If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
Perhaps the most intimidating part of buying a home is applying for a mortgage. You may know exactly what “APR,” “points” and “fixed-rate” mean — but if this is your first home, or you just need a refresher, there are a lot of great resources to get you up to speed so you can be a well-prepared mortgage shopper. And because this is such a crucial part of owning a home, we’re going to break it all down.
Coming up with a down payment can be the one of the biggest obstacles for first-time homebuyers. It can be challenging to save for a down payment, even if you have a steady income and decent credit score. But with the right planning and budgeting, you can reach your savings goals faster than you think. If you aren’t able to make a sizable down payment, another option is to use gift funds from a relative. As long as the borrower has 5% of their own money, gift funds can be used for the rest of the down payment. It’s also a good idea to talk to your lender to see if you qualify for down-payment assistance. Knowing what your options are and how much you will need to save before you start the process will help prevent any surprises along the way.
Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications may include reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A modification also may involve reducing the amount of money you owe on your primary residence by forgiving, or cancelling, a portion of the mortgage debt. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, see www.irs.gov. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income or increased payments on an ARM.
The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program is for borrowers who, although eligible for the government Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), are not able to secure a permanent loan modification or cannot avoid foreclosure. HAFA provides protection and money to eligible borrowers who decide to do a Short Sale or a Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure.
A third option – usually reserved for affluent home buyers or those with irregular incomes – is an interest-only mortgage. As the name implies, this type of loan gives you the option to pay only interest for the first few years, and it’s attractive to first-time homeowners because of the low payments during their lower earning years. It may also be the right choice if you expect to own the home for a relatively short time and intend to sell before the bigger monthly payments begin.
Technology has revolutionized the mortgage selection process, making rate comparisons a quick and easy first step. That said, it’s important to look beyond the initial rates and dig deeper into loan terms (the fine print), such as closing costs, hidden fees and down payment requirements. Some lenders will claim to charge “no origination fee,” but their online quote includes a hefty 2% “discount point” in the fine print. Another great resource when evaluating lenders is to read online reviews on Google, Yelp, Zillow or Facebook.
Homeowner’s Insurance. Homeowner’s insurance is insurance that covers damage to your home from fire, accidents and other issues. Some lenders require this insurance be included in your monthly mortgage payment. Others will let you pay it separately. All will require you have homeowner’s insurance while you’re paying your mortgage—that’s because the lender actually owns your home and stands to lose a lot of it you don’t have insurance and have an issue.
Many mortgage programs will require a 620 or higher credit score in order to qualify for a loan. Although, FHA loans are available to people with credit scores as low as 580. However, just because you have a 580 credit score doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify. Lenders look at a lot more than just your credit score. You should have a relatively clean credit history over the past 12 months, with no late payments or collections.
Modify your mortgage loan. In many cases your payment is no longer affordable due to changing personal or financial circumstances. A loan modification can reduce your payments, waive fees, lower your interest rates, and more. Banks and lenders are also offering loan modifications with interest rates as low as 2%. They have determined this is in their best financial interest as well. Learn more on low interest rate loan modifications. Find all of the pros and cons as well as details on modifying mortgages.
Depending on your financial position, there are many different types of mortgage assistance program available to you. There are two classes of program: government-sponsored and lender-sponsored. Government-sponsored home mortgage assistance tends to be broader in scope and easier to acquire, but less tailored to your individual needs. Remember that the point of government assistance is to free up cash for you to spend elsewhere. Lender-sponsored assistance, meanwhile, is designed to float you through rough patches so you can eventually pay them back. These loans, grants, modifications and agreements are tailored to make sure that the lending company doesn't lose money on you.