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.
In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.
At the end of the day, your mortgage loan is the single biggest financial decision you’re likely to make in your life. It’s important to take time to get it right, and that ultimately comes down to finding a lender who can do three things: offer competitive rates, offer great service and quickly process your loan. By keeping these areas in mind, you’re not only going to win as you go to buy your house — you're going to also save money and time.
Lenders generally use two different debt ratios to determine how much you can borrow. The short version is that your monthly housing payment (including taxes and insurance) should be no more than 28% of your pre-tax income, and your total debt (including your mortgage payment) should be no more than 36%. The ratio that produces the lower payment is what the lender will use. Many lenders have more generous qualification ratios, but these are traditionally the most common.
Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Money shows. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010). For money savings links visit Ellie's blog.

Loans that are backed by the federal government (i.e., the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are designed to make buying homes more affordable and typically offer low down payments. Because conventional loans are not guaranteed by the federal government if the buyer defaults, they’re a higher risk for the banks, credit unions and other lenders that offer them. Conventional loans require larger down payments than most federally backed loans, but may offer lower interest rates and the flexibility to negotiate fees – usually resulting in a lower monthly payment.
Find information on the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program, which is the new federal government short sale program. This is a plan created by the Obama administration that provides financial incentives to both homeowners and lenders. It both encourages the parties to use short sale process by providing financial aid to banks and homeowners, and it also simplifies the process. Find more on the short sale program from HAFA.
You don’t need a zero balance on your credit cards to qualify for a mortgage loan. However, the less you owe your creditors, the better. Your debts determine if you can get a mortgage, as well as how much you can acquire from a lender. Lenders evaluate your debt-to-income ratio before approving the mortgage. If you have a high debt ratio because you’re carrying a lot of credit card debt , the lender can turn down your request or offer a lower mortgage. This is because your entire monthly debt payments — including the mortgage – shouldn’t exceed 36% of your gross monthly income. However, paying down your consumer debt before completing an application lowers your debt-to-income ratio and can help you acquire a better mortgage rate.
Know your credit score. As soon as you decide to start looking for a home, check your credit report and credit score with any of the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you find any mistakes that need to be corrected, addressing these issues early will put you in a better position when it’s time to buy a house. (Bank of America credit card clients can get a free FICO® score in Online and Mobile Banking.)
All mortgages are not created equal. Even if loans have the same interest rate, there could be differences in the points and fees that make one offer more expensive than another. It’s important to understand all of the components that go into determining the price of your mortgage, so you can accurately compare the offers being made. You can click here for a good explanation of the components of mortgage pricing.
Bank of America Foreclosure Prevention - From January 2008 thru current, BOA has modified hundreds of thousands of mortgages. Some of those home loans were originally issued and held by Countrywide. Bank of America offers homeowners several foreclosure and mortgage assistance programs, including modifications, principal reduction, short sales, interest rate reductions and other resources. The lender also has opened help centers in many major cities, which provide homeowners with one on one counseling and free advice. Read more on all of the Bank of America foreclosure programs.
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