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.

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.

A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyer's market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.
When you're shopping around, don't just check the big national mortgage lenders. Some regional or local banks may offer unique lending programs, especially for first-time homebuyers. For example, the young couple who bought a house from me a few years ago used a 100% financing program from Regions Financial that required no mortgage insurance for first-time buyers with outstanding credit.
Typically your lender will want to see a couple of months of mortgage payments in reserves. A lender does not want to give a mortgage loan to someone who is depleting all of their savings to qualify. The more reserves you have the better. Having a large amount of savings can sometimes make it a little easier to qualify for a mortgage. A large amount of reserves is seen as a compensating factor, it could help make up for having flawed credit.
With this in mind, it’s important to do research before choosing a mortgage lender. You not only want to compare the rates but also the level of service each lender provides. When comparing rates, be sure to get the estimates on the same day as rates can change daily. When reviewing level of service, ask how quickly they can process your loan. Is the lender available to personally help you choose the right product and rate, or are you waiting on hold for “the next available representative”?  Do they make you jump through hoops just to get a rate quote?
Your debt to income, or DTI. Is the amount of monthly debt payments you have compared to your monthly income. Most mortgages will allow a maximum DTI of 41%, ideally you will want a DTI ratio of no higher that 36%. See how much house you can afford using our calculator. Try not to stretch yourself too thin, if you have a high DTI you will be more likely to miss mortgage payments if an emergency comes up.

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.

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.
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The mortgage industry standard is a 20% down payment. However, you may be able to get a conventional mortgage with significantly less money up front -- as low as 3% of the purchase price in many cases. Specialized loan types, such as VA and USDA mortgages require no down payments at all for those who qualify. The point is that while a higher down payment will lower your monthly housing costs, you may be able to get into a home with less money in savings than you think.
Countrywide / Bank of America has announced a program to help 400,000 homeowners pay their mortgage and keep them in their homes. It will offer modifications, principal reductions, free counseling, and other aid. Some borrowers may receive financial assistance in relocating to a new more affordable home. Many beneficiaries of assistance from this program received questionable or sub-prime loans from Countrywide. Find how to get help from Countrywide with housing issues, and learn how BOA took over the lender.
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