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.
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.
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.

With a fixed-rate mortgage, the interest rate will not change over the life of the loan. It's a good choice for someone who likes the certainty of knowing the mortgage payment will never go up. ARMs start with a lower interest rate for the first few years and adjust after a predetermined period (usually five years) based on the housing market. This type of loan can seem risky as interest rates have the potential to rise significantly, but there are caps in place to keep the rates from rising to astronomical levels.

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.


Grants are awarded through a rather competitive application process. The applications themselves are quite complex and failing to answer any question could result in a denial. The good news is that there is literally millions of dollars in grant money made available each year. Many grants are offered only to minorities or to applicants meeting certain qualifications, such as earning a low income. These restrictions reduce the number of applications, meaning that there is less competition for the award. There is also no limit to the number of times an applicant can apply for a grant, which even further increases the odds of receiving the offered funds.
A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is also called a conventional rate mortgage. The rate that you see when mortgage rates are advertised is typically a 30-year fixed rate. The loan lasts for 30 years and the interest rate is the same—or fixed—for the life of the loan.  The longer timeframe also results in a lower monthly payment compared to mortgages with 10- or 15-year terms.

Selling Your House: Your servicers might postpone foreclosure proceedings if you have a pending sales contract or if you put your home on the market. This approach works if proceeds from the sale can pay off the entire loan balance plus the expenses connected to selling the home (for example, real estate agent fees). Such a sale would allow you to avoid late and legal fees and damage to your credit rating, and protect your equity in the property.

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.
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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.
If you put less than 20% down on your mortgage, you'll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, so be sure to budget for this when shopping. Mortgage insurance rates can vary significantly, depending on your credit, the length of your mortgage, how much your down payment is, and other factors. However, it can add a significant amount to your payment, so be sure to take it into consideration.
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.
If your loan was delinquent when you were approved for Unemployment Mortgage Assistance, Keep Your Home California may bring your loan current before making regular monthly payments. Payments are applied by the servicer in accordance with their policies and procedures. In all cases, the homeowner must have a remaining balance in their Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program reserve that is equal to or greater than six (6) first mortgage payments after their loan was reinstated and meet other program guidelines.
During dynamic economic periods, interest rate volatility can increase and move mortgage rates quickly. As a mortgage shopper or holder, these periods offer both risks and rewards. For example, you wouldn’t want to lock yourself into an interest rate that drops before the home closing, but you’d welcome a rate lock if rates were on the rise. Some mortgage lenders address this problem by offering rate locks that protect you from rising rates but allow you take advantage of a rate drop before closing.
Simply put: Nope, not so. The mortgage pre qualification process can give you an idea of how much lenders may be willing to loan you, based on your credit score, debt and income. However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get the loan. Once you find a home and make an offer, the lender will request additional documentation, which may include bank statements, W-2s, tax returns and more. That process will determine whether your loan gets full approval.
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.
A lot of borrowers choose to pick up the phone and call a handful of lenders to request interest rates. Those who do that may be surprised when the lender is asking questions before listing off rates. Again, interest rates vary and are dependent on many factors such as the loan program, your financial situation (including credit score), the cost of the home you’re looking to fund, etc. So, both the borrower and the lender should be interviewing one another to narrow down best options. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you! It's all part of the process of getting you into the best loan for your financial situation.
It is important to find a mortgage lender who offers a wide variety of mortgage programs. If your lender only offers a limited range of programs, they may lock you into a suboptimal mortgage when there would be better options available for your situation elsewhere. Check to see if your lender offers programs like FHA loans or VA mortgages before moving forward with their services.
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.
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.
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.

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.


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.
Depending on your financial position, there are many different types of mortgage assistance program available to you. There are two classes of program: government-sponsored and lender-sponsored. Government-sponsored home mortgage assistance tends to be broader in scope and easier to acquire, but less tailored to your individual needs. Remember that the point of government assistance is to free up cash for you to spend elsewhere. Lender-sponsored assistance, meanwhile, is designed to float you through rough patches so you can eventually pay them back. These loans, grants, modifications and agreements are tailored to make sure that the lending company doesn't lose money on you.
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.
When you apply for a mortgage, you'll need to document your income, employment situation, identity, and more, so it can be a good idea to start gathering the necessary documentation before you walk into a lender's office. This isn't an exhaustive list, but you should locate your last couple of tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, pay stubs, W-2s, driver's license, Social Security card, marriage license (if applicable), and contact numbers for your employer's HR department. Here's a more comprehensive list that can help you determine what you'll need.

The United Way's 2-1-1 hotline connects people with local assistance programs. By dialing 2-1-1, you can receive referrals to organizations that help with food, housing, employment, health care, prescriptions and more. If you are a struggling homeowner, the United Way can help you find a foreclosure prevention counselor and refer you to available mortgage assistance programs. Trained specialists take calls day or night. The United Way may also provide emergency financial assistance to households in danger of losing their homes. Programs vary among locations.
You can get pre-qualified for a mortgage, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it's willing to lend you, and under what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.
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The foreclosure prevention specialist: The “specialist” really is a phony counselor who charges high fees in exchange for making a few phone calls or completing some paperwork that a homeowner could easily do for himself. None of the actions results in saving the home. This scam gives homeowners a false sense of hope, delays them from seeking qualified help, and exposes their personal financial information to a fraudster. 
If you put less than 20% down on your mortgage, you'll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, so be sure to budget for this when shopping. Mortgage insurance rates can vary significantly, depending on your credit, the length of your mortgage, how much your down payment is, and other factors. However, it can add a significant amount to your payment, so be sure to take it into consideration.
Property tax help is available which will in effect free up a homeowner’s income. Since home values have declined in most parts of the nation, you are more than likely paying too much in real estate and property taxes. Learn how to lower your property taxes by contesting your property assessment. There is no cost to do this, and anyone can challenge the assessed value on their home.
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