Many real estate agents want you to be pre-qualified for a loan before they will start to work with you. The mortgage pre-qualification process is fairly simple, usually just requiring some financial information such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. Once you are pre-qualified, you will have a better sense of how much you can borrow and the price range of the homes you can afford.
You can find a lender on Zillow to learn how much you can borrow. And you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator to estimate what you can afford. But you should go a step further and figure out what you can be comfortable with. Is travel a passion? Do you like spending a fair amount on dining out or other entertainment? The lender won’t factor biannual vacations or a craving for high-end restaurants into their calculations, so you have to. Fortunately, that’s easy enough with tools that help you calculate your monthly payment as well as estimate what you should be able to afford given your existing income and debts. Chances are, even after the sub-prime crisis, a lender will be willing to offer you a bigger mortgage than you think you can afford. Only you can know how much you are willing to set aside for a mortgage payment each month.
Research your utilities. If you're moving into a larger home than you're used to, a home that is newer or older than you're used to or located in a climate that's hotter or colder than you're used to, ask your real estate professional to find out what the home's energy bills have typically been. This can help prevent being surprised by a higher utility bill than you're expecting. If you're moving into a new community, find out about water costs, too.
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.
If you choose a variable rate mortgage deal, then the amount of interest you pay can fluctuate over time. Mortgage rates often rise when the Bank of England raises the base rate, as borrowing costs become steeper for lenders, and these higher costs are passed on to homeowners. That’s why many homebuyers opt for fixed rates to provide peace of mind that their interest payments won’t change.
Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefit payments are usually sent to the servicer on the last Friday of each month. Homeowners may request a copy of their Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Disbursement Schedule. Send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to provide your email address, first/last name, Homeowner ID number, and specify that you are requesting a copy of your Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Disbursement Schedule.
If you have lost your job, had a reduction in work hours or income, or are unemployed, then you may qualify for assistance. Homeowners can receive mortgage help from the federal government Home Affordable Unemployment Program. This program can reduce someone’s monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months, which will provide an individual time to find a new job. Read more on the unemployment mortgage program.
Fixed-rate mortgages offer stability in your mortgage payments. However, many ARMs start with a lower interest rate than fixed mortgages and lock the rate in for a few years. That can mean significantly lower payments in the early years of your loan, so some borrowers opt for an ARM with the intention of selling or refinancing their home before the rate can adjust.
Lenders will generally pull your credit at least twice -- when you originally apply and shortly before closing (as happened in my situation). If there are any significant differences between the two, such as a new account or a significantly higher debt balance, it could lead to delays and could even disqualify you for the mortgage. Be safe -- just leave your credit alone until you've signed your closing documents.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
If you are experiencing difficulties making your mortgage payments, you are encouraged to contact your lender or loan servicer directly to inquire about foreclosure prevention options that are available. If you are experiencing difficulty communicating with your mortgage lender or servicer about your need for mortgage relief, there are organizations that can help by contacting lenders and servicers on your behalf.
The US Treasury administers the Hardest Hit Fund, which provides aid to the states that were most impacted by the economic crisis. Each of these states have local agencies that help homeowners in various ways, including mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed, principal reduction, and transactional assistance. This helps people either afford the homes they’re in, or move to more affordable housing.
A few years ago (see above), if you were breathing it seemed like you could find a mortgage. Things are a little bit tighter now. The biggest factor is your debt to income ratio. It’s your minimum monthly debt divided by your monthly income. But don’t worry. You don’t have to do the math! There’s a handy DTI calculator that will figure it out for you and estimate how much you’re likely to qualify for.
Second Lien Modification Program (2MP): If your first mortgage was permanently modified under HAMP SM and you have a second mortgage on the same property, you may be eligible for a modification or principal reduction on your second mortgage under 2MP. Likewise, If you have a home equity loan, HELOC, or some other second lien that is making it difficult for you to keep up with your mortgage payments, learn more about this MHA program.
Include PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) in your budget. Mortgage calculators will show you how much you'll pay toward principal and interest every month. Remember that you'll also have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance. Some financial institutions will require you to contribute these funds monthly along with your principal and interest payment. Be sure to talk to your lender to understand what will be included in your monthly payment.
Find information on mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs from various companies, federal government agencies, non-profits, HUD counseling agencies, banks and states. Numerous organizations have pledged to provide loan modification and other forms of mortgage help to millions of Americans. Resources are available that can help prevent or stop foreclosures as well as assist homeowners with paying their current and back mortgage payments.