How Are Primary and Secondary Mortgage Markets Different?

By Brian O'Connell · December 15, 2022 · 5 minute read

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How Are Primary and Secondary Mortgage Markets Different?

The U.S. mortgage market is massive, so it’s no surprise that it’s actually composed of a primary and a secondary market.

The primary market serves the home-buying public. The secondary serves investors but plays a big role in a borrower’s ability to get a mortgage and how much that home loan costs.

Primary vs Secondary Mortgage Market

The primary mortgage market links borrowers to home mortgage lenders.

The secondary mortgage market allows investors to invest in existing mortgage loans in hopes of earning a return.

What Is the Primary Mortgage Market?

Any time a homebuyer takes out a mortgage from a reputable lender, that is the primary mortgage market in action.

Homebuyers and mortgage refinancers can work with a mortgage broker or direct lender to find the right home loan.

Direct lenders include banks, credit unions, and online mortgage companies. They originate loans with their own money or borrowed funding. Many of them originate mortgages only to sell them to investors, though the lenders may retain the servicing rights.

What Is the Secondary Mortgage Market?

With the secondary mortgage market, investors such as pension funds, banks, and insurance companies buy mortgage-backed securities and try to earn a profit on them.

Why would lenders sell some of their home loans? Because they’re able to replenish their supply of mortgage funding and remove the risk they took on by making the loans.

The mortgages that Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.), the country’s biggest residential mortgage buyers, purchase are conforming loans. That means they conform to certain lending guidelines and loan limits. In 2022 the conforming loan limit for a single-family home was $647,200 in most housing markets.

Then there’s Ginnie Mae (the Government National Mortgage Association), which buys government-backed FHA, VA, and USDA loans and bundles them into securities to be sold on the bond market.

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Example of Both Markets in Action

Betty Borrower decides she wants to buy a home and needs help financing the purchase. She shops for a mortgage with a good interest rate and low costs. She finds a good fit, applies for the loan, and is approved.

She moves in; her loan moves on. Betty gets a letter from her lender saying that her mortgage has been sold to another financial entity.

The mortgage buyer, which may be an investor or mortgage loan aggregator like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, can repackage home loans as mortgage-backed securities or hold them and collect the interest from borrowers.

Any investor who engages with the secondary mortgage market is buying Betty’s mortgage debt and many others’ and counts on the borrowers to pay the debt, with the investor pocketing a percentage of the profit.

Recommended: Guide to Buying, Selling, and Updating a Home

Why Are There Two Mortgage Markets?

They work hand in hand.

Congress created the secondary mortgage market in the 1930s to give lenders a larger, steadier stream of mortgage funding to stabilize the country’s residential mortgage markets and expand opportunities for homeownership.

Pros and Cons of the Primary Mortgage Market

The primary mortgage market has its upsides and downsides.

Advantages of the Primary Mortgage Market

Mortgage loans are plentiful: Homebuyers can choose from an array of different types of mortgage loans from banks, credit unions, savings and loans, mortgage brokers, and online financial institutions.

Borrowers have options: The most popular choice is a fixed-term loan of 30 years, but some borrowers may opt for an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), in which the introductory rate is fixed for a specified period of time. The 5/1 ARM has a five-year fixed rate.

Rates are reasonable: The demand for conforming loans helps rein in interest rates for borrowers who meet the lending criteria, which include down payment and credit requirements in addition to conforming loan limits. (Nonconforming loans — loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cannot buy — include government-backed loans and jumbo loans. The rates may be even lower than conforming loan rates.)

Down Payment Can Be Low: A 3% down payment for a conventional loan may suffice.

Disadvantages of the Primary Mortgage Loan Market

Borrowers have to be vetted credit-wise: Mortgage lenders will review a potential borrower’s credit score in order to determine their eligibility for a loan. Applicants with a bad credit score may find it challenging to secure a mortgage other than an FHA loan.

Missed mortgage payments can have negative effects: Borrowers who miss payments may face a plummeting credit score or even foreclosure (but mortgage forbearance is an option).

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Pros and Cons of the Secondary Mortgage Market

Here are two ways to view the secondary loan market.

Advantages of the Secondary Mortgage Market

Replenishes lender funding: The secondary market keeps money flowing through the mortgage system in good economic times and bad.

Fuels lower mortgage costs: The secondary market can lead to lower costs for borrowers.

May be good for investors: Most mortgage-backed securities are issued or guaranteed by a government agency such as Ginnie Mae or by government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The securities carry the guarantee of the issuing organization to pay interest and principal payments on their mortgage-backed securities.

Disadvantages of the Secondary Mortgage Loan Market

Not for the average investor: Common buyers of mortgage-backed securities include deep-pocketed financial organizations like insurance companies, banks, and pension funds. Because of the complexity of mortgage-backed securities and the difficulty that can accompany assessing the creditworthiness of an issuer, individual investors should use caution.

Investors won’t see the properties attached to the mortgages: Secondary mortgage loan buyers usually won’t physically see and assess the properties attached to the mortgages they’re buying.

The Takeaway

The primary mortgage market and secondary mortgage market have a symbiotic relationship. Most mortgage seekers will only be interested in the primary market: getting a home loan that suits their needs.

If you’re in the market for a new mortgage or maybe a cash-out refinance, check out SoFi’s mortgage loan offerings and deals. The rates are competitive.

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