When you apply for a mortgage, you'll need to document your income, employment situation, identity, and more, so it can be a good idea to start gathering the necessary documentation before you walk into a lender's office. This isn't an exhaustive list, but you should locate your last couple of tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, pay stubs, W-2s, driver's license, Social Security card, marriage license (if applicable), and contact numbers for your employer's HR department. Here's a more comprehensive list that can help you determine what you'll need.
Home ownership is just not a realistic option for everyone right now, despite what may look like once-in-lifetime mortgage rates. If you fall into this category, don’t despair. Your financial circumstances could change, the economy is still very much in flux, and remember that the current mortgage crisis involved a lot of home buyers getting in over their heads. When it comes to a major purchase like a home, timing is critical.
Coming up with a down payment can be the one of the biggest obstacles for first-time homebuyers. It can be challenging to save for a down payment, even if you have a steady income and decent credit score. But with the right planning and budgeting, you can reach your savings goals faster than you think. If you aren’t able to make a sizable down payment, another option is to use gift funds from a relative. As long as the borrower has 5% of their own money, gift funds can be used for the rest of the down payment. It’s also a good idea to talk to your lender to see if you qualify for down-payment assistance. Knowing what your options are and how much you will need to save before you start the process will help prevent any surprises along the way.
Everyone should make sure their credit score is as high as it possibly can be. If you high credit card balances, pay them below 15% of the credit limit. Dispute negative account information with the credit bureaus. Contact your creditors and negotiate a pay for delete. If you have a friend or family member with a credit card in good standing have them add you as an authorized user.
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.
In addition to a down payment, you will also have to pay closing costs to finalize your loan. This can be a substantial amount of money, so it’s important to plan ahead and be aware of the amount you will likely have to bring to the table. Make sure you have budgeted and saved up enough for these fees in advance, so they don’t catch you by surprise.
To be clear, you don't need a pre-approval to start looking at houses. However, since a pre-approval is essentially the same as a full mortgage approval, just without a specific home in mind, it can be an extremely valuable shopping tool. Specifically, if you submit a pre-approval along with your offer, it tells the seller that you're a serious buyer who is not likely to run into trouble when obtaining financing. One caveat: A pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different things. A pre-qualification is based solely on information you provide and is not a commitment to lend money, therefore it doesn't carry nearly as much weight.
Stay in your home during the process, since you may not qualify for certain types of assistance if you move out. Renting your home will change it from a primary residence to an investment property. Most likely, it will disqualify you for any additional “workout” assistance from the servicer. If you choose this route, be sure the rental income is enough to help you get and keep your loan current.
Also, JP Morgan Chase has opened dozens of Homeownership Centers across the country to provide face to face contact for troubled borrowers. Anyone can stop by a center in their region for free consultations and information. The face to face contact from a homeownership center will ensure the borrower receives the attention and service they deserve.
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.
Property tax help is available which will in effect free up a homeowner’s income. Since home values have declined in most parts of the nation, you are more than likely paying too much in real estate and property taxes. Learn how to lower your property taxes by contesting your property assessment. There is no cost to do this, and anyone can challenge the assessed value on their home.