In the simplest terms, a mortgage is a loan from a bank or other financial institution that enables you to cover the cost of your home. It's a legal agreement with the bank saying you will pay the loan back (plus interest) over the course of years—decades, usually. Unless you have the money to pay cash for your property, you’re going to need a mortgage.
Some people don’t know the first thing about getting a mortgage loan. They hear reports of dropping interest rates and lower home prices and hastily decide to jump into home ownership. But the process of getting a home loan differs from getting a car loan or renting an apartment, and applicants who don’t recognize these key differences are often disappointed when a lender denies their mortgage loan application.
If you and your loan servicer cannot agree on a repayment plan or other remedy, you may want to investigate filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have a regular income, Chapter 13 may allow you to keep property, like a mortgaged house or car, that you might otherwise lose. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to use your future income toward payment of your debts during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender the property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, you receive a discharge of certain debts.
DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is working aggressively to halt and reverse the losses represented by foreclosure. Through its National Servicing Center (NSC), FHA offers a number of various loss mitigation programs and informational resources to assist FHA-insured homeowners and home equity conversion mortgage (HECM) borrowers facing financial hardship or unemployment and whose mortgage is either in default or at risk of default.
"I don't know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Mortgage Help. After a long and expensive battle with medical bills, I faced foreclosure of a home that has been in my family for over 100 years. I was finally able to get a successful loan modification and a payment I can afford in order to take care of my home. I'd have lost everything if it wasn't for their assistance."
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Grants are awarded through a rather competitive application process. The applications themselves are quite complex and failing to answer any question could result in a denial. The good news is that there is literally millions of dollars in grant money made available each year. Many grants are offered only to minorities or to applicants meeting certain qualifications, such as earning a low income. These restrictions reduce the number of applications, meaning that there is less competition for the award. There is also no limit to the number of times an applicant can apply for a grant, which even further increases the odds of receiving the offered funds.
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In addition to higher credit score requirements, several missed payments, frequent lateness, and other derogatory credit information can stop mortgage approvals. Pay your bills on time, lower your debts, and stay on top of your credit report. Cleaning up your credit history beforehand and fixing errors on your credit report are key to keeping up a good credit score.
Short Sale: Your servicers may allow you to sell the home yourself before it forecloses on the property, agreeing to forgive any shortfall between the sale price and the mortgage balance. This approach avoids a damaging foreclosure entry on your credit report. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence 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, contact the IRS, and consider consulting a financial advisor, accountant, or attorney.
Many Community Action Agencies have programs and resources that homeowners can take advantage of. While they primarily focus on providing counseling, some of the community action agencies can provide cash grants, mediation services, and other tools to help a homeowner prevent or stop a foreclosure filing. Even if they don’t offer direct financial aid or can’t meet your specific need, almost all agencies can provide referrals and guidance. Find how to apply for free foreclosure counseling from community action agencies.

A commission-based mortgage lender will primarily be motivated by closing your mortgage, whether or not the terms of the mortgage are in your best interest. With salary-based mortgage consultants, you won’t have to worry that your mortgage lender is locking you into a huge financial commitment in order to make their own mortgage payment for the month. Interest rates change daily and vary based on your financial situation. So, you want to be sure your loan officer or consultant takes the time to get you to know your current finances, as well as your outlook and goals.
"I don't know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Mortgage Help. After a long and expensive battle with medical bills, I faced foreclosure of a home that has been in my family for over 100 years. I was finally able to get a successful loan modification and a payment I can afford in order to take care of my home. I'd have lost everything if it wasn't for their assistance."
Short sale can be an alternative to a foreclosure, and it will allow you to sell your home for less than the current outstanding mortgage balance on it. While this can be a drawn out process and take time, this option is becoming more common and acceptable by banks, real estate agents and servicers. Learn more on how short sales can stop foreclosures.
In addition to a down payment, you will also have to pay closing costs to finalize your loan. This can be a substantial amount of money, so it’s important to plan ahead and be aware of the amount you will likely have to bring to the table. Make sure you have budgeted and saved up enough for these fees in advance, so they don’t catch you by surprise.
Typically offered by lenders, loan modification programs are designed to make your mortgage fit within your budget. If your income has decreased due to layoff, reduction in hours, reduction in hourly pay, or emergency expenses, you can go to your lender and explain why you can't pay the mortgage. If they offer loan modification programs, they can reduce their interest rates, keep your payment within a certain percentage of your income, increase or decrease the length of the loan, or negate certain penalty fees. Loan modifications are rarely sweeping, one-size-fits-all type deals. They take time to set up, and only provide indirect assistance by modifying your debt. They don't put cash directly into your pocket. For this reason, they're not useful as emergency mortgage assistance, but they can help if you're struggling just a little bit.

One common mistake among first-timers and repeat buyers alike is accepting the first mortgage that's offered. A seemingly small difference in rates can save you thousands of dollars over the course of a 30-year mortgage, and as long as all of your mortgage applications take place within a short time period, the additional inquiries won't have an adverse effect on your credit score.
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.

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.

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.

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.


Interest – This is what you are paying to borrow the money for your home. It is calculated based on the interest rate, how much principal is outstanding and the time period during which you are paying it back. At the beginning of the loan repayment period, most of your payment actually is going toward interest, with a small portion going against paying down the principal. Over time this will reverse and more of your payment will go toward reducing the loan balance.
As an example, when I was buying my first home, my lender called me three days before closing to let me know that my credit score had fallen to one point below the threshold for my interest rate, so I would either have to take an action that would improve my credit score immediately or accept a significantly higher interest rate. The solution required me to pay off one of my credit cards and fax proof of it to the lender -- not an impossible situation, but certainly a hassle when I was told it had to be done right away and I was at work.
Typically forbearance agreements have a deadline, after which the holder is expected to begin paying the monthly mortgage again, in full. In this regard, they are a sort of band-aid fix - great for emergencies, but no good if you expect that the emergency situation is going to become permanent. Once the forbearance period has expired, you have three courses of action:
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:

Insurance: This will be paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice; this is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.
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 a number of programs to assist homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure and otherwise struggling with their monthly mortgage payments. The majority of these programs are administered through the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD. This page provides a summary of these various programs. Please continue reading in order to determine which program can best assist you.
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.
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.

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If you and your loan servicer cannot agree on a repayment plan or other remedy, you may want to investigate filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have a regular income, Chapter 13 may allow you to keep property, like a mortgaged house or car, that you might otherwise lose. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to use your future income toward payment of your debts during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender the property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, you receive a discharge of certain debts.
Interest – This is what you are paying to borrow the money for your home. It is calculated based on the interest rate, how much principal is outstanding and the time period during which you are paying it back. At the beginning of the loan repayment period, most of your payment actually is going toward interest, with a small portion going against paying down the principal. Over time this will reverse and more of your payment will go toward reducing the loan balance.

Yes, Keep Your Home California will continue to pay Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefits to a homeowner’s servicer even if the homeowner exhausts their California Employment Development Department benefits, and remain not fully employed, during the time of Unemployment Mortgage Assistance. Keep Your Home California will stop benefit payments if the homeowner becomes fully re-employed or if it determines that the home is listed for sale, the homeowner is renting or no longer occupying the property, or the homeowner is actively negotiating a Short Sale or Deed in Lieu of foreclosure with their Servicer.


Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.
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.**
That depends of you and your goals for this purchase. Is this the house you plan to stay in forever? Is it a starter home you plan on selling to trade up in five years? How long you think you’ll stay in a home will help you decide between fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages. It will also help you decide whether to focus on interest rate or points.
While it's true that the interest rates in the mortgage-backed bonds market are the primary determinant of the mortgage rate lenders charge, individual factors can impact the ultimate rate your bank offers you as an individual borrower. You are likely to receive a lower interest rate if you have a good-to-excellent credit score. If your score is poor, expect to pay a higher interest rate, and your bank might even turn down your loan request. Variable-rate mortgages often start with a low “teaser” rate, but the rate might rise sharply later, well above fixed mortgage rates. Many banks and credit unions offer loans that are guaranteed by a federal agency, such as the Federal Housing Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Veterans Administration. In some cases, these agencies make direct loans. Agency mortgages typically have lower interest rates than conventional mortgages. Rates also can vary from state to state. Furthermore, rates for rural homes might differ from those on urban property. Small or jumbo mortgages often have higher interest rates. You might reduce your interest rate by increasing your down payment or agreeing to a shorter-term mortgage.

If you are receiving any sort of financial assistance or even a financial gift for your down payment from someone make sure that you are depositing it into your account at least two months prior to applying for your mortgage. That way the bank will not need to source the large deposit. If this is not done then the gifter will have to write a letter stating that the money was truly a gift and not a loan. If you are needing a loan for the down payment the lender may see this as a sign of financial dependence and it may hurt your chances of obtaining a loan.
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.
In some cases, you may not be required to provide all of that information. Some loans are referred to as low doc or no doc because they don't require you to prove any of the statements that you make to your underwriter. These loans are normally more expensive, but can be easier to obtain. Additionally, you can obtain a preauthorization before you submit an offer on a home you would like to buy. That can speed up the process, and also shows the seller that you are serious about the purchase.
Insurance: This will be paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice; this is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.
Another part of the payment you make goes towards the interest you owe the lender. For example, let’s say you borrow $300,000 for 30 years at 5%. Your payments will be about $1,600 a month. During the first year, almost all of that $1,600 goes towards interest unless you take an interest-only loan (which is not usually a good idea).  Let’s see why you mostly pay the interest during the first years of your mortgage.
The programs vary in what they can offer. In some cases direct financial assistance may be provided to help you pay your mortgage for a short period of time. Payment plans or reduced monthly payments may be offered. However most of the government programs and non-profit organizations will help facilitate some form of loan modification to qualified homeowners. This will provide families time to get back on track by ideally lowering their monthly payment, reducing interest rates or waiving fees.
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