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.
Know how much cash you'll need at closing. When you buy your home, you’ll need cash for a down payment (see how much you should put down) and closing costs (estimate your closing costs). The down payment typically varies from 5% to 20% or more. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (keep reading for more on that). Closing costs could be about 3-7% of the total loan amount and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.
If you do not shop multiple lenders, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if you are sure this is the lender you want to use, getting quotes from other lenders can help you negotiate a better deal. Not every lender will give you the same mortgage rate, or closing costs. This is why shopping multiple lenders is very important. Getting at least 3 or 4 loan offers is recommended.
As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.
John and Anne are a retired couple, aged 72 and 68, who want to stay in their home, but need to boost their monthly income to pay living expenses. They would like to remodel their kitchen. They have heard about reverse mortgage loans, but didn’t know the details. They decide to contact a reverse mortgage loan advisor to discuss their current needs and future goals.
Oftentimes, rates you see in advertisements online aren’t necessarily for the loans you qualify for. So you’ll need to investigate. Interest rates vary by location and can change daily. And they vary depending on your specific financial picture, such as income, credit score, and debts. A good place to get an idea of what rates are available to you right now is to search for interest rates on Zillow. You can get free quotes anonymously, based on your specific financial picture, so you don’t have to worry about being hassled. You’ll also be able to see mortgage rates from multiple lenders so you can easily compare rates.
Freddie Mac has also opened Borrower Help Centers in several cities around the country. The centers will provide people with direct access to a housing specialist. Meet with a counselor to explore options for mortgage assistance, including loan modifications, overall debt counseling, and other resources to deal with a delinquent mortgage and other financial problems. Find a Borrower Help Center to learn more.
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.
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.
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.