Buying a home is the embodiment of the American dream. However, that wasn’t always the case: In fact, before the 1930s, only four in 10 American families owned their own home. That’s because very few people had enough cash to buy a home in one lump sum. And until the 1930s, there was no such thing as a bank loan specifically designed to purchase a home, something we now know as a mortgage.

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.
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.
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.

"I don't know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Mortgage Help. After a long and expensive battle with medical bills, I faced foreclosure of a home that has been in my family for over 100 years. I was finally able to get a successful loan modification and a payment I can afford in order to take care of my home. I'd have lost everything if it wasn't for their assistance."


Mortgage forbearance agreements are a type of emergency mortgage assistance given by lenders in order to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Effectively, what they come down to are extensions, given in times of great need. If your family just incurred unexpected medical expenses, if your family's primary income producer just lost his/her job, or in the event of an unforeseeable disaster, you may qualify for a forbearance agreement. This allows you to put your mortgage on hold while you deal with your difficult situations.
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.
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.

Several utility companies are part of this organization and participate in the program. Grants are available for needy families and individuals and they can provide assistance with a wide variety of needs. For example, prescription medications, eyeglasses, artificial limbs, medical care and bills, wheelchairs, ramps or other handicap renovations are examples of the grants awarded each month. However, please note that no utility bills are paid through this program. Call your utility company and ask about Operation Round Up.


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.
If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, before you start house hunting or get pre-approved for a loan, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Mortgages will require mortgage insurance if you have less than a 20% down payment. PMI is between 0.35% – 1.0% annually depending on the type of mortgage program you choose. FHA loans PMI is 0.85% of the loan amount, and is required for the life of the loan. Conventional mortgage PMI is 0.51% and is required until the loan balances reaches 78% LTV.
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.
Where to get the best deal. If you qualify for an FHA, VA or USDA loan, you may be able to get a better deal on interest rates and other costs using their programs. Familiarize yourself with their criteria. Whether you choose a government-backed or conventional loan, keep in mind that fees and interest rates can vary widely by lender, even for the same type of loan, so shop around for the best deal. You can start your search by comparing rates with LendingTree.
Prepare to spend some time sitting back and waiting. Each application is thoroughly reviewed by the grant-making agency, sometimes causing a long lag time between when you submit your application and when you are notified about the decision. In the meantime, don't stop making your mortgage payments, or at least pay as much of them as you are able to, or it may look like you aren't taking your mortgage obligation seriously.
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.
Fixed rates and adjustable rates are the most common types of mortgages. Over 90% of US mortgages are fixed rate loans. A second mortgage works the same as a first mortgage, allowing a borrower to take out a lump sum of money and then make monthly payments to pay it back. You can use the second mortgage to make repairs on your house, to consolidate your bills, or to help with the down payment on the first mortgage to avoid needing to pay PMI.
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.

A reverse mortgage loan typically does not require repayment for as long as the borrower(s) continues to live in the home as the primary residence, pays property taxes and insurance, and maintains the home according to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requirements, or until the last homeowner has passed away or has moved out of the property. The amount of equity you can access with a reverse mortgage is determined by the age of the youngest borrower, current interest rates, and the value of the home. Please note that you may need to set aside additional funds from loan proceeds to pay for taxes and insurance.
If you are experiencing difficulties making your mortgage payments, you are encouraged to contact your lender or loan servicer directly to inquire about foreclosure prevention options that are available. If you are experiencing difficulty communicating with your mortgage lender or servicer about your need for mortgage relief, there are organizations that can help by contacting lenders and servicers on your behalf.
Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Money shows. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010). For money savings links visit Ellie's blog.
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.
Grants are often given to assist home buyers with down payments, as well as help to lock in certain mortgage rates when they are first purchasing the property. These are awarded by the government based on need or other status. For instance, there are U.S. Veteran mortgage assistance grants, grants for low-income families, first-time homeowner grants, single mother grants, and grants for people who plan to do significant home improvement. These grants often cap the down payment at a certain low percentage of the total cost of the home.
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.

FHA loans. FHA loans are a program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They’re designed to help first-time homebuyers and people with low incomes or little savings afford a home. They typically offer lower down payments, lower closing costs and less-stringent financial requirements than conventional mortgages. The drawback of FHA loans is that they require an upfront mortgage insurance fee and monthly mortgage insurance payments for all buyers, regardless of your down payment. And, unlike conventional loans, the mortgage insurance cannot be canceled, even if you have more than 20 percent equity in your home.
The NID-Housing Counseling Agency (NID-HCA) is a non-profit, HUD approved agency that assists homeowners with addressing financial situations including defaults and foreclosure, predatory lending, credit repair, referrals, foreclosure counseling, and other services. Their services are mostly free, and their goal is to help people stay in their homes. The NID Housing Counseling agency deals with a number of debt and foreclosure issues.
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