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US Mortgage and Foreclosure Law

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The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics


A mortgage is an exchange of a collection of rights between a borrower and a lender. In this article, we describe those rights and explain both their economic logic and their implications for economic analysis and policy. We briefly discuss the medieval origins of the American mortgage contract and its evolution into its present form. We then turn to topics relevant for contemporary economic research – including title and lien theory; recording and registration of documents; judicial versus power-of-sale foreclosure; deficiency judgments and recourse; assignments; the Mortgage Electronic Registration System; and methods for avoiding foreclosure, including deeds-in-lieu and short sales. Our discussion focuses on real property law and its economic implications; we do not discuss, for example, securities law related to mortgage contracts.

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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston or the Federal Reserve System.

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Kimball, Z.K., Willen, P.S. (2018). US Mortgage and Foreclosure Law. In: The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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