A mortgage is essentially a loan for purchasing property—typically a house—and the legal agreement behind that loan. That agreement is between the lender and the borrower. The lender agrees to loan the borrower the money over time in exchange for ownership of the property and interest payments on top of the original loan amount. If the borrower defaults on the loan—fails to make payments—the lender sell the property to someone else. When the loan is paid off, actual ownership of the property transfers to the borrower.
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.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.
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.
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.
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
In today’s competitive market, many buyers skip this important step when they start looking for a home. A pre-approval allows you to confirm how large of a loan you can qualify for based on several factors. It also positions you to make a serious offer when you find the home you want to buy. For a pre-approval, the lender verifies the buyer’s application information through income and asset documents provided by you or retrieved directly by the mortgage company. Many lenders can also provide a “prequalification” online, based on unverified information provided by the buyer. However, most sellers don’t give much value to a letter that doesn’t state the information has been validated. The most important thing is to take the time to provide what is needed for a thorough pre-approval process.
Find information on mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs from various companies, federal government agencies, non-profits, HUD counseling agencies, banks and states. Numerous organizations have pledged to provide loan modification and other forms of mortgage help to millions of Americans. Resources are available that can help prevent or stop foreclosures as well as assist homeowners with paying their current and back mortgage payments.