Your first action item is to seek pre-approval from a lender. It's important to note that pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different processes. For pre-approval, the lender will check your credit and other financial information to determine what price home you can afford. (You can use an online mortgage calculator to give you a ballpark figure on how much home you can afford.) This will give you a price range to stay within during your home search and lets buyers know that you’re serious when you make an offer. Getting pre-approval for a standard loan should take a couple of days.

The mortgage industry standard is a 20% down payment. However, you may be able to get a conventional mortgage with significantly less money up front -- as low as 3% of the purchase price in many cases. Specialized loan types, such as VA and USDA mortgages require no down payments at all for those who qualify. The point is that while a higher down payment will lower your monthly housing costs, you may be able to get into a home with less money in savings than you think.
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To qualify you for a conventional loan, your lender will consider whether you have stable and reliable income. It may require copies of paystubs, W-2s, income tax returns and other documentation to make an assessment. Frequently changing jobs will not necessarily disqualify you for a conventional mortgage, if you can show that you’ve earned a consistent and predictable income.
Typically, you can take up to 60 percent of your initial principal limit in the first year of your reverse mortgage. This is known as your first-year draw limit. If the amount you owe on an existing mortgage or other required payments exceeds this amount, you can take out extra money to pay off that loan and associated fees, as well as additional cash of up to 10 percent of your principal limit.
When you apply for a mortgage loan in the US, you will typically deal with an underwriter. Most underwriters work for banks, but you can also choose to work with a brokerage. Mortgage brokers don't provide loans directly, but have relationships with a number of lenders. Regardless of the type of underwriter you work with, you will typically be required to:
Homeowners are encouraged to explore free HUD foreclosure prevention counseling, which could help you qualify for other programs. Homeowners should also contact their servicer to find out if they qualify for a loan modification or other foreclosure prevention options. Some of these may include transition to other foreclosure alternatives, such as deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or short sale.
The mortgage industry works a little differently in the US than it does in many other parts of the world. Mortgage loans are treated as commercial paper, which means that lenders can convey and assign them freely. That results in a situation where financial institutions bundle mortgage loans into securities that people can invest in. The purpose of this system is to quickly free up money for the financial institutions to lend out in the form of new mortgages. The US also has a number of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that exist to facilitate this system. Most mortgages have fixed rates, which is also a departure from the variable rates that are commonly found in Europe and elsewhere.
Looking back at the flood of foreclosures since the housing crash, it’s clear that many borrowers didn't fully understand the terms of the mortgages they signed. According to one study, 35 percent of ARM borrowers did not know if there was a cap on how much their interest rate could rise [source: Pence]. This is why it’s essential to understand the terms of your mortgage, particularly the pitfalls of “nontraditional” loans.

With an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM, the interest rate—and therefore the amount of the monthly payment—can change. These loans start with a fixed rate for a pre-specified timeframe of 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years typically. After that time, the interest rate can change each year. What the rate changes to depend on the market rates and what is outlined in the mortgage agreement.
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.
Lenders use the information you provide at the time of application for loan approval or denial. If you get approved, don’t change your employment or income status until after the loan process is complete. Changing your employment or income during the process will significantly delay the lending process at best, and at worst, it could cause you to be denied for your loan altogether.

It is important to find a mortgage lender who offers a wide variety of mortgage programs. If your lender only offers a limited range of programs, they may lock you into a suboptimal mortgage when there would be better options available for your situation elsewhere. Check to see if your lender offers programs like FHA loans or VA mortgages before moving forward with their services.
Typically, you'll need a minimum of a 620 FICO score to qualify for a conventional mortgage, and it can be difficult to qualify with a score that's near the minimum if your other qualifications aren't stellar. Another option is the FHA mortgage, which is designed for borrowers with qualifications that don't meet the standards of conventional lenders. The downside is that FHA loans can be significantly more expensive, but they can be great resources for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage.
Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
The mortgage industry works a little differently in the US than it does in many other parts of the world. Mortgage loans are treated as commercial paper, which means that lenders can convey and assign them freely. That results in a situation where financial institutions bundle mortgage loans into securities that people can invest in. The purpose of this system is to quickly free up money for the financial institutions to lend out in the form of new mortgages. The US also has a number of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that exist to facilitate this system. Most mortgages have fixed rates, which is also a departure from the variable rates that are commonly found in Europe and elsewhere.
In addition, Countrywide will be spending billions of dollars to modify mortgages as a result of a lawsuit they settled with the federal government. Many state governments sued the lender for all of the questionable home loans that they issued to uninformed borrowers, and the funds to the settlement will go directly to helping homeowners. Find more details on the free mortgage modification from Countrywide.
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