Each month you send in your hard-earned money in to make your mortgage payment. When the lender receives the payment, part of it is applied toward interest charges, another part towards the principal balance on the mortgage loan. The faster the principal balance is reduced, the faster the property secured by the mortgage becomes yours. Understanding the characteristics of the principal balance of a mortgage loan will help you determine how to manage its reduction.

## Definition

The principal balance on a mortgage loan is the outstanding balance due on the original loan amount. If a mortgage was originated in the loan amount of $200,000, then the first mortgage statement will show the principal balance of $200,000. Over time, assuming you are making regular monthly mortgage payments, and that you are not making interest-only payments, the principal balance will decrease.

## Find the Principal Balance

Principal balances should be clearly displayed on your monthly paper or online mortgage statements. The mortgage lender or servicer will show the total principal balance remaining, also referred to as the current loan amount, and may show the original loan balance. The statement usually shows a monthly payment breakdown, outlining how much of your total monthly mortgage payment goes towards paying down the principal balance, and how much goes towards that month's interest owed to the lender. The monthly interest charge is the amount the lender is charging for lending you the mortgage amount and allowing you to pay it back over a period of time.

## Amortization

According to the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly called Fannie Mae, amortization is "Paying off a debt by making regular installment payments over a set period of time, at the end of which the loan balance is zero." If a mortgage is amortized over 30 years, that means the lender will schedule enough monthly principal and interest payments for the borrower to pay the full loan balance within 30 years. After the principal balance is paid back completely, the mortgage company releases the deed, or full security, to the owner, who will now own the home free and clear. Amortization schedules typically allow for a larger percentage of a monthly payment to go towards the principal balance as the loan matures.

## Paying Down the Principal

Paying extra towards a principal balance will result in your mortgage being paid off faster, leading to full ownership of your property, and will save you from future interest charges. If a monthly payment is $1,200 and you send in $1,350, the lender should apply the additional $150 towards the principal balance. There are online tools (see Resources) that show the impact of additional payments on the life of the loan. A general rule is that one extra annual payment on a 30-year mortgage will reduce payoff time to 23 years, while an extra payment each year on a 15-year mortgage will pay the loan off in 12.

## Understand Mortgage Rules

Be sure that your monthly payments are sufficient to cover interest and to pay down the principal balance. Fixed-rate and most adjustable-rate mortgages schedule principal and interest accordingly. However, some mortgages with interest-only or negative amortization features will only require the interest, or monthly finance charges, to be paid, with no principal reduction, and may result in money being added back to the principal balance. Be careful, as these risky payment options do not build equity and, if the value of the home does not increase over time, could also result in the principal balance being higher than the property's value.