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.

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.

Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.
Include PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) in your budget. Mortgage calculators will show you how much you'll pay toward principal and interest every month. Remember that you'll also have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance. Some financial institutions will require you to contribute these funds monthly along with your principal and interest payment. Be sure to talk to your lender to understand what will be included in your monthly payment.
You can find a lender on Zillow to learn how much you can borrow. And you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator to estimate what you can afford.  But you should go a step further and figure out what you can be comfortable with. Is travel a passion? Do you like spending a fair amount on dining out or other entertainment? The lender won’t factor biannual vacations or a craving for high-end restaurants into their calculations, so you have to. Fortunately, that’s easy enough with tools that help you calculate your monthly payment as well as estimate what you should be able to afford given your existing income and debts. Chances are, even after the sub-prime crisis, a lender will be willing to offer you a bigger mortgage than you think you can afford. Only you can know how much you are willing to set aside for a mortgage payment each month.

Finding a trustworthy and competent mortgage lender is an important and often overlooked step of the home buying or refinancing process. Signing off on a mortgage is one of the most significant financial decisions you can make, one that can last anywhere from 15-30 years. So, you need to make sure you’ve found a mortgage lender who will assist you through the process, ensuring you’re not making any mistakes along the way.
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.

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Example – A $200,000 fixed-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) at an annual interest rate of 4.5% will have a monthly payment of approximately $1,013. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in this figure.) The annual interest rate is broken down into a monthly rate as follows: An annual rate of, say, 4.5% divided by 12 equals a monthly interest rate of 0.375%. Every month you’ll pay 0.375% interest on the amount you actually owe on the house.
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.
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.**
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 mortgage industry standard is a 20% down payment. However, you may be able to get a conventional mortgage with significantly less money up front -- as low as 3% of the purchase price in many cases. Specialized loan types, such as VA and USDA mortgages require no down payments at all for those who qualify. The point is that while a higher down payment will lower your monthly housing costs, you may be able to get into a home with less money in savings than you think.

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.**
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
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.

There are thousands of non-profit housing counseling agencies that are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Counselors will work with homeowners to help them prevent a foreclosure or get back on track with paying their mortgage. Most of the services are free for struggling homeowners. Get more details on HUD housing counseling agencies.
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