The last thing any homeowner wants is to face the stress of being behind on their mortgage payment, or worse yet, to think about, and possibly lose the family home to foreclosure or unpaid property taxes. No one ever plans to or expects to lose their home to foreclosure. But by understanding how you can obtain assistance with making your mortgage payments, who and how to ask for help, and what to do, you can reduce your chances of this occurring. Communication and being pro-active is one of they keys. You should also know the foreclosure process inside and out, and understand what may lead up to it. That will place you in a better position to address and also recognize any potential problems that may impact your ability to pay every bill and make every mortgage payment on time.
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.
If you have lost your job, had a reduction in work hours or income, or are unemployed, then you may qualify for assistance. Homeowners can receive mortgage help from the federal government Home Affordable Unemployment Program. This program can reduce someone’s monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months, which will provide an individual time to find a new job. Read more on the unemployment mortgage program.
Unlike traditional mortgage loans, this does not have a set monthly payment with a term attached to it. It is more like a credit card than a traditional mortgage because it is revolving debt where you will need to make a minimum monthly payment. You can also pay down the loan and then draw out the money again to pay bills or to work on another project. Your home is at risk if you default on the loan. Many people prefer this loan because of the flexibility. You only have to take out as much as you need, which can save you money in interest.
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.
It’s equally important to find a lender who has access to — and knowledge in — down payment assistance programs. There are many options available to first-time home buyers and seasoned buyers. Options vary by county and state, but the right lender is going to know exactly what’s available to you. This is a great way to save even more money each month.
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.
Typically your lender will want to see a couple of months of mortgage payments in reserves. A lender does not want to give a mortgage loan to someone who is depleting all of their savings to qualify. The more reserves you have the better. Having a large amount of savings can sometimes make it a little easier to qualify for a mortgage. A large amount of reserves is seen as a compensating factor, it could help make up for having flawed credit.
Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
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Catholic Charities assist people in need regardless of religion, race and background. The agencies offer emergency financial assistance for people who suffer a crisis, such as a job loss, unexpected medical expenses, car repairs or a death in the family. Although an unpaid mortgage qualifies under the Emergency Assistance Program, some locations have specific programs designed to provide mortgage help. The Housing Counseling Program helps homeowners find a permanent solution to avoid foreclosure.
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Note that the Hope for Homeowners program indicated above has been expanded. Families can now receive aid on a second mortgage, and more lenders are participating and cooperating with the FHA. Banks and lenders have been provided further incentive to participate in the program. Find how the FHA Expanded Hope for Homeowners to assist more borrowers.
The internet is filled with “discount” mortgage financing options with great rates, but often they are not able to quickly close your mortgage or offer you the level of service you need. On the other end of the spectrum you have the large, national mortgage companies that purport to offer both great service and value but in reality are not able to give you a competitive rate, and the service is not on the level you might receive from a local company.
The lease/buy back: Homeowners are deceived into signing over the deed to their home to a scam artist who tells them they will be able to remain in the house as a renter and eventually buy it back. Usually, the terms of this scheme are so demanding that the buy-back becomes impossible, the homeowner gets evicted, and the “rescuer” walks off with most or all of the equity.
The good news for today’s FHA borrowers is that roughly 3,000 zip codes got a 7-percent hike in FHA loan limits this year. Now homebuyers can borrow up to $314,827, an increase from last year’s $294,515. In more costly areas, loan limits rose to $726,525 from $679,650. These higher limits offer buyers access to a bigger piece of the market, especially as home prices continue to climb upwards.
Your credit score. Your credit score is one of the most significant factors in getting approved for a mortgage, and it also influences the interest rate you’ll end up with. The better your score, the lower your rate will likely be and the less you’ll pay in interest. You’re entitled to free credit reports each year from the three major credit bureaus, so request them from annualcreditreport.com and dispute any errors that may be dragging your score down.
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.
Because the interest rate is not locked in, the monthly payment for this type of loan will change over the life of the loan. Most ARMs have a limit or cap on how much the interest rate may fluctuate, as well as how often it can be changed. When the rate goes up or down, the lender recalculates your monthly payment so that you’ll make equal payments until the next rate adjustment occurs.
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.
Amortization. Each mortgage payment is split so that part goes to paying the principal and the rest goes to interest. In the early years of your mortgage, interest makes up a greater part of your overall payment, but as time goes on, the principal becomes a larger portion because you have a smaller amount of principal to charge interest against. Your lender will provide an amortization schedule (a table showing the breakdown of each payment).
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is working aggressively to halt and reverse the losses represented by foreclosure. Through its National Servicing Center (NSC), FHA offers a number of various loss mitigation programs and informational resources to assist FHA-insured homeowners and home equity conversion mortgage (HECM) borrowers facing financial hardship or unemployment and whose mortgage is either in default or at risk of default.
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.
Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications may include reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A modification also may involve reducing the amount of money you owe on your primary residence by forgiving, or cancelling, a portion of the mortgage debt. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, see www.irs.gov. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income or increased payments on an ARM.
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.
Refinancing your mortgage simply means you’ll be replacing your current mortgage with a new home loan. You’ll get a new rate, new terms and conditions, new closing costs, and the possibility to choose a new lender. Refinancing can be a good idea when mortgage rates are low (as we saw at times in the past year) or when and if your home has seen a big jump in its market value.**
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.
“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
Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.