If you’re interested in refinancing to take advantage of lower mortgage rates, but are afraid you won’t qualify because your home value has decreased, you may want to ask if you qualify for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) or the HOPE for Homeowners (H4H) program. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Refinancing your mortgage simply means you’ll be replacing your current mortgage with a new home loan. You’ll get a new rate, new terms and conditions, new closing costs, and the possibility to choose a new lender. Refinancing can be a good idea when mortgage rates are low (as we saw at times in the past year) or when and if your home has seen a big jump in its market value.**
A third option – usually reserved for affluent home buyers or those with irregular incomes – is an interest-only mortgage. As the name implies, this type of loan gives you the option to pay only interest for the first few years, and it’s attractive to first-time homeowners because of the low payments during their lower earning years. It may also be the right choice if you expect to own the home for a relatively short time and intend to sell before the bigger monthly payments begin.
The prices for mortgage-backed bonds, and by extension, the mortgage rate a lender offers, are constantly responding to economic factors. In a strong economy, the rise in inflation (i.e., the general price level of goods and services) speeds up as greater demand increases competition for financing, goods, services and labor. This drives mortgage rates higher. A slow-down or recession causes mortgage rates to fall. The U.S. stock market is considered a leading indicator of economic activity. If it tanks, demand for investment shrinks and mortgage rates drop. Conversely, rates rise when the stock market is strong. When there is high unemployment, the economy is relatively weak and mortgage rates tend to fall. If jobs are easy to find, the economy is strong, and rates rise. Like the stock market, rising foreign markets indicate a strengthening world economy and higher rates. When foreign markets tumble, it puts downward pressure on interest rates.
Looking back at the flood of foreclosures since the housing crash, it’s clear that many borrowers didn't fully understand the terms of the mortgages they signed. According to one study, 35 percent of ARM borrowers did not know if there was a cap on how much their interest rate could rise [source: Pence]. This is why it’s essential to understand the terms of your mortgage, particularly the pitfalls of “nontraditional” loans.
Closing costs. Closing costs are expenses over and above the sales price of a home. They may include origination fees, points, appraisal and title fees, title insurance, surveys, recording fees and more. While fees vary widely by the type of mortgage you get and by location, Realtor.com estimates that they typically total 2 to 7 percent of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500 (a wide range indeed, Realtor.com acknowledges).
Once you research the types of financing available, determine which is best for your financial situation when buying a home: 15-year mortgage or 30, adjustable or fixed. If you are looking for security and a guarantee that payments won’t increase, a fixed rate mortgage might be the way to go. If you believe mortgage rates could still fluctuate and you want more flexibility, consider an adjustable rate mortgage.
Real estate agents are often a terrific resource for getting suggestions regarding a number of home buying issues. They will know which mortgage lenders are trustworthy and who does the best job of completing the process in a timely fashion. After all, they work with lenders on a weekly (even daily) basis. Plus, you can trust there are no hidden agendas because it is against the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act RESPA to receive a commission for referring a client to a mortgage lender.
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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You don’t need a zero balance on your credit cards to qualify for a mortgage loan. However, the less you owe your creditors, the better. Your debts determine if you can get a mortgage, as well as how much you can acquire from a lender. Lenders evaluate your debt-to-income ratio before approving the mortgage. If you have a high debt ratio because you’re carrying a lot of credit card debt , the lender can turn down your request or offer a lower mortgage. This is because your entire monthly debt payments — including the mortgage – shouldn’t exceed 36% of your gross monthly income. However, paying down your consumer debt before completing an application lowers your debt-to-income ratio and can help you acquire a better mortgage rate.
Stay in your home during the process, since you may not qualify for certain types of assistance if you move out. Renting your home will change it from a primary residence to an investment property. Most likely, it will disqualify you for any additional “workout” assistance from the servicer. If you choose this route, be sure the rental income is enough to help you get and keep your loan current.

Many mortgage programs will require a 620 or higher credit score in order to qualify for a loan. Although, FHA loans are available to people with credit scores as low as 580. However, just because you have a 580 credit score doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify. Lenders look at a lot more than just your credit score. You should have a relatively clean credit history over the past 12 months, with no late payments or collections.

This example is based on Anne, the youngest borrower who is 68 years old, a variable rate HECM loan with an initial interest rate of 4.032% (which consists of a Libor index rate of 1.782% and a margin of 2.250%). It is based on an appraised value of $300,000, origination charges of $5,000, a mortgage insurance premium of $6,000, other settlement costs of $2,688, and a mortgage payoff of $35,000; amortized over 193 months, with total finance charges of $51,714.48 and an annual percentage rate of 4.53%. Interest rates may vary.

In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bid on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding. Stick to your budget to avoid a mortgage payment you can’t afford.
Oftentimes, rates you see in advertisements online aren’t necessarily for the loans you qualify for. So you’ll need to investigate. Interest rates vary by location and can change daily. And they vary depending on your specific financial picture, such as income, credit score, and debts.  A good place to get an idea of what rates are available to you right now is to search for interest rates on Zillow. You can get free quotes anonymously, based on your specific financial picture, so you don’t have to worry about being hassled. You’ll also be able to see mortgage rates from multiple lenders so you can easily compare rates.

If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
Mortgages and home equity loans are two different types of loans you can take out on your home. A first mortgage is the original loan that you take out to purchase your home. You may choose to take out a second mortgage in order to cover a part of buying your home or refinance to cash out some of the equity of your home. It is important to understand the differences between a mortgage and a home equity loan before you decide which loan you should use. In the past both types of loans had the same tax benefit, however the 2018 tax law no longer allows homeowners to deduct interest paid on HELOCs or home equity loans unless the debt is obtained to build or substantially improve the homeowner's dwelling. Interest on up to $100,000 of debt which substantially improves the dwelling is tax deductible. First mortgages and mortgage refinance loans remain tax deductible up to a limit of $750,000.
Short sale can be an alternative to a foreclosure, and it will allow you to sell your home for less than the current outstanding mortgage balance on it. While this can be a drawn out process and take time, this option is becoming more common and acceptable by banks, real estate agents and servicers. Learn more on how short sales can stop foreclosures.
Eric Bank is a senior business and real estate writer, freelancing since 2002. He has written thousands of articles about business, insurance, real estate, investing and taxes, Eric writes articles, blogs and SEO-friendly website content for dozens of clients worldwide, including get.com and valuepenguin.com. Eric holds two Master's Degrees -- in Business Administration and in Finance. His website is ericbank.com.
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Countrywide / Bank of America has announced a program to help 400,000 homeowners pay their mortgage and keep them in their homes. It will offer modifications, principal reductions, free counseling, and other aid. Some borrowers may receive financial assistance in relocating to a new more affordable home. Many beneficiaries of assistance from this program received questionable or sub-prime loans from Countrywide. Find how to get help from Countrywide with housing issues, and learn how BOA took over the lender.
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