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.)
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).
Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
Requirements for getting a mortgage loan often change, and if you are considering applying for a home loan in the near future, be ready to cough up the cash. Walking into a lender’s office with zero cash is a quick way to get your home loan application rejected. Mortgage lenders are cautious: Whereas they once approved zero-down mortgage loans, they now require a down payment.
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.
Once you research the types of financing available, determine which is best for your financial situation when buying a home: 15-year mortgage or 30, adjustable or fixed. If you are looking for security and a guarantee that payments won’t increase, a fixed rate mortgage might be the way to go. If you believe mortgage rates could still fluctuate and you want more flexibility, consider an adjustable rate mortgage.
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.
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.
The good news for today’s FHA borrowers is that roughly 3,000 zip codes got a 7-percent hike in FHA loan limits this year. Now homebuyers can borrow up to $314,827, an increase from last year’s $294,515. In more costly areas, loan limits rose to $726,525 from $679,650. These higher limits offer buyers access to a bigger piece of the market, especially as home prices continue to climb upwards.
For the majority of homebuyers, a fixed-rate loan is the best choice, especially in a low-interest environment like we're in now. However, if you don't plan on being in the home you buy for more than a few years, an adjustable-rate mortgage could save you thousands of dollars in interest. For example, if you're buying a home to live in during four years of graduate school, an adjustable-rate mortgage with a five-year initial rate period could be a smart idea.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.
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.
How much you can afford. Lenders will be happy to tell you how much they’re willing to lend you, but that’s not actually a good indication of how much house you can afford. Check out our affordability calculator to get an idea of where you stand before you start looking for houses. Remember that your monthly payment will be more than just principal and interest. It will also include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and, potentially, mortgage insurance (depending on your loan program and down payment). You’ll also need to factor in utilities and maintenance.
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.
Following the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent collapse of the housing bubble, many (but not all) real estate markets eventually recovered. Entered into in a prudent way, home ownership remains something you should consider in your long-term financial planning. Understanding how mortgages and their interest rates work is the best way to ensure that you're building that asset in the most financially beneficial way.
If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.
The key takeaway: ask specific questions. See how each lender goes about the process of closing a loan and find out what additional fees you will have to pay. Asking questions is also a great way to gain insight into the lender’s level of professionalism and communication skills. Remember, you’ll be sharing a lot of personal information and placing a lot of trust in this person. Do your due diligence and you're certain to find the best mortgage lender.
Forbearance: Your mortgage payments are reduced or suspended for a period you and your servicer agree to. At the end of that time, you resume making your regular payments as well as a lump sum payment or additional partial payments for a number of months to bring the loan current. Forbearance may be an option if your income is reduced temporarily (for example, you are on disability leave from a job, and you expect to go back to your full time position shortly). Forbearance isn’t going to help you if you’re in a home you can’t afford.
The NID-Housing Counseling Agency (NID-HCA) is a non-profit, HUD approved agency that assists homeowners with addressing financial situations including defaults and foreclosure, predatory lending, credit repair, referrals, foreclosure counseling, and other services. Their services are mostly free, and their goal is to help people stay in their homes. The NID Housing Counseling agency deals with a number of debt and foreclosure issues.