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.
NOTE: These programs are only available to homeowners whose mortgage servicing company agrees to the terms and conditions governing the use of these funds. If your servicer is not currently participating in Keep Your Home California, you may want to call them and encourage them to do so. A homeowner cannot receive assistance if their servicer has not signed an agreement with CalHFA MAC. See a list of participating servicers and which programs they are currently offering.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
Keep Your Home California defines “cash out” as monies disbursed to the borrower, or paid to a third party for the benefit of the borrower (e.g., debt consolidation, home improvement, tuition, etc.), when the combined amount of those disbursements exceeds 1% of the new loan amount. Reasonable and customary costs associated with refinancing (e.g., appraisal, processing feeds, title insurance, origination fees, etc.) may be financed in the loan and are not considered “cash out.”
Look at properties that cost less than the amount you were approved for. Although you can technically afford your preapproval amount, it’s the ceiling — and it doesn’t account for other monthly expenses or problems like a broken dishwasher that arise during homeownership, especially right after you buy. Shopping with a firm budget in mind will also help when it comes time to make an offer.

Buying a home is the embodiment of the American dream. However, that wasn’t always the case: In fact, before the 1930s, only four in 10 American families owned their own home. That’s because very few people had enough cash to buy a home in one lump sum. And until the 1930s, there was no such thing as a bank loan specifically designed to purchase a home, something we now know as a mortgage.

For decades, the only type of mortgage available was a fixed-interest loan repaid over 30 years. It offers the stability of regular -- and relatively low -- monthly payments. In the 1980s came adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), loans with an even lower initial interest rate that adjusts or “resets” every year for the life of the mortgage. At the peak of the recent housing boom, when lenders were trying to squeeze even unqualified borrowers into a mortgage, they began offering “creative” ARMs with shorter reset periods, tantalizingly low “teaser” rates and no limits on rate increases.
Know how much cash you'll need at closing. When you buy your home, you’ll need cash for a down payment (see how much you should put down) and closing costs (estimate your closing costs). The down payment typically varies from 5% to 20% or more. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (keep reading for more on that). Closing costs could be about 3-7% of the total loan amount and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.
Grants are often given to assist home buyers with down payments, as well as help to lock in certain mortgage rates when they are first purchasing the property. These are awarded by the government based on need or other status. For instance, there are U.S. Veteran mortgage assistance grants, grants for low-income families, first-time homeowner grants, single mother grants, and grants for people who plan to do significant home improvement. These grants often cap the down payment at a certain low percentage of the total cost of the home.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
Unlike traditional mortgage loans, this does not have a set monthly payment with a term attached to it. It is more like a credit card than a traditional mortgage because it is revolving debt where you will need to make a minimum monthly payment. You can also pay down the loan and then draw out the money again to pay bills or to work on another project. Your home is at risk if you default on the loan. Many people prefer this loan because of the flexibility. You only have to take out as much as you need, which can save you money in interest.

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Buying a home is the embodiment of the American dream. However, that wasn’t always the case: In fact, before the 1930s, only four in 10 American families owned their own home. That’s because very few people had enough cash to buy a home in one lump sum. And until the 1930s, there was no such thing as a bank loan specifically designed to purchase a home, something we now know as a mortgage.
Closing costs. Closing costs are expenses over and above the sales price of a home. They may include origination fees, points, appraisal and title fees, title insurance, surveys, recording fees and more. While fees vary widely by the type of mortgage you get and by location, Realtor.com estimates that they typically total 2 to 7 percent of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500 (a wide range indeed, Realtor.com acknowledges).
Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
Less is charged for interest because your balance is lower and lower. But keep in mind that (at least for now) the interest you pay is deductible for tax purposes. That means if you pay $15,000 in interest this year, you will effectively reduce your taxable income by $15,000. If you’re in the 30% tax bracket, that saves you $5,000 in taxes. In short, for many people, having a mortgage is smart financial tax planning.
Your credit score. Your credit score is one of the most significant factors in getting approved for a mortgage, and it also influences the interest rate you’ll end up with. The better your score, the lower your rate will likely be and the less you’ll pay in interest. You’re entitled to free credit reports each year from the three major credit bureaus, so request them from annualcreditreport.com and dispute any errors that may be dragging your score down.

Fixed rates and adjustable rates are the most common types of mortgages. Over 90% of US mortgages are fixed rate loans. A second mortgage works the same as a first mortgage, allowing a borrower to take out a lump sum of money and then make monthly payments to pay it back. You can use the second mortgage to make repairs on your house, to consolidate your bills, or to help with the down payment on the first mortgage to avoid needing to pay PMI.
There are several steps that homeowners can take on their own to deal with a delinquent mortgage payment or an impending foreclosure. People do not always need to rely on the government, solutions offered by their lender or a housing counselor. There are things you can do own your own. However, please always keep in mind that mortgage counselors can often help you, and they offer free or no cost mortgage advice.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now owned by the federal government, are providing mortgage help to hundreds of thousands of homeowners from a few different programs. Since they are responsible for and service the vast majority of mortgages that are issued by hundreds of banks, many people will qualify for help from them and may not even realize it. Find the various Fannie and Freddie Mac mortgage programs.
John and Anne are a retired couple, aged 72 and 68, who want to stay in their home, but need to boost their monthly income to pay living expenses. They would like to remodel their kitchen. They have heard about reverse mortgage loans, but didn’t know the details. They decide to contact a reverse mortgage loan advisor to discuss their current needs and future goals.
Once you’ve been keeping regular tabs on your credit report, you’ll be able to see how you’re doing. Dispute any inaccuracies with the 3 credit bureaus and get everything cleared up. If your debt-to-credit ratio is too high, monitoring your score over time will show you how your score might change. If you see accounts that you didn’t open or addresses that aren’t yours, take immediate steps to investigate what could be identity fraud.
In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bid on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding. Stick to your budget to avoid a mortgage payment you can’t afford.
On the other hand, if you know you will be selling in the not-too-distant future, the lower interest rate that comes with an ARM might make sense. Even if rates jump in a few years, you’ll be selling anyway so it won’t impact you. You can also select a hybrid ARM that is fixed for a certain number of years (3, 5, 7 or 10) then adjusts annually for the remainder of the loan. The risk with an ARM is that if you don’t sell, your payments may go up and you may not be able to refinance.

Regions Bank has helped thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure through a program called the Customer Assistance Program. This can provide a number of solutions to qualified applicants. Sign up for forbearance, repayment plans, and home loan modifications are all offered. There are several Regions Bank foreclosure assistance programs for struggling low income customers.

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