The data on mortgage status were obtained from questionnaire items H23a and H24a, which were asked at owner-occupied one-family houses, condominiums, and mobile homes. "Mortgage" refers to all forms of debt where the property is pledged as security for repayment of the debt. It includes such debt instruments as deeds of trust, trust deeds, contracts to purchase, land contracts, junior mortgages and home equity loans.
A mortgage is considered a first mortgage if it has prior claim over any other mortgage or if it is the only mortgage on the property. All other mortgages, (second, third, etc.) are considered junior mortgages. A home equity loan is generally a junior mortgage. If no first mortgage is reported, but a junior mortgage or home equity loan is reported, then the loan is considered a first mortgage.
In most census data products, the tabulations for "Selected Monthly Owner Costs" and "Selected Monthly Owner Costs as a Percentage of Household Income in 1989" usually are shown separately for units "with a mortgage" and for units "not mortgaged." The category "not mortgaged" is comprised of housing units owned free and clear of debt.
A question on mortgage status was included in the 1940 and 1950 censuses, but not in the 1960 and 1970 censuses. The item was reinstated in 1980 along with a separate question dealing with the existence of second or junior mortgages. In 1980, the mortgage status questions were asked at owner-occupied one-family houses on less than 10 acres. Excluded were mobile homes, condominiums, houses with a business or medical office, houses on 10 or more acres, and housing units in multi-unit buildings. In 1990, the questions were asked of all one-family owner-occupied housing units, including houses on 10 or more acres. They were also asked at mobile homes, condominiums, and houses with a business or medical office.