What Is Mortgage Principal? How Do You Pay It Off?

By Alene Laney · June 03, 2022 · 6 minute read

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What Is Mortgage Principal? How Do You Pay It Off?

Many homebuyers swimming in the pool of new mortgage terminology may wonder how mortgage principal differs from their mortgage payment. Simply put, your mortgage principal is the amount of money you borrowed from your mortgage lender.

Knowing how mortgage principal works and how you can pay it off more quickly than the average homeowner could save you a lot of money over the life of the loan. Here’s how it works and what you need to know about paying off the principal on a mortgage.

Mortgage Principal Definition

Mortgage principal is the original amount that you borrowed to pay for your home. It is not the amount you paid for your home; nor is it the amount of your monthly mortgage payment.

Each month when you make a payment, a portion goes toward the original amount you borrowed, a portion goes toward the interest payment, and some goes into your escrow account, if you have one, to pay for taxes and insurance.

Your mortgage principal balance will change over the life of your loan as you pay it down with your monthly mortgage payment, as well as any extra payments. Your equity will increase while you’re paying down the principal on your mortgage.

Mortgage Principal vs. Mortgage Interest

Your mortgage payment consists of both mortgage principal and interest. Mortgage principal is the amount borrowed. Mortgage interest is the lending charge for borrowing the mortgage principal. Both are included in your monthly mortgage payment, though you likely won’t see a breakdown of how much of your monthly mortgage payment goes to principal vs. interest.

When you start paying down principal, the mortgage amortization schedule will show that most of your payment will go toward interest rather than principal.

Hover your cursor over the amortization chart of this mortgage calculator to get an idea of how a given loan might be amortized over time if no extra payments were made.

Mortgage Principal vs. Total Monthly Payment

Your monthly payment is divided into parts by your mortgage servicer and sent to the correct entities. It includes principal plus interest.

Fees and Expenses Included in the Monthly Payment

Your monthly payment isn’t just made up of principal and interest. Most borrowers are also paying bits of property taxes and homeowners insurance each month, and some pay mortgage insurance. In the industry, this is often referred to as PITI, for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.

A mortgage statement will break all of this down and show any late fees.

Among the many mortgage questions you might have for a lender, one is whether you’ll need an escrow account for taxes and insurance or whether you can pay those expenses in lump sums on your own when they’re due.

In the world of government home loans, FHA and USDA loans require an escrow account, and lenders usually require one for VA-backed loans.

Conventional mortgages typically require an escrow account if you borrow more than 80% of the property’s value. If you live in a flood zone and are required to have flood insurance, an escrow account may be mandatory.

Does the Monthly Principal Payment Change?

With a fixed-rate mortgage, payments stay the same for the loan term, but the amount that goes to your mortgage principal will change every month. An amortization schedule designates a greater portion of your monthly mortgage payment toward interest in the beginning. Over time, the amount that goes toward your principal will increase and the amount you’re paying toward interest will decrease.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are more complicated. Most are hybrids: They have an initial fixed period that’s followed by an adjustable period. They are also usually based on a 30-year amortization, but most ARM borrowers are interested in the short-term benefit — the initial interest rate discount — not principal reduction.

If you take out an ARM and keep it, you could end up owing more money than you borrowed , even if you make all payments on time.

Understanding mortgages and amortization schedules can be a lot, even for those who aren’t novices.

This Home Loan Help Center offers a wealth of information.

What Happens When Extra Payments Are Made Toward Mortgage Principal?

Making extra payments toward principal will allow you to pay off your mortgage early and will decrease your interest costs, sometimes by an astounding amount.

If you make extra payments, you may want to contact your mortgage servicer or notate the money to make sure it is applied to principal instead of the next month’s payment.

Could you face a prepayment penalty? Conforming mortgages signed on or after Jan. 10, 2014, cannot carry one. Nor can FHA, USDA, or VA loans. If you’re not sure whether your mortgage has a prepayment penalty, check your loan documents or call your lender or mortgage servicer.

Keeping Track of Your Mortgage Principal and Interest

The easiest way to keep track of your mortgage principal and interest is to look at your mortgage statements every month. The mortgage servicer will send you a statement with the amount you paid and how much of your principal was reduced each month. If you have an online account, you can see the numbers there.

How to Pay Off Mortgage Principal

Paying off the mortgage principal is done by making extra payments. Because the amortization schedule is set by the lender, a high percentage of your monthly payment goes toward interest in the early years of your loan.

When you make extra payments or increase the amount you pay each month (even by just a little bit), you’ll start to pay down the principal instead of paying the lender interest.

It pays to thoroughly understand the different types of mortgages that are out there.

And if you’re mortgage hunting, you’ll want to shop for rates and get mortgage pre-approval.

The Takeaway

Knowing exactly how mortgage principal, interest, and amortization schedules work can be a powerful tool that can help you pay off your mortgage principal faster and save you a lot of money on interest in the process.

Ready to dive in on a mortgage loan? You’ll want a competent partner. SoFi is an online mortgage lender that offers competitive fixed rates and a variety of terms. Qualifying first-time homebuyers can put just 3% down.

Find your rate in minutes.


What is the mortgage principal amount?

The mortgage principal is the amount you borrow from a mortgage lender that you must pay back. It is not the same as your mortgage payment. Your mortgage payment will include both principal and interest as well as any escrow payments you need to make.

How do you pay off your mortgage principal?

You can pay off your mortgage principal early by paying more than your mortgage payment. Since your mortgage payment is made up of principal and interest, any extra that you pay can be taken directly off the principal. If you never make extra payments, you’ll take the full loan term to pay off your mortgage.

Is it advisable to pay extra principal on a mortgage?

Paying extra on the principal will allow you to build equity, pay off the mortgage faster, and lower your costs on interest. Whether or not you can fit it in your budget or if you believe there is a better use for your money is a personal decision.

What is the difference between mortgage principal and interest?

Mortgage principal is the amount you borrow from a lender; interest is the amount the lender charges you for the principal.

Can the mortgage principal be reduced?

When you make extra payments or pay a lump sum, you can designate the extra amount to be applied to your mortgage principal. This will reduce your mortgage principal and your interest payments over time.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

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