Once you find the perfect home, the next step is to apply for a mortgage. You will need to provide detailed information in order to receive your loan approval. Below is a list of standard documents that are required for just about everyone. Depending on your situation, you may be asked for more or less information. Use this checklist to help you prepare in advance, so the application process is quick and easy.
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.
HARP, or the Home Affordable Refinance Program, is the latest federal program designed to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages. Designed to help people who are "underwater" with their mortgages due to lowered home values, it allows people who owe more on their home than it's worth to refinance their mortgages and get lower interest rates. In this sense it is a sort of emergency mortgage assistance program, but it only works for people who don't have any late or delinquent payments. If you are rejected while trying to refinance your home or go through a loan modification program, HARP may benefit. This only applies if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and you need to owe 125% or less of your home's value in order to qualify.
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A mortgage loan is a long-term loan obtained from a bank, financial institution, or other lending organization, often used to purchase, construct, or improve a home or piece of property. Mortgage loans are usually paid off over 15 to 30 years, with low-interest rates compared to other large loans. A mortgage loan works to provide low-interest rates for long-term repayment, because the lender's risk is insured by a security interest in your real property.
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.
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.
Amortization is what you are actually paying per year against your loan. You can get a mortgage with a term of 10, 15 or 30 years. You pay each month and the principal decreases until it’s paid off. The payments don’t change but at the beginning of the term, most of the payment is going toward interest. By the end of the term, that’s flipped and you’ll be paying down the mortgage principal.
Many homeowners pay their mortgages on time, but are not able to refinance to take advantage of today’s lower mortgage rates, mainly due to a significant decrease in the value of their home. A Home Affordable Refinance will help borrowers refinance their first mortgage even if the balance owed is more than 100% of the home value. For example, let’s say the amount you owe on your first mortgage is $500,000. You may be able to refinance even if the home value is now only $400,000.

This is the number of years during which you will be making payments on your mortgage. The most popular mortgage is a 30-year fixed, with 15-year fixed coming next. Common terms for fixed mortgages are 15 and 30 years, but some banks offer mortgages in other five-year increments from 10 to 40 years. Stretching out payments over 30 years or more will mean that your monthly outlay will be lower, but the overall cost of your home will be more because you’ll be paying interest for more years. To make your home cost less, choose a shorter term, such as 15 years.


There are cases where your mortgage can factor into your other financial plans, making them more or less attainable. For example, Charlie Donaldson, MBA, College Funding Advisor at College Bound Coaching, says, “The amount of your home equity can count against you when attempting to get financial aid to pay for your child’s college education, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars each year your child is in college.”
Your debt to income, or DTI. Is the amount of monthly debt payments you have compared to your monthly income. Most mortgages will allow a maximum DTI of 41%, ideally you will want a DTI ratio of no higher that 36%. See how much house you can afford using our calculator. Try not to stretch yourself too thin, if you have a high DTI you will be more likely to miss mortgage payments if an emergency comes up.
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.
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.
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.
Most lenders today will want to know every detail of your financial life. If something looks odd, or doesn’t make sense they will want to have some sort of explanation. This means that you will have to write letter explaining everything. For instance they may want to know why a credit card issuers pulled your credit three months ago when you were trying to apply for store credit, or why you changed jobs a few months ago or why you have moved from job to job over the last couple years. It’s best to write them and explain everything in full detail and move on. They do this simply to verify your financial stability and it is usually something that is requested from time to time.

As interest rates rise, so does your monthly payment, with each payment applied to interest and principal in the same manner as a fixed-rate mortgage, over a set number of years. Lenders often offer lower interest rates for the first few years of an ARM, but then rates change frequently after that – as often as once a year. The initial interest rate on an ARM is significantly lower than a fixed-rate mortgage.
A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyer's market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.
If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor—they’ve been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your counselor can develop a tailored plan of action for your situation and help you work with your mortgage company. They’re experienced in all of the available programs and a variety of financial situations. They can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.
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