There are quite a few mortgages out there, and choosing the right one means doing your homework and researching the different options available to you. It’s important that you understand the differences between types of mortgages, so you should also talk with a reputable mortgage professional early on in the process. Here are a few tips to help you do your research:
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.
The possibility of losing your home because you can’t make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. Perhaps you’re having trouble making ends meet because you or a family member lost a job, or you’re having other financial problems. Or maybe you’re one of the many consumers who took out a mortgage that had a fixed rate for the first two or three years and then had an adjustable rate – and you want to know what your payments will be and whether you’ll be able to make them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
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.
This makes the 30-year fixed-rate home loan very different from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). An adjustable loan, as its name suggests, has an interest rate that can change over time. But the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage remains true to its name, keeping the same interest rate (and the same monthly payment amount) through the entire repayment term.
Tax benefits. The tax code currently provides tax benefits for homeownership. You may be eligible for a deduction for the interest paid on your mortgage, private mortgage insurance premiums, points or loan origination fees, and real estate taxes. And when you sell your primary residence, you may be able to exclude all or part of your gain on the sale of your home from taxable income.
The key takeaway: ask specific questions. See how each lender goes about the process of closing a loan and find out what additional fees you will have to pay. Asking questions is also a great way to gain insight into the lender’s level of professionalism and communication skills. Remember, you’ll be sharing a lot of personal information and placing a lot of trust in this person. Do your due diligence and you're certain to find the best mortgage lender.
Start by asking someone you know who has recently gotten a mortgage to see if they would recommend their lender. Ask a financial adviser, business colleague or real estate agent you know to help you write a short list of referrals. An agent should be able to provide you at least two options. Anything less, and you might question whether there’s a financial interest in the relationship between the agent and the mortgage company they suggest. Often national lenders referred by agents end up offering higher interest rates when compared to local mortgage companies.
The first thing lenders will probably do when you apply for a mortgage loan is to check your credit; you should, too. There’s no better time for regular credit monitoring than when you’re trying to prove your creditworthiness to a lender so you can get the best possible rates. You want to make sure that your credit report is as accurate as possible, your scores are where you want them to be, and no one else is getting access to your credit, possibly harming your scores.
Look at properties that cost less than the amount you were approved for. Although you can technically afford your preapproval amount, it’s the ceiling — and it doesn’t account for other monthly expenses or problems like a broken dishwasher that arise during homeownership, especially right after you buy. Shopping with a firm budget in mind will also help when it comes time to make an offer.
In addition, Countrywide will be spending billions of dollars to modify mortgages as a result of a lawsuit they settled with the federal government. Many state governments sued the lender for all of the questionable home loans that they issued to uninformed borrowers, and the funds to the settlement will go directly to helping homeowners. Find more details on the free mortgage modification from Countrywide.