The prices for mortgage-backed bonds, and by extension, the mortgage rate a lender offers, are constantly responding to economic factors. In a strong economy, the rise in inflation (i.e., the general price level of goods and services) speeds up as greater demand increases competition for financing, goods, services and labor. This drives mortgage rates higher. A slow-down or recession causes mortgage rates to fall. The U.S. stock market is considered a leading indicator of economic activity. If it tanks, demand for investment shrinks and mortgage rates drop. Conversely, rates rise when the stock market is strong. When there is high unemployment, the economy is relatively weak and mortgage rates tend to fall. If jobs are easy to find, the economy is strong, and rates rise. Like the stock market, rising foreign markets indicate a strengthening world economy and higher rates. When foreign markets tumble, it puts downward pressure on interest rates.


Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
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.
While some agencies limit their counseling services to homeowners with FHA mortgages, many others offer free help to any homeowner who is having trouble making mortgage payments. Call the local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the housing authority in your state, city, or county for help in finding a legitimate housing counseling agency nearby. Or consider contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF); 888-995-HOPE. HPF is a nonprofit organization that partners with mortgage companies, local governments, and other organizations to help consumers get loan modifications and prevent foreclosures.

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.
Typically offered by lenders, loan modification programs are designed to make your mortgage fit within your budget. If your income has decreased due to layoff, reduction in hours, reduction in hourly pay, or emergency expenses, you can go to your lender and explain why you can't pay the mortgage. If they offer loan modification programs, they can reduce their interest rates, keep your payment within a certain percentage of your income, increase or decrease the length of the loan, or negate certain penalty fees. Loan modifications are rarely sweeping, one-size-fits-all type deals. They take time to set up, and only provide indirect assistance by modifying your debt. They don't put cash directly into your pocket. For this reason, they're not useful as emergency mortgage assistance, but they can help if you're struggling just a little bit.
Note: If you pay half your house payment every two weeks instead of one monthly payment, you’ll end up saving money on your loan. You’ll wind up paying 26 payments per year, one more payment annually than if you just paid monthly. The re-amortized loan will eventually result in more of the payment paid on principal and less on interest. The extra payments go to pay down the principal on the loan.
Many mortgages allow you to ‘port’ them to a new property, so you may be able to move your existing mortgage across to your next home. However, you will effectively have to apply for your mortgage again, so you’ll need to satisfy your lender that monthly payments remain affordable. It’ll be down to them to decide whether they’re happy to allow you to transfer your current deal over to your new property. Bear in mind too that there may be fees to pay for moving your mortgage.
Since there are so many different types of mortgage loans, it can be difficult to choose the best loan for your needs. If you want a set monthly payment and a definite period of time to pay off the loan, you should look primarily at home mortgage loans. This is a good option if you want to remodel, and you know exactly how much it is going to cost. A home equity loan gives you added flexibility since it is a revolving line of credit. This is a good option if you have several smaller projects you are working on and you are unsure of how much each will cost. It also gives you the opportunity to withdraw the money to cover other expenses like a wedding for your child or to help cover college expenses. Either option does put your home at risk if you default on your payments, even if you are current on your first mortgage. It is important to carefully consider your budget to make sure that you can afford the payments. Once you do this you can be confident in moving forward on either type of loan.
Example – A $200,000 fixed-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) at an annual interest rate of 4.5% will have a monthly payment of approximately $1,013. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in this figure.) The annual interest rate is broken down into a monthly rate as follows: An annual rate of, say, 4.5% divided by 12 equals a monthly interest rate of 0.375%. Every month you’ll pay 0.375% interest on the amount you actually owe on the house.
One common mistake among first-timers and repeat buyers alike is accepting the first mortgage that's offered. A seemingly small difference in rates can save you thousands of dollars over the course of a 30-year mortgage, and as long as all of your mortgage applications take place within a short time period, the additional inquiries won't have an adverse effect on your credit score.
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.

"In August 2006, my husband and I were notified by the mortgage company that our rate was going to adjust. I contacted them about locking in a rate, only to be told that they wouldn't be able to help. Our house payment went up $700/month. We struggled to put gas in our vehicles to get to work and to buy groceries. Then, a friend gave me the number to Iowa Mortgage Help. We are convinced that without the vast knowledge and assistance of Iowa Mortgage Help, we would have lost our home."
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.
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Manage your debt carefully after your home purchase. Sometimes your home will need new appliances, landscaping or maybe even a new roof. Planning for these expenses carefully can help you avoid one of the most common causes of missed mortgage payments: carrying too much debt. It's important not to overextend your credit card and other debts so you stay current on your 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 Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.

A grant is an award of money that does not need to be repaid. Grants are typically provided by non-profit organizations, housing agencies, state governments, and the federal government. Awarded funds are only usable for the purpose for which they were offered and most agencies require recipients to submit periodic updates demonstrating how the funds were used to ensure that they were not misappropriated.
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.
Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.
This example is based on Anne, the youngest borrower who is 68 years old, a variable rate HECM loan with an initial interest rate of 4.032% (which consists of a Libor index rate of 1.782% and a margin of 2.250%). It is based on an appraised value of $300,000, origination charges of $5,000, a mortgage insurance premium of $6,000, other settlement costs of $2,688, and a mortgage payoff of $35,000; amortized over 193 months, with total finance charges of $51,714.48 and an annual percentage rate of 4.53%. Interest rates may vary.
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?
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Money shows. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010). For money savings links visit Ellie's blog.
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.
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.
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.
Short sale can be an alternative to a foreclosure, and it will allow you to sell your home for less than the current outstanding mortgage balance on it. While this can be a drawn out process and take time, this option is becoming more common and acceptable by banks, real estate agents and servicers. Learn more on how short sales can stop foreclosures.
No. The purpose of the Keep Your Home California Program is to keep struggling homeowners in their home and prevent avoidable foreclosures. This program is not available for second homes or investment properties, which includes using the home as a rental property. If you lease or rent your home after you receive Keep Your Home California assistance you will be ineligible to receive further assistance and may be responsible to repay the benefit proceeds if you sell your home in the future. If during the active benefit period of any Keep Your Home California program it is determined that your home is vacant, non-owner occupied, and/or rented, Keep Your Home California reserves the right to terminate benefit assistance.
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.
*If a homeowner obtains a loan modification that changes the mortgage payment amount being made through the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, the Servicer is responsible for notifying Keep Your Home California of the change, so the amount of benefit assistance can be modified accordingly. As long as the homeowner was still qualified under program guidelines, Keep Your Home California would then process the payment change at the earliest possible funding date.
When working out the terms of your mortgage loan, it is important to understand all aspects of the loan, including your interest rates, amortization schedule, and payment terms (such as, for example, whether you can prepay extra principal payments on your mortgage if your budget allows). Pay attention to detail, as what may seem like slight adjustments can actually have a big impact on the amount you end up paying.
You may not receive mortgage approval the first time around. Sometimes you're just shy of meeting program qualifications. It happens. But, it doesn't mean you should be written off as a customer. Be sure to choose a lender who sees you for you, not just your credit score. At American Financing, we'll guide you through credit weaknesses and next steps, getting you one step closer to mortgage approval.
If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor—they’ve been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your counselor can develop a tailored plan of action for your situation and help you work with your mortgage company. They’re experienced in all of the available programs and a variety of financial situations. They can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.
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