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.”
The Hardest Hit Fund was created to provide additional options to residents of those states that have the highest unemployment rates, most significant job losses, and that have been hit hardest by the nation’s housing crisis. This program is only available in certain parts of the country. Borrowers can qualify for zero interest rate loans that do not need to be repaid, so these can be thought of as grants. Click here to read more on Hardest Hit mortgage fund.

Regions Bank has helped thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure through a program called the Customer Assistance Program. This can provide a number of solutions to qualified applicants. Sign up for forbearance, repayment plans, and home loan modifications are all offered. There are several Regions Bank foreclosure assistance programs for struggling low income customers.


Since there are so many different types of mortgage loans, it can be difficult to choose the best loan for your needs. If you want a set monthly payment and a definite period of time to pay off the loan, you should look primarily at home mortgage loans. This is a good option if you want to remodel, and you know exactly how much it is going to cost. A home equity loan gives you added flexibility since it is a revolving line of credit. This is a good option if you have several smaller projects you are working on and you are unsure of how much each will cost. It also gives you the opportunity to withdraw the money to cover other expenses like a wedding for your child or to help cover college expenses. Either option does put your home at risk if you default on your payments, even if you are current on your first mortgage. It is important to carefully consider your budget to make sure that you can afford the payments. Once you do this you can be confident in moving forward on either type of loan.
Less is charged for interest because your balance is lower and lower. But keep in mind that (at least for now) the interest you pay is deductible for tax purposes. That means if you pay $15,000 in interest this year, you will effectively reduce your taxable income by $15,000. If you’re in the 30% tax bracket, that saves you $5,000 in taxes. In short, for many people, having a mortgage is smart financial tax planning.
A married couple may decide to get a reverse mortgage but leave one spouse off the HECM. If the borrowing spouse dies or moves out permanently, a non-borrowing spouse can continue to live in the home as long as he or she is listed in the HECM documents as such. The surviving spouse must maintain the home and pay taxes and insurance as long as he or she continues to live in the home, and will not receive any of the reverse mortgage proceeds.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.

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.
It’s a loan with your house and land used as collateral. If you don’t pay back the loan, the lender will foreclose. That doesn’t mean the bank owns the house until you pay it off. It means they’ve got a lien against the property. A lien is the right to take possession of someone else’s property, in this case your home, until a debt is paid off. So you really are a homeowner even if you have a mortgage. You just own a home with a lien. Zillow’s Mortgage Learning Center offers extensive information about mortgages and is a great resource for anyone in the market for a home loan.

Lenders generally use two different debt ratios to determine how much you can borrow. The short version is that your monthly housing payment (including taxes and insurance) should be no more than 28% of your pre-tax income, and your total debt (including your mortgage payment) should be no more than 36%. The ratio that produces the lower payment is what the lender will use. Many lenders have more generous qualification ratios, but these are traditionally the most common.
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.
Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
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.

The US Treasury administers the Hardest Hit Fund, which provides aid to the states that were most impacted by the economic crisis. Each of these states have local agencies that help homeowners in various ways, including mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed, principal reduction, and transactional assistance. This helps people either afford the homes they’re in, or move to more affordable housing.

Home equity loans are also referred to as second mortgages because you use your equity as collateral. If you obtain a home equity term loan, you will receive a lump sum and will have to make a monthly payment. You can also apply for a home equity line of credit, which provides you with access to a revolving account. That allows you to withdraw and repay money over the course of a specific period of time.


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.

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.
Many Community Action Agencies have programs and resources that homeowners can take advantage of. While they primarily focus on providing counseling, some of the community action agencies can provide cash grants, mediation services, and other tools to help a homeowner prevent or stop a foreclosure filing. Even if they don’t offer direct financial aid or can’t meet your specific need, almost all agencies can provide referrals and guidance. Find how to apply for free foreclosure counseling from community action agencies.
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