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.

It’s easy to get carried away planning for the year ahead. But take a moment to put your goals and your numbers in perspective, especially when budgeting your monthly mortgage. This can apply to both refinancing and buying a house. “Standard guidelines call for keeping housing expenses below 35 percent of total income,” Kevin Gallegos, consumer finance expert at Freedom Debt Relief, says. “Some experts are revising that number down to 28 percent.”


Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
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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.
Tax benefits. The tax code currently provides tax benefits for homeownership. You may be eligible for a deduction for the interest paid on your mortgage, private mortgage insurance premiums, points or loan origination fees, and real estate taxes. And when you sell your primary residence, you may be able to exclude all or part of your gain on the sale of your home from taxable income.

To be clear, you don't need a pre-approval to start looking at houses. However, since a pre-approval is essentially the same as a full mortgage approval, just without a specific home in mind, it can be an extremely valuable shopping tool. Specifically, if you submit a pre-approval along with your offer, it tells the seller that you're a serious buyer who is not likely to run into trouble when obtaining financing. One caveat: A pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different things. A pre-qualification is based solely on information you provide and is not a commitment to lend money, therefore it doesn't carry nearly as much weight.
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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.
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.
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 the beginning, you owe more interest, because your loan balance is still high. So most of your monthly payment goes to pay the interest, and a little bit goes to paying off the principal. Over time, as you pay down the principal, you owe less interest each month, because your loan balance is lower. So, more of your monthly payment goes to paying down the principal. Near the end of the loan, you owe much less interest, and most of your payment goes to pay off the last of the principal. This process is known as amortization.
With this in mind, it’s important to do research before choosing a mortgage lender. You not only want to compare the rates but also the level of service each lender provides. When comparing rates, be sure to get the estimates on the same day as rates can change daily. When reviewing level of service, ask how quickly they can process your loan. Is the lender available to personally help you choose the right product and rate, or are you waiting on hold for “the next available representative”?  Do they make you jump through hoops just to get a rate quote?
The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program is for borrowers who, although eligible for the government Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), are not able to secure a permanent loan modification or cannot avoid foreclosure. HAFA provides protection and money to eligible borrowers who decide to do a Short Sale or a Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure.
The programs vary in what they can offer. In some cases direct financial assistance may be provided to help you pay your mortgage for a short period of time. Payment plans or reduced monthly payments may be offered. However most of the government programs and non-profit organizations will help facilitate some form of loan modification to qualified homeowners. This will provide families time to get back on track by ideally lowering their monthly payment, reducing interest rates or waiving fees.
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