The mortgage industry works a little differently in the US than it does in many other parts of the world. Mortgage loans are treated as commercial paper, which means that lenders can convey and assign them freely. That results in a situation where financial institutions bundle mortgage loans into securities that people can invest in. The purpose of this system is to quickly free up money for the financial institutions to lend out in the form of new mortgages. The US also has a number of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that exist to facilitate this system. Most mortgages have fixed rates, which is also a departure from the variable rates that are commonly found in Europe and elsewhere.
That depends of you and your goals for this purchase. Is this the house you plan to stay in forever? Is it a starter home you plan on selling to trade up in five years? How long you think you’ll stay in a home will help you decide between fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages. It will also help you decide whether to focus on interest rate or points.
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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.
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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.
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.
Bank of America Foreclosure Prevention - From January 2008 thru current, BOA has modified hundreds of thousands of mortgages. Some of those home loans were originally issued and held by Countrywide. Bank of America offers homeowners several foreclosure and mortgage assistance programs, including modifications, principal reduction, short sales, interest rate reductions and other resources. The lender also has opened help centers in many major cities, which provide homeowners with one on one counseling and free advice. Read more on all of the Bank of America foreclosure programs.