You can get pre-qualified for a mortgage, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it's willing to lend you, and under what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.
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.
According to John Lyons, a broker and real estate agent in Chicago, getting a typical mortgage takes an average of 30 to 60 days. So if you’re itching to buy right away, you’ll want to start the pre-approval process soon so you’re ready to go when you find the right house. Lyons recommends getting pre-approved by a reputable company and having all of your financial documentation ready in order to increase your chances of securing a mortgage in a timely fashion.
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.
In some cases, you may not be required to provide all of that information. Some loans are referred to as low doc or no doc because they don't require you to prove any of the statements that you make to your underwriter. These loans are normally more expensive, but can be easier to obtain. Additionally, you can obtain a preauthorization before you submit an offer on a home you would like to buy. That can speed up the process, and also shows the seller that you are serious about the purchase.
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.
Research your utilities. If you're moving into a larger home than you're used to, a home that is newer or older than you're used to or located in a climate that's hotter or colder than you're used to, ask your real estate professional to find out what the home's energy bills have typically been. This can help prevent being surprised by a higher utility bill than you're expecting. If you're moving into a new community, find out about water costs, too.
Home equity loans are also referred to as second mortgages because you use your equity as collateral. If you obtain a home equity term loan, you will receive a lump sum and will have to make a monthly payment. You can also apply for a home equity line of credit, which provides you with access to a revolving account. That allows you to withdraw and repay money over the course of a specific period of time.
One of the easiest ways to obtain a mortgage loan is to work with your existing bank. If you already have a relationship with a bank in the US, the process of applying for a mortgage is relatively painless. However, you may find that your bank can't provide you with the best possible deal. It can pay off to speak with underwriters at different financial institutions. In addition to mortgage rates, you should also ask them about their origination fees and various closing costs and fees.
Fixed-rate mortgages offer stability in your mortgage payments. However, many ARMs start with a lower interest rate than fixed mortgages and lock the rate in for a few years. That can mean significantly lower payments in the early years of your loan, so some borrowers opt for an ARM with the intention of selling or refinancing their home before the rate can adjust.
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.
Apartment renting is great when you are a twenty-something college student and all of the best trendy restaurants are within walking distance of your home. It doesn’t take long, however, until those things slowly fade away and the desire to own a home becomes more than a thought. This is usually the point where you realize you need to evaluate your finances if you are going to apply for a home loan. Fast forward to the point where you have made the decision to buy a home and you are getting an approval. The bank comes back to you saying that you did not get approved for the loan. It can be devastating but if you know the reasons why you can’t qualify for a loan, the easier it will be to work on fixing them so that your dream of owning a home can become a reality.
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.
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.
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.