sets of pros and cons. Chattel mortgages are a great option if you want to buy movable property (think: mobile homes, prefab homes, etc.) and you have low or bad credit. 

A traditional home loan may work better for a stationary home. Conventional mortgages usually have lower interest rates than chattel mortgages, offer a wider variety of loan types, and have longer repayment periods and higher borrowing limits. But they also have stricter property and credit requirements.

Get Moving on Your Movable Property

If you need to finance the purchase of movable property, you should look into chattel mortgages. They’re not as well known as other mortgage types and have slightly higher interest rates, but they can help you become the proud new owner of  property that can move.

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