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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.
Note that the Hope for Homeowners program indicated above has been expanded. Families can now receive aid on a second mortgage, and more lenders are participating and cooperating with the FHA. Banks and lenders have been provided further incentive to participate in the program. Find how the FHA Expanded Hope for Homeowners to assist more borrowers.
Where to get the best deal. If you qualify for an FHA, VA or USDA loan, you may be able to get a better deal on interest rates and other costs using their programs. Familiarize yourself with their criteria. Whether you choose a government-backed or conventional loan, keep in mind that fees and interest rates can vary widely by lender, even for the same type of loan, so shop around for the best deal. You can start your search by comparing rates with LendingTree.
You should know where your credit score stands before you start looking for a home or begin the mortgage process. Even if you think you have perfect credit, there may be issues or mistakes on your credit report that you are not aware of. A mistake on your credit report can seriously cost you in the long run. If your credit is less than perfect, you can work to build up your credit and hold off on buying a home until your credit has improved, or you can apply for an FHA loan. FHA-insured loans are less risky for lenders, allowing them to offer more lenient qualification standards. Because FHA loan programs offer easier qualifying guidelines than many other loan types, they can be a good option for borrowers who have poor credit.
Your real estate agent is a vital and important partner in finding and buying your next home, but it’s important that you choose your lender rather than blindly going with who your agent recommends. The reality is sometimes there is a financial tie between your real estate company and the lender it refers. In this case, as always, it’s important to closely compare rates with other lenders. Family and friends who have recently purchased a home, as well as trusted professionals who work with lenders can help steer you in the right direction. If you find a lender that wasn’t referred by your agent, ask your agent to do a quick phone interview with the lender to be sure you’re not missing anything.
Interest – This is what you are paying to borrow the money for your home. It is calculated based on the interest rate, how much principal is outstanding and the time period during which you are paying it back. At the beginning of the loan repayment period, most of your payment actually is going toward interest, with a small portion going against paying down the principal. Over time this will reverse and more of your payment will go toward reducing the loan balance.

Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Money shows. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010). For money savings links visit Ellie's blog.
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.
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.
Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare insurance rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less-expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may need to buy separate flood insurance.
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.
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.

“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


"I don't know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Mortgage Help. After a long and expensive battle with medical bills, I faced foreclosure of a home that has been in my family for over 100 years. I was finally able to get a successful loan modification and a payment I can afford in order to take care of my home. I'd have lost everything if it wasn't for their assistance."
Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefit payments are usually sent to the servicer on the last Friday of each month. Homeowners may request a copy of their Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Disbursement Schedule. Send a request to umanotice@kyhca.org. Be sure to provide your email address, first/last name, Homeowner ID number, and specify that you are requesting a copy of your Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Disbursement Schedule.
All mortgages are not created equal. Even if loans have the same interest rate, there could be differences in the points and fees that make one offer more expensive than another. It’s important to understand all of the components that go into determining the price of your mortgage, so you can accurately compare the offers being made. You can click here for a good explanation of the components of mortgage pricing.

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.
Lenders can initiate the foreclosure process after a single missed payment. Foreclosure is devastating and affects the entire community. Charities and non-profit organizations throughout the country help homeowners avoid foreclosure by offering financial assistance. The eligibility criteria to receive help varies among charities and locations. There are several national charitable organizations that can help you receive the necessary assistance to get back on track and keep your home.
Fixed-rate mortgages offer stability in your mortgage payments. However, many ARMs start with a lower interest rate than fixed mortgages and lock the rate in for a few years. That can mean significantly lower payments in the early years of your loan, so some borrowers opt for an ARM with the intention of selling or refinancing their home before the rate can adjust.

For the majority of homebuyers, a fixed-rate loan is the best choice, especially in a low-interest environment like we're in now. However, if you don't plan on being in the home you buy for more than a few years, an adjustable-rate mortgage could save you thousands of dollars in interest. For example, if you're buying a home to live in during four years of graduate school, an adjustable-rate mortgage with a five-year initial rate period could be a smart idea.
Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: You voluntarily transfer your property title to the servicers (with the servicer’s agreement) in exchange for cancellation of the remainder of your debt. Though you lose the home, a deed in lieu of foreclosure can be less damaging to your credit than a foreclosure. You will lose any equity in the property, although under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe. However, it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS. A deed in lieu of foreclosure may not be an option for you if other loans or obligations are secured by your home.
When the house, apartment, or the dwelling unit determined eligible for aid, weatherization services are provided to the household. Weatherization services provided may include installing wall, attic, floor, duct, or pipe insulation; cleaning air conditioners; installing low-flow shower heads; installing energy efficient, compact fluorescent light bulbs, improving clothes dryer operation; and replacing or repairing old refrigerator.

Loans that are backed by the federal government (i.e., the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are designed to make buying homes more affordable and typically offer low down payments. Because conventional loans are not guaranteed by the federal government if the buyer defaults, they’re a higher risk for the banks, credit unions and other lenders that offer them. Conventional loans require larger down payments than most federally backed loans, but may offer lower interest rates and the flexibility to negotiate fees – usually resulting in a lower monthly payment.

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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