Remember that whenever you apply for a loan, including a mortgage, the “hard inquiry” the lenders make shows up on your credit report and temporarily lowers your score. Applying for several mortgages in a two week period only counts as one inquiry, but if you drag it out and canvas as many lenders over a longer period, you’ll end up doing damage to your score, which could result in a lower rate than you were hoping for.
Your real estate agent is a vital and important partner in finding and buying your next home, but it’s important that you choose your lender rather than blindly going with who your agent recommends. The reality is sometimes there is a financial tie between your real estate company and the lender it refers. In this case, as always, it’s important to closely compare rates with other lenders. Family and friends who have recently purchased a home, as well as trusted professionals who work with lenders can help steer you in the right direction. If you find a lender that wasn’t referred by your agent, ask your agent to do a quick phone interview with the lender to be sure you’re not missing anything.
Many mortgage programs will require a 620 or higher credit score in order to qualify for a loan. Although, FHA loans are available to people with credit scores as low as 580. However, just because you have a 580 credit score doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify. Lenders look at a lot more than just your credit score. You should have a relatively clean credit history over the past 12 months, with no late payments or collections.
It is important to find a mortgage lender who offers a wide variety of mortgage programs. If your lender only offers a limited range of programs, they may lock you into a suboptimal mortgage when there would be better options available for your situation elsewhere. Check to see if your lender offers programs like FHA loans or VA mortgages before moving forward with their services.
When working out the terms of your mortgage loan, it is important to understand all aspects of the loan, including your interest rates, amortization schedule, and payment terms (such as, for example, whether you can prepay extra principal payments on your mortgage if your budget allows). Pay attention to detail, as what may seem like slight adjustments can actually have a big impact on the amount you end up paying.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
To qualify you for a conventional loan, your lender will consider whether you have stable and reliable income. It may require copies of paystubs, W-2s, income tax returns and other documentation to make an assessment. Frequently changing jobs will not necessarily disqualify you for a conventional mortgage, if you can show that you’ve earned a consistent and predictable income.
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.
It’s equally important to find a lender who has access to — and knowledge in — down payment assistance programs. There are many options available to first-time home buyers and seasoned buyers. Options vary by county and state, but the right lender is going to know exactly what’s available to you. This is a great way to save even more money each month.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare insurance rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less-expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may need to buy separate flood insurance.
You can opt for an interest-only mortgage where, as the name suggests, you just pay the interest every month. However, you’ll have to pay off the capital eventually so it’s important to have a repayment plan in place. The number of lenders offering interest-only mortgages has reduced over the last few years because there are concerns that many of those who have them have no repayment plan in place and could be left unable to pay back the capital at the end of the term.
Mortgage forbearance programs are offered by numerous lenders, including Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. Forbearance allows borrowers a temporary suspension of their monthly mortgage payments. So a homeowner will have time to explore their options, receive counseling, or modify their loan during this timeframe. In addition, a foreclosure on your home will not occur during the forbearance period. Learn more on mortgage forbearance.