Your credit score can make a big difference in how much home you can afford and how much interest you'll end up paying. For example, if you're obtaining a $200,000 mortgage and have a FICO score of 750, you can expect to pay $138,324 in interest over the term of a 30-year mortgage as of this writing. On the other hand, with a score of 650, you can expect to pay almost $35,000 more. MyFICO.com has an excellent calculator that can tell you the cost of your credit score. Before you start the homebuying process, it can be a good idea to check your credit report and FICO score and to do damage control if necessary.
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.
Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: You voluntarily transfer your property title to the servicers (with the servicer’s agreement) in exchange for cancellation of the remainder of your debt. Though you lose the home, a deed in lieu of foreclosure can be less damaging to your credit than a foreclosure. You will lose any equity in the property, although under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe. However, it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS. A deed in lieu of foreclosure may not be an option for you if other loans or obligations are secured by your home.

You may have heard that you should put 20 percent down when you purchase a home. It’s true that having a large down payment makes it easier to get a mortgage and may even lower your interest rate. But many people have a hard time scraping together a down payment that large. Fortunately, there are many options for homebuyers with little money for a down payment. FHA loans offer down payments as low as 3.5 percent. VA and USDA loans may require no down payment at all.
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.

When you apply for a mortgage loan in the US, you will typically deal with an underwriter. Most underwriters work for banks, but you can also choose to work with a brokerage. Mortgage brokers don't provide loans directly, but have relationships with a number of lenders. Regardless of the type of underwriter you work with, you will typically be required to:

When the fixed rate period ends, you’ll usually be automatically transferred onto your lender’s standard variable rate, which will typically be higher than any special deal you’ve been on. At this point you’ll see your interest payments increase. However, you will be free to remortgage to a new mortgage deal, which may help keep your payments down.


DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
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.
Typically forbearance agreements have a deadline, after which the holder is expected to begin paying the monthly mortgage again, in full. In this regard, they are a sort of band-aid fix - great for emergencies, but no good if you expect that the emergency situation is going to become permanent. Once the forbearance period has expired, you have three courses of action:
If you are experiencing difficulties making your mortgage payments, you are encouraged to contact your lender or loan servicer directly to inquire about foreclosure prevention options that are available. If you are experiencing difficulty communicating with your mortgage lender or servicer about your need for mortgage relief, there are organizations that can help by contacting lenders and servicers on your behalf.
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?
DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
With an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM, the interest rate—and therefore the amount of the monthly payment—can change. These loans start with a fixed rate for a pre-specified timeframe of 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years typically. After that time, the interest rate can change each year. What the rate changes to depend on the market rates and what is outlined in the mortgage agreement.
Why would anyone get a loan with a prepayment penalty? Some lenders offer very low (and therefore tempting) interest rates in exchange. Also, some borrowers agree to loans with penalties if they have bad credit and it’s the only way they can get the loan. Mostly, a prepayment penalty is a financial decision. There are situations where accepting a prepayment penalty on a loan can save you thousands of dollars in interest.
Several utility companies are part of this organization and participate in the program. Grants are available for needy families and individuals and they can provide assistance with a wide variety of needs. For example, prescription medications, eyeglasses, artificial limbs, medical care and bills, wheelchairs, ramps or other handicap renovations are examples of the grants awarded each month. However, please note that no utility bills are paid through this program. Call your utility company and ask about Operation Round Up.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.

The annual percentage rate (APR) includes fees and points to arrive at an effective annual rate. Because different lenders charge different fees and structure loans differently, the APR is the best way to compare what each lender is offering. For example, Lender A may offer you an astounding 2.0 percent interest rate that sounds far better than Lender B’s 3.5 percent. But Lender A is including points and exorbitant fees. So the APR, or what you’ll really be paying could be higher for Lender A even though the interest rate is lower. APR helps you compare apples to apples.
Grants are awarded through a rather competitive application process. The applications themselves are quite complex and failing to answer any question could result in a denial. The good news is that there is literally millions of dollars in grant money made available each year. Many grants are offered only to minorities or to applicants meeting certain qualifications, such as earning a low income. These restrictions reduce the number of applications, meaning that there is less competition for the award. There is also no limit to the number of times an applicant can apply for a grant, which even further increases the odds of receiving the offered funds.
This is the distinguishing characteristic of a fixed mortgage. The interest rate you start off with stays with you for as long as you keep the loan, even if you keep it for the full 30-year term. The rate assigned to an adjustable mortgage, on the other hand, can change over time. These are very important differences, from a home buyer’s perspective.
Your real estate agent is a vital and important partner in finding and buying your next home, but it’s important that you choose your lender rather than blindly going with who your agent recommends. The reality is sometimes there is a financial tie between your real estate company and the lender it refers. In this case, as always, it’s important to closely compare rates with other lenders. Family and friends who have recently purchased a home, as well as trusted professionals who work with lenders can help steer you in the right direction. If you find a lender that wasn’t referred by your agent, ask your agent to do a quick phone interview with the lender to be sure you’re not missing anything.
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.
This is the number of years during which you will be making payments on your mortgage. The most popular mortgage is a 30-year fixed, with 15-year fixed coming next. Common terms for fixed mortgages are 15 and 30 years, but some banks offer mortgages in other five-year increments from 10 to 40 years. Stretching out payments over 30 years or more will mean that your monthly outlay will be lower, but the overall cost of your home will be more because you’ll be paying interest for more years. To make your home cost less, choose a shorter term, such as 15 years.
The next step is to thoroughly research these grants to ensure that you satisfy the eligibility criteria and complete their applications. The complexity of grant applications makes it worthless to apply for grants for which you are ineligible. Save your time by only completing applications for those grants that you feel you have a chance of receiving. Non-profit housing organizations and your city's housing authority may be able to assist you with your application.

With an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM, the interest rate—and therefore the amount of the monthly payment—can change. These loans start with a fixed rate for a pre-specified timeframe of 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years typically. After that time, the interest rate can change each year. What the rate changes to depend on the market rates and what is outlined in the mortgage agreement.
You borrow money from a mortgage lender to buy a house. You close on the loan and sign a bunch of paperwork. The deed is transferred to you, giving you ownership of the property. You now have a financial agreement with the lender. You’ve agreed to repay your 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan with regular payments each month. You’ve also agreed to pay interest, which will be included within your monthly payments.

As interest rates rise, so does your monthly payment, with each payment applied to interest and principal in the same manner as a fixed-rate mortgage, over a set number of years. Lenders often offer lower interest rates for the first few years of an ARM, but then rates change frequently after that – as often as once a year. The initial interest rate on an ARM is significantly lower than a fixed-rate mortgage.
Typically, you'll need a minimum of a 620 FICO score to qualify for a conventional mortgage, and it can be difficult to qualify with a score that's near the minimum if your other qualifications aren't stellar. Another option is the FHA mortgage, which is designed for borrowers with qualifications that don't meet the standards of conventional lenders. The downside is that FHA loans can be significantly more expensive, but they can be great resources for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage.
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.
DO THIS: SET UP A QUICK MEETING WITH YOUR LOAN OFFICER TO SEE IF YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM A REFINANCE TO REDUCE YOUR MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENTS. YOU COULD ALSO REFINANCE TO CONSOLIDATE YOUR CREDIT CARD, LOAN, AND OTHER DEBT TO LOWER YOUR INTEREST RATES; TO FINANCE HOME RENOVATIONS OR EXTENSIONS BY USING THE EQUITY ON YOUR EXISTING HOME; OR TO GET A NEW HOME LOAN WITH BETTER FEATURES, LIKE AN OFFSET ACCOUNT OR REDRAW FACILITY.
Typically, you can take up to 60 percent of your initial principal limit in the first year of your reverse mortgage. This is known as your first-year draw limit. If the amount you owe on an existing mortgage or other required payments exceeds this amount, you can take out extra money to pay off that loan and associated fees, as well as additional cash of up to 10 percent of your principal limit.
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Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
Example – A $200,000 five-to-one-year adjustable-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) starts with an annual interest rate of 4% for five years, and then the rate is allowed to change by .25% every year. This ARM has an interest cap of 12%. Payment amount for months one through 60 is $955 each. Payment for 61 through 72 is $980. Payment for 73 through 84 is $1,005. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in these figures.) You can calculate your costs online for an ARM.
Amortization is what you are actually paying per year against your loan. You can get a mortgage with a term of 10, 15 or 30 years. You pay each month and the principal decreases until it’s paid off. The payments don’t change but at the beginning of the term, most of the payment is going toward interest. By the end of the term, that’s flipped and you’ll be paying down the mortgage principal.
On the other hand, if you know you will be selling in the not-too-distant future, the lower interest rate that comes with an ARM might make sense. Even if rates jump in a few years, you’ll be selling anyway so it won’t impact you. You can also select a hybrid ARM that is fixed for a certain number of years (3, 5, 7 or 10) then adjusts annually for the remainder of the loan. The risk with an ARM is that if you don’t sell, your payments may go up and you may not be able to refinance.
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).

The United Way's 2-1-1 hotline connects people with local assistance programs. By dialing 2-1-1, you can receive referrals to organizations that help with food, housing, employment, health care, prescriptions and more. If you are a struggling homeowner, the United Way can help you find a foreclosure prevention counselor and refer you to available mortgage assistance programs. Trained specialists take calls day or night. The United Way may also provide emergency financial assistance to households in danger of losing their homes. Programs vary among locations.
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?
Yes, if a homeowner lists their home for sale during the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefit assistance period, they are required to immediately notify the Keep Your Home California program of this change of circumstance. If during the benefit period of the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program it is determined that your home is listed for sale or you are actively negotiating a Short Sale or Deed in Lieu of foreclosure with their Servicer, Keep Your Home California reserves the right to terminate benefit assistance. Homeowners should call (888) 953-3722, Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You should know where your credit score stands before you start looking for a home or begin the mortgage process. Even if you think you have perfect credit, there may be issues or mistakes on your credit report that you are not aware of. A mistake on your credit report can seriously cost you in the long run. If your credit is less than perfect, you can work to build up your credit and hold off on buying a home until your credit has improved, or you can apply for an FHA loan. FHA-insured loans are less risky for lenders, allowing them to offer more lenient qualification standards. Because FHA loan programs offer easier qualifying guidelines than many other loan types, they can be a good option for borrowers who have poor credit.

Many homeowners pay their mortgages on time, but are not able to refinance to take advantage of today’s lower mortgage rates, mainly due to a significant decrease in the value of their home. A Home Affordable Refinance will help borrowers refinance their first mortgage even if the balance owed is more than 100% of the home value. For example, let’s say the amount you owe on your first mortgage is $500,000. You may be able to refinance even if the home value is now only $400,000.
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