Yes, the word “homework” makes us shudder too, but this time the reward is much bigger than memorizing geometry theorems or the periodic table. You’re finding a home but you’re also making a financial commitment you’ll have to live with for years: get the best deal you can. Research loans, rates and brokers exhaustively before you sign or commit to anything. Doing the hard work now will pay off down the road with a better rate and terms.
Conventional loans require a home buyer to make a 20 percent down payment and many home buyers don’t have enough cash on hand to make that down payment therefore they are required to pay for mortgage insurance as part of their monthly payment. This insurance protects lenders if a borrower should default on the loan. Until late 2014, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac required down payments of at least 10 percent. This requirement pushed many home buyers into Federal Housing Administration loans or FHA loans, which have a 3.5 percent minimum down payment. The problem is that FHA premiums are costlier than private mortgage insurance. But in 2015, qualified buyers will be able to get Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent. These premiums will be dependent on credit scores and the size of the down payment. Private mortgage insurance premiums are generally more affordable than FHA premiums.
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.

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.


It’s not uncommon for lenders to pull your credit report a second time to see if anything has changed before your loan closes. Be careful not to do anything that would bring down your credit score while your loan is being processed. So, pay all of your bills on time, don’t apply for any new credit cards, and don’t take out any new car loans until your home loan has closed.

Where to get the best deal. If you qualify for an FHA, VA or USDA loan, you may be able to get a better deal on interest rates and other costs using their programs. Familiarize yourself with their criteria. Whether you choose a government-backed or conventional loan, keep in mind that fees and interest rates can vary widely by lender, even for the same type of loan, so shop around for the best deal. You can start your search by comparing rates with LendingTree.


The federal government’s Making Home Affordable program is working with various banks and lenders to ensure that they provide millions of homeowners with loan modifications. In some cases the government may be subsidizing fees and interest rate reductions. Learn about this and other programs, all of which can ensure people get relief from their mispriced mortgage payments. The other option is the Homeowner Affordability and Stability, which is part of Make a Home Affordable.
Example – A $200,000 five-to-one-year adjustable-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) starts with an annual interest rate of 4% for five years, and then the rate is allowed to change by .25% every year. This ARM has an interest cap of 12%. Payment amount for months one through 60 is $955 each. Payment for 61 through 72 is $980. Payment for 73 through 84 is $1,005. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in these figures.) You can calculate your costs online for an ARM.
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.
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.
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.
Refinancing your mortgage simply means you’ll be replacing your current mortgage with a new home loan. You’ll get a new rate, new terms and conditions, new closing costs, and the possibility to choose a new lender. Refinancing can be a good idea when mortgage rates are low (as we saw at times in the past year) or when and if your home has seen a big jump in its market value.**

Mortgage Payment Assistance (MPA) offers up to 24 months of assistance for eligible applicants who have had an unemployment or underemployment hardship in the last 36 months and need help paying mortgage monthly. Of the 24 months, up to 12 months may be used to reinstate first and some second mortgages. Mortgage payment assistance ends when the homeowner is able to sustain the mortgage payment, when reserved funds are exhausted, or when 24 monthly payments have been provided, whichever comes first. Under MPA, you may be required to make partial payments toward your mortgage during your participation in the program. If you are now employed and are able to make your currently monthly payments but are behind on your mortgage, MPA offers a onetime payment to your lender for up to 12 months of mortgage help to bring your mortgage current.


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.
If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is early on.  You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com. Check for mistakes on your credit report. A mistake on your credit report can cost you when trying to secure a home loan. Mistakes do happen, so review your credit report closely to ensure everything is correct and dispute any errors you might find with the appropriate credit bureau.
The amount you put down also affects your monthly mortgage payment and interest rate. If you want the smallest mortgage payment possible, opt for a 30-year fixed mortgage. But if you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Use our calculator to determine whether a 15-year or 30-year fixed mortgage is a better fit for you. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.
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.
Home equity lines of credit work differently than home equity loans. Rather than offering a fixed sum of money upfront that immediately acrues interest, lines of credit act more like a credit card which you can draw on as needed & pay back over time. This means that the bank will approve to borrow up to a certain amount of your home, but your equity in the home stands as collateral for the loan. The interest rates are lower than they would be with a credit card. Often home equity loans have a variable interest rate that will change according to market conditions.
Many mortgages allow you to ‘port’ them to a new property, so you may be able to move your existing mortgage across to your next home. However, you will effectively have to apply for your mortgage again, so you’ll need to satisfy your lender that monthly payments remain affordable. It’ll be down to them to decide whether they’re happy to allow you to transfer your current deal over to your new property. Bear in mind too that there may be fees to pay for moving your mortgage.
Union Plus Mortgage Assistance provides interest-free loans and grants to help make mortgage payments when you're disabled, unemployed, furloughed, locked out or on strike.  If you qualify for the Mortgage Assistance loan benefit, you’ll also receive a one-time grant of $1,000 paid directly to you (Note: if you are applying due to a furlough the one-time grant is $300). The program has provided over $11.2 million in assistance to union members.
Since there are so many different types of mortgage loans, it can be difficult to choose the best loan for your needs. If you want a set monthly payment and a definite period of time to pay off the loan, you should look primarily at home mortgage loans. This is a good option if you want to remodel, and you know exactly how much it is going to cost. A home equity loan gives you added flexibility since it is a revolving line of credit. This is a good option if you have several smaller projects you are working on and you are unsure of how much each will cost. It also gives you the opportunity to withdraw the money to cover other expenses like a wedding for your child or to help cover college expenses. Either option does put your home at risk if you default on your payments, even if you are current on your first mortgage. It is important to carefully consider your budget to make sure that you can afford the payments. Once you do this you can be confident in moving forward on either type of loan.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.

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.
When you're shopping around, don't just check the big national mortgage lenders. Some regional or local banks may offer unique lending programs, especially for first-time homebuyers. For example, the young couple who bought a house from me a few years ago used a 100% financing program from Regions Financial that required no mortgage insurance for first-time buyers with outstanding credit.
The NID-Housing Counseling Agency (NID-HCA) is a non-profit, HUD approved agency that assists homeowners with addressing financial situations including defaults and foreclosure, predatory lending, credit repair, referrals, foreclosure counseling, and other services. Their services are mostly free, and their goal is to help people stay in their homes. The NID Housing Counseling agency deals with a number of debt and foreclosure issues.
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