Buying a home with a mortgage is probably the largest financial transaction you will enter into. Typically, a bank or mortgage lender will finance 80% of the price of the home, and you agree to pay it back – with interest – over a specific period. As you are comparing lenders, mortgage rates and options, it’s helpful to understand how interest accrues each month and is paid.
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In today’s competitive market, many buyers skip this important step when they start looking for a home. A pre-approval allows you to confirm how large of a loan you can qualify for based on several factors. It also positions you to make a serious offer when you find the home you want to buy. For a pre-approval, the lender verifies the buyer’s application information through income and asset documents provided by you or retrieved directly by the mortgage company. Many lenders can also provide a “prequalification” online, based on unverified information provided by the buyer. However, most sellers don’t give much value to a letter that doesn’t state the information has been validated. The most important thing is to take the time to provide what is needed for a thorough pre-approval process.
Mortgage term. A mortgage term is the length of time used to calculate your payments. If you take out a 30-year mortgage, your monthly payments are calculated by amortizing the loan over 30 years, aka 360 months. At the end of the mortgage term, your home will be paid off unless you have a balloon mortgage. For a balloon mortgage, payments are generally calculated over a 30-year term, but have a maturity date of three to 10 years. On the maturity date, the balloon payment (remaining principal balance on the loan) is due. In most cases, homeowners refinance or sell the home to make the balloon payment.
If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.
In addition to what is mentioned above, the Home Affordable Modification Program has also been enhanced and a new version was created by the federal government. Improvements to it will allow a larger number of homeowners the ability to apply for assistance, including principal reductions or loan modifications that will have an even lower interest rate.
Why would anyone get a loan with a prepayment penalty? Some lenders offer very low (and therefore tempting) interest rates in exchange. Also, some borrowers agree to loans with penalties if they have bad credit and it’s the only way they can get the loan. Mostly, a prepayment penalty is a financial decision. There are situations where accepting a prepayment penalty on a loan can save you thousands of dollars in interest.
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“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
While some agencies limit their counseling services to homeowners with FHA mortgages, many others offer free help to any homeowner who is having trouble making mortgage payments. Call the local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the housing authority in your state, city, or county for help in finding a legitimate housing counseling agency nearby. Or consider contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF); 888-995-HOPE. HPF is a nonprofit organization that partners with mortgage companies, local governments, and other organizations to help consumers get loan modifications and prevent foreclosures.
As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.
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.
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.
Most lenders today will want to know every detail of your financial life. If something looks odd, or doesn’t make sense they will want to have some sort of explanation. This means that you will have to write letter explaining everything. For instance they may want to know why a credit card issuers pulled your credit three months ago when you were trying to apply for store credit, or why you changed jobs a few months ago or why you have moved from job to job over the last couple years. It’s best to write them and explain everything in full detail and move on. They do this simply to verify your financial stability and it is usually something that is requested from time to time.
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.
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.
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.
Bankruptcy: Personal bankruptcy generally is considered the debt management option of last resort because the results are long-lasting and far-reaching. A bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, and can make it difficult to get credit, buy another home, get life insurance, or sometimes, get a job. Still, it is a legal procedure that can offer a fresh start for people who can’t satisfy their debts. 
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.
Whether it is purchasing your first home, buying a vacation home or downsizing to something more appropriate to fit your life style, a new beginning can be a wonderful experience. It can also be a bit overwhelming. There are open houses to attend, homes to compare and a sea of information to sort through.  During these times, having a team around you is extremely important. One of the most important members of that team is your loan officer (and mortgage company)
A jumbo mortgage is usually for amounts over the conforming loan limit, currently $453,100 for all states except Hawaii and Alaska, where it is higher. Additionally, in certain federally designated high-priced housing markets, such as New York City, Los Angeles and the entire San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area, the conforming loan limit is $679,650.

If you're interested in buying real estate in the US, the most important point to remember is that the mortgage lending market is extremely competitive. The overall interest rates are similar to those found in many European countries, but there is a lot of competition between different banks and brokers. That's why it's vital to shop around before you settle on a lender.


So one thing that makes a mortgage different from other types of loans is that it is backed up by something – in this case, your home. They call this a “collateralized loan.” Credit cards are also loans, but they aren’t backed up by anything. If you fail to make your credit card payments, the credit card companies can’t take your home away from you.
When you apply for a mortgage loan in the US, you will typically deal with an underwriter. Most underwriters work for banks, but you can also choose to work with a brokerage. Mortgage brokers don't provide loans directly, but have relationships with a number of lenders. Regardless of the type of underwriter you work with, you will typically be required to:
Fixed-rate mortgages offer stability in your mortgage payments. However, many ARMs start with a lower interest rate than fixed mortgages and lock the rate in for a few years. That can mean significantly lower payments in the early years of your loan, so some borrowers opt for an ARM with the intention of selling or refinancing their home before the rate can adjust.
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.

The information provided on MoneyWise is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter. We expressly disclaim any and all implied warranties, including without limitation, warranties of originality, accuracy, completeness, timeliness, non-infringement, merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.
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.
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