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.
Coming up with a down payment can be the one of the biggest obstacles for first-time homebuyers. It can be challenging to save for a down payment, even if you have a steady income and decent credit score. But with the right planning and budgeting, you can reach your savings goals faster than you think. If you aren’t able to make a sizable down payment, another option is to use gift funds from a relative. As long as the borrower has 5% of their own money, gift funds can be used for the rest of the down payment. It’s also a good idea to talk to your lender to see if you qualify for down-payment assistance. Knowing what your options are and how much you will need to save before you start the process will help prevent any surprises along the way.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
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.
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If you and your loan servicer cannot agree on a repayment plan or other remedy, you may want to investigate filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have a regular income, Chapter 13 may allow you to keep property, like a mortgaged house or car, that you might otherwise lose. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to use your future income toward payment of your debts during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender the property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, you receive a discharge of certain debts.
Many mortgages allow you to ‘port’ them to a new property, so you may be able to move your existing mortgage across to your next home. However, you will effectively have to apply for your mortgage again, so you’ll need to satisfy your lender that monthly payments remain affordable. It’ll be down to them to decide whether they’re happy to allow you to transfer your current deal over to your new property. Bear in mind too that there may be fees to pay for moving your mortgage.
The federal government’s Making Home Affordable program is working with various banks and lenders to ensure that they provide millions of homeowners with loan modifications. In some cases the government may be subsidizing fees and interest rate reductions. Learn about this and other programs, all of which can ensure people get relief from their mispriced mortgage payments. The other option is the Homeowner Affordability and Stability, which is part of Make a Home Affordable.
Home ownership is just not a realistic option for everyone right now, despite what may look like once-in-lifetime mortgage rates. If you fall into this category, don’t despair. Your financial circumstances could change, the economy is still very much in flux, and remember that the current mortgage crisis involved a lot of home buyers getting in over their heads. When it comes to a major purchase like a home, timing is critical.
Investopedia’s Mortgage Calculator is based on a complex formula that factors in your mortgage principal (how much you are borrowing), the interest rate you’re paying and the duration of the loan to determine how much that monthly mortgage payment will be. It lets you try out different scenarios of how much you might borrow and what varying interest rates will do to the amount you’ll be asked to pay. Read below to understand what each of these terms mean.
Your debt to income, or DTI. Is the amount of monthly debt payments you have compared to your monthly income. Most mortgages will allow a maximum DTI of 41%, ideally you will want a DTI ratio of no higher that 36%. See how much house you can afford using our calculator. Try not to stretch yourself too thin, if you have a high DTI you will be more likely to miss mortgage payments if an emergency comes up.
It’s equally important to find a lender who has access to — and knowledge in — down payment assistance programs. There are many options available to first-time home buyers and seasoned buyers. Options vary by county and state, but the right lender is going to know exactly what’s available to you. This is a great way to save even more money each month.
The mortgage industry works a little differently in the US than it does in many other parts of the world. Mortgage loans are treated as commercial paper, which means that lenders can convey and assign them freely. That results in a situation where financial institutions bundle mortgage loans into securities that people can invest in. The purpose of this system is to quickly free up money for the financial institutions to lend out in the form of new mortgages. The US also has a number of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that exist to facilitate this system. Most mortgages have fixed rates, which is also a departure from the variable rates that are commonly found in Europe and elsewhere.
You borrow money from a mortgage lender to buy a house. You close on the loan and sign a bunch of paperwork. The deed is transferred to you, giving you ownership of the property. You now have a financial agreement with the lender. You’ve agreed to repay your 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan with regular payments each month. You’ve also agreed to pay interest, which will be included within your monthly payments.
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.
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.
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.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.
The major downside of taking out a mortgage is that it does put your home at risk if you fail to make payments. You may want to look into other options if you want to consolidate your debt. Some people choose to refinance their original mortgage to cash out their equity and to avoid two mortgage payments. When they refinance, they cash out the equity or take out more than they still owe on the loan. Like a traditional mortgage, refinancing has set monthly payments and a term that shows when you will have the loan paid off.
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.
At the end of the day, your mortgage loan is the single biggest financial decision you’re likely to make in your life. It’s important to take time to get it right, and that ultimately comes down to finding a lender who can do three things: offer competitive rates, offer great service and quickly process your loan. By keeping these areas in mind, you’re not only going to win as you go to buy your house — you're going to also save money and time.
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.
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.
Manage your debt carefully after your home purchase. Sometimes your home will need new appliances, landscaping or maybe even a new roof. Planning for these expenses carefully can help you avoid one of the most common causes of missed mortgage payments: carrying too much debt. It's important not to overextend your credit card and other debts so you stay current on your payments.
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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.