Maybe your parents had a 30-year fixed-rate loan. Maybe your best friend has an adjustable-rate loan. That doesn’t mean that either of those loans are the right loan for you. Some people might like the predictability of a fixed-rate loan, while others might prefer the lower initial payments of an adjustable-rate loan. Every home buyer has their own unique financial situation and it’s important to understand which type of loan best suits your needs.
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If you have lost your job, had a reduction in work hours or income, or are unemployed, then you may qualify for assistance. Homeowners can receive mortgage help from the federal government Home Affordable Unemployment Program. This program can reduce someone’s monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months, which will provide an individual time to find a new job. Read more on the unemployment mortgage program.
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.
This seemed to be the thinking a few years ago, and things didn’t turn out very well. When you borrow more than you can realistically pay, that’s a sub-prime mortgage. Banks sold a lot of those to people who assumed the housing market would keep rising like gangbusters. Their home values would go up, giving them nearly instant equity and they could refinance quickly at a lower rate or sell the home for a quick profit. Lenders sold these loan products because they were making the same bet, and interest rates are always higher on sub-prime loans. Even if some ended up in foreclosure, the lenders would still make a tidy profit. Unfortunately, it was a bad bet for almost everyone.
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.
Start by requesting the free annual credit report you’re entitled to at AnnualCreditReport.com. “For each credit account you have, the report shows creditors’ names, the amount owed, the highest balance owed, available credit, whether the account is open or closed (and who closed it), the number of times a payment was past due, and whether the account is in default,” Freddie Huynh, a lead data scientist at FICO (Fair Isaac) for 18 years who is now Vice President of Credit Risk Analytics at Freedom Financial Network, explains.
The first thing lenders will probably do when you apply for a mortgage loan is to check your credit; you should, too. There’s no better time for regular credit monitoring than when you’re trying to prove your creditworthiness to a lender so you can get the best possible rates. You want to make sure that your credit report is as accurate as possible, your scores are where you want them to be, and no one else is getting access to your credit, possibly harming your scores.
In the simplest terms, a mortgage is a loan from a bank or other financial institution that enables you to cover the cost of your home. It's a legal agreement with the bank saying you will pay the loan back (plus interest) over the course of years—decades, usually. Unless you have the money to pay cash for your property, you’re going to need a mortgage.
You may have heard that you should put 20 percent down when you purchase a home. It’s true that having a large down payment makes it easier to get a mortgage and may even lower your interest rate. But many people have a hard time scraping together a down payment that large. Fortunately, there are many options for homebuyers with little money for a down payment. FHA loans offer down payments as low as 3.5 percent. VA and USDA loans may require no down payment at all.
In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.
Mortgage Payment Assistance (MPA) offers up to 24 months of assistance for eligible applicants who have had an unemployment or underemployment hardship in the last 36 months and need help paying mortgage monthly. Of the 24 months, up to 12 months may be used to reinstate first and some second mortgages. Mortgage payment assistance ends when the homeowner is able to sustain the mortgage payment, when reserved funds are exhausted, or when 24 monthly payments have been provided, whichever comes first. Under MPA, you may be required to make partial payments toward your mortgage during your participation in the program. If you are now employed and are able to make your currently monthly payments but are behind on your mortgage, MPA offers a onetime payment to your lender for up to 12 months of mortgage help to bring your mortgage current.

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.
Once you find the perfect home, the next step is to apply for a mortgage. You will need to provide detailed information in order to receive your loan approval. Below is a list of standard documents that are required for just about everyone. Depending on your situation, you may be asked for more or less information. Use this checklist to help you prepare in advance, so the application process is quick and easy.

A few years ago (see above), if you were breathing it seemed like you could find a mortgage. Things are a little bit tighter now. The biggest factor is your debt to income ratio. It’s your minimum monthly debt divided by your monthly income. But don’t worry. You don’t have to do the math! There’s a handy DTI calculator that will figure it out for you and estimate how much you’re likely to qualify for.
When the fixed rate period ends, you’ll usually be automatically transferred onto your lender’s standard variable rate, which will typically be higher than any special deal you’ve been on. At this point you’ll see your interest payments increase. However, you will be free to remortgage to a new mortgage deal, which may help keep your payments down.
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 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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