It’s easy to get carried away planning for the year ahead. But take a moment to put your goals and your numbers in perspective, especially when budgeting your monthly mortgage. This can apply to both refinancing and buying a house. “Standard guidelines call for keeping housing expenses below 35 percent of total income,” Kevin Gallegos, consumer finance expert at Freedom Debt Relief, says. “Some experts are revising that number down to 28 percent.”
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.
Know your credit score. As soon as you decide to start looking for a home, check your credit report and credit score with any of the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you find any mistakes that need to be corrected, addressing these issues early will put you in a better position when it’s time to buy a house. (Bank of America credit card clients can get a free FICO® score in Online and Mobile Banking.)
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).
Yes, the word “homework” makes us shudder too, but this time the reward is much bigger than memorizing geometry theorems or the periodic table. You’re finding a home but you’re also making a financial commitment you’ll have to live with for years: get the best deal you can. Research loans, rates and brokers exhaustively before you sign or commit to anything. Doing the hard work now will pay off down the road with a better rate and terms.
Lenders can initiate the foreclosure process after a single missed payment. Foreclosure is devastating and affects the entire community. Charities and non-profit organizations throughout the country help homeowners avoid foreclosure by offering financial assistance. The eligibility criteria to receive help varies among charities and locations. There are several national charitable organizations that can help you receive the necessary assistance to get back on track and keep your home.
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.
According to John Lyons, a broker and real estate agent in Chicago, getting a typical mortgage takes an average of 30 to 60 days. So if you’re itching to buy right away, you’ll want to start the pre-approval process soon so you’re ready to go when you find the right house. Lyons recommends getting pre-approved by a reputable company and having all of your financial documentation ready in order to increase your chances of securing a mortgage in a timely fashion.
NOTE: These programs are only available to homeowners whose mortgage servicing company agrees to the terms and conditions governing the use of these funds. If your servicer is not currently participating in Keep Your Home California, you may want to call them and encourage them to do so. A homeowner cannot receive assistance if their servicer has not signed an agreement with CalHFA MAC. See a list of participating servicers and which programs they are currently offering.

National policy favors homebuyers via the tax code (although less than it previously did). For many families the right home purchase is the best way to build an asset for their retirement nest egg. Also, if you can refrain from cash-out refinancing, the home you buy at age 30 with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage will be fully paid off by the time you reach normal retirement age, giving you a low-cost place to live when your earnings taper off.
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.
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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