A defining characteristic of a mortgage loan is that the loan is insured by some sort of real estate or property, over which the lender has conditional ownership, called a mortgage lien. When mortgage loans are used to purchase property or a home, the mortgage lien is the legal claim of the lender to the property or home in question. If the borrower defaults on their payments, the lender then has the right to seize the lien as collateral (foreclosure). A common misconception about mortgage loans is that they can only be used for home or property-related purchases, when in fact, the loan money can be used for any purpose. The loan must be insured by some sort of real property, but if the borrower already has some sort of real property to offer as collateral, the mortgage loan money itself can be used to pay off debt, start a business, etc. Some lenders do have certain conditions regarding how their mortgage loan money can be spent, but this varies by lending organization and specific loan.
Many real estate agents want you to be pre-qualified for a loan before they will start to work with you. The mortgage pre-qualification process is fairly simple, usually just requiring some financial information such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. Once you are pre-qualified, you will have a better sense of how much you can borrow and the price range of the homes you can afford.
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.
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.
If you do not shop multiple lenders, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if you are sure this is the lender you want to use, getting quotes from other lenders can help you negotiate a better deal. Not every lender will give you the same mortgage rate, or closing costs. This is why shopping multiple lenders is very important. Getting at least 3 or 4 loan offers is recommended.
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If there’s going to be a gap between the sale of your home and the purchase of your new property, some people apply for what’s known as a ‘bridging loan’ to bridge this gap. This type of loan means you can move into your new property before you’ve sold your home. However, these should only be considered a last resort as they usually very high interest rates and fees. Seek professional advice if you’re unsure, and if you’re considering this type of loan you must be comfortable with the risks involved as you’ll essentially own two properties for a period of time.
For the majority of homebuyers, a fixed-rate loan is the best choice, especially in a low-interest environment like we're in now. However, if you don't plan on being in the home you buy for more than a few years, an adjustable-rate mortgage could save you thousands of dollars in interest. For example, if you're buying a home to live in during four years of graduate school, an adjustable-rate mortgage with a five-year initial rate period could be a smart idea.
Find information on mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs from various companies, federal government agencies, non-profits, HUD counseling agencies, banks and states. Numerous organizations have pledged to provide loan modification and other forms of mortgage help to millions of Americans. Resources are available that can help prevent or stop foreclosures as well as assist homeowners with paying their current and back mortgage payments.