Technology has revolutionized the mortgage selection process, making rate comparisons a quick and easy first step. That said, it’s important to look beyond the initial rates and dig deeper into loan terms (the fine print), such as closing costs, hidden fees and down payment requirements. Some lenders will claim to charge “no origination fee,” but their online quote includes a hefty 2% “discount point” in the fine print. Another great resource when evaluating lenders is to read online reviews on Google, Yelp, Zillow or Facebook.
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.
As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.
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.
A reverse mortgage loan typically does not require repayment for as long as the borrower(s) continues to live in the home as the primary residence, pays property taxes and insurance, and maintains the home according to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requirements, or until the last homeowner has passed away or has moved out of the property. The amount of equity you can access with a reverse mortgage is determined by the age of the youngest borrower, current interest rates, and the value of the home. Please note that you may need to set aside additional funds from loan proceeds to pay for taxes and insurance.
A mortgage loan is a long-term loan obtained from a bank, financial institution, or other lending organization, often used to purchase, construct, or improve a home or piece of property. Mortgage loans are usually paid off over 15 to 30 years, with low-interest rates compared to other large loans. A mortgage loan works to provide low-interest rates for long-term repayment, because the lender's risk is insured by a security interest in your real property.
If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, before you start house hunting or get pre-approved for a loan, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com.

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.
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.
Short sale can be an alternative to a foreclosure, and it will allow you to sell your home for less than the current outstanding mortgage balance on it. While this can be a drawn out process and take time, this option is becoming more common and acceptable by banks, real estate agents and servicers. Learn more on how short sales can stop foreclosures.
For decades, the only type of mortgage available was a fixed-interest loan repaid over 30 years. It offers the stability of regular -- and relatively low -- monthly payments. In the 1980s came adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), loans with an even lower initial interest rate that adjusts or “resets” every year for the life of the mortgage. At the peak of the recent housing boom, when lenders were trying to squeeze even unqualified borrowers into a mortgage, they began offering “creative” ARMs with shorter reset periods, tantalizingly low “teaser” rates and no limits on rate increases.
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.
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.
Remember that whenever you apply for a loan, including a mortgage, the “hard inquiry” the lenders make shows up on your credit report and temporarily lowers your score. Applying for several mortgages in a two week period only counts as one inquiry, but if you drag it out and canvas as many lenders over a longer period, you’ll end up doing damage to your score, which could result in a lower rate than you were hoping for.
Amortization is what you are actually paying per year against your loan. You can get a mortgage with a term of 10, 15 or 30 years. You pay each month and the principal decreases until it’s paid off. The payments don’t change but at the beginning of the term, most of the payment is going toward interest. By the end of the term, that’s flipped and you’ll be paying down the mortgage principal.
In addition to what is mentioned above, the Home Affordable Modification Program has also been enhanced and a new version was created by the federal government. Improvements to it will allow a larger number of homeowners the ability to apply for assistance, including principal reductions or loan modifications that will have an even lower interest rate.
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.
Amortization. Each mortgage payment is split so that part goes to paying the principal and the rest goes to interest. In the early years of your mortgage, interest makes up a greater part of your overall payment, but as time goes on, the principal becomes a larger portion because you have a smaller amount of principal to charge interest against. Your lender will provide an amortization schedule (a table showing the breakdown of each payment).
When you apply for a mortgage, you will need to provide your lender with a number of financial documents. Having these documents already assembled will help accelerate the processing of your loan application. At a minimum, you should be prepared to provide your last two pay stubs, your most recent W-2, your last two years of tax returns, and current bank and brokerage statements.
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.
Because the interest rate is not locked in, the monthly payment for this type of loan will change over the life of the loan. Most ARMs have a limit or cap on how much the interest rate may fluctuate, as well as how often it can be changed. When the rate goes up or down, the lender recalculates your monthly payment so that you’ll make equal payments until the next rate adjustment occurs.

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.

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The amount you put down also affects your monthly mortgage payment and interest rate. If you want the smallest mortgage payment possible, opt for a 30-year fixed mortgage. But if you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Use our calculator to determine whether a 15-year or 30-year fixed mortgage is a better fit for you. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.
Foreclosure mediation programs have been created by cities, counties, and state governments. A number of local court systems have also created mediation programs that will ensure lenders, banks and homeowners meet with an attorney or professional mediator to explore all solutions to a foreclosure. Learn more on foreclosure mediation programs and whether your state or local government offers one.
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