HARP, or the Home Affordable Refinance Program, is the latest federal program designed to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages. Designed to help people who are "underwater" with their mortgages due to lowered home values, it allows people who owe more on their home than it's worth to refinance their mortgages and get lower interest rates. In this sense it is a sort of emergency mortgage assistance program, but it only works for people who don't have any late or delinquent payments. If you are rejected while trying to refinance your home or go through a loan modification program, HARP may benefit. This only applies if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and you need to owe 125% or less of your home's value in order to qualify.

The Federal Housing Authority gives mortgage assistance to anyone with a FHA loan. You can refinance your mortgage without going through a lot of difficult begging or bureaucratic red tape. They let you reduce your mortgage rates and skip a month's payment without a third-party appraisal. In order to qualify for this, you need to a) not have any late payments on your current loan, b) have a decent credit score and c) wait a minimum of six months between streamlining processes. Refinancing doesn't always reduce your rates - it just lowers them to the current rates. Always make sure you're getting a good deal before deciding to streamline or refinance.
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If you put less than 20% down on your mortgage, you'll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, so be sure to budget for this when shopping. Mortgage insurance rates can vary significantly, depending on your credit, the length of your mortgage, how much your down payment is, and other factors. However, it can add a significant amount to your payment, so be sure to take it into consideration.
Mortgage term. A mortgage term is the length of time used to calculate your payments. If you take out a 30-year mortgage, your monthly payments are calculated by amortizing the loan over 30 years, aka 360 months. At the end of the mortgage term, your home will be paid off unless you have a balloon mortgage. For a balloon mortgage, payments are generally calculated over a 30-year term, but have a maturity date of three to 10 years. On the maturity date, the balloon payment (remaining principal balance on the loan) is due. In most cases, homeowners refinance or sell the home to make the balloon payment.

Once you’ve been keeping regular tabs on your credit report, you’ll be able to see how you’re doing. Dispute any inaccuracies with the 3 credit bureaus and get everything cleared up. If your debt-to-credit ratio is too high, monitoring your score over time will show you how your score might change. If you see accounts that you didn’t open or addresses that aren’t yours, take immediate steps to investigate what could be identity fraud.


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.
The Federal Housing Authority gives mortgage assistance to anyone with a FHA loan. You can refinance your mortgage without going through a lot of difficult begging or bureaucratic red tape. They let you reduce your mortgage rates and skip a month's payment without a third-party appraisal. In order to qualify for this, you need to a) not have any late payments on your current loan, b) have a decent credit score and c) wait a minimum of six months between streamlining processes. Refinancing doesn't always reduce your rates - it just lowers them to the current rates. Always make sure you're getting a good deal before deciding to streamline or refinance.
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.

Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.
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 credit score. Your credit score is one of the most significant factors in getting approved for a mortgage, and it also influences the interest rate you’ll end up with. The better your score, the lower your rate will likely be and the less you’ll pay in interest. You’re entitled to free credit reports each year from the three major credit bureaus, so request them from annualcreditreport.com and dispute any errors that may be dragging your score down.
Typically, you'll need a minimum of a 620 FICO score to qualify for a conventional mortgage, and it can be difficult to qualify with a score that's near the minimum if your other qualifications aren't stellar. Another option is the FHA mortgage, which is designed for borrowers with qualifications that don't meet the standards of conventional lenders. The downside is that FHA loans can be significantly more expensive, but they can be great resources for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage.

Interest as a Tax Deduction – If you itemize deductions on your annual tax return, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct home mortgage interest payments. For state returns, however, the deduction varies. Check with a tax professional for specific advice regarding the qualifying rules, particularly in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This law doubled the standard deduction and reduced the amount of mortgage interest (on new mortgages) that is deductible.
The pre-approval process is fairly simple: Contact a mortgage lender, submit your financial and personal information, and wait for a response. Pre-approvals include everything from how much you can afford, to the interest rate you’ll pay on the loan. The lender prints a pre-approval letter for your records, and funds are available as soon as a seller accepts your bid. Though it’s not always that simple, it can be.
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.
Your first action item is to seek pre-approval from a lender. It's important to note that pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different processes. For pre-approval, the lender will check your credit and other financial information to determine what price home you can afford. (You can use an online mortgage calculator to give you a ballpark figure on how much home you can afford.) This will give you a price range to stay within during your home search and lets buyers know that you’re serious when you make an offer. Getting pre-approval for a standard loan should take a couple of days.

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.


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.
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.
Real estate agents are often a terrific resource for getting suggestions regarding a number of home buying issues. They will know which mortgage lenders are trustworthy and who does the best job of completing the process in a timely fashion. After all, they work with lenders on a weekly (even daily) basis. Plus, you can trust there are no hidden agendas because it is against the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act RESPA to receive a commission for referring a client to a mortgage lender.
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.
Taxes. You can usually choose to pay property taxes as part of your mortgage payment or separately on your own. If you pay property taxes as part of your mortgage payment, the money is placed into an escrow account and remains there until the tax bill for the property comes due. The lender will pay the property tax at that time out of the escrow fund.
Whether it is purchasing your first home, buying a vacation home or downsizing to something more appropriate to fit your life style, a new beginning can be a wonderful experience. It can also be a bit overwhelming. There are open houses to attend, homes to compare and a sea of information to sort through.  During these times, having a team around you is extremely important. One of the most important members of that team is your loan officer (and mortgage company)
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.

Know how much cash you'll need at closing. When you buy your home, you’ll need cash for a down payment (see how much you should put down) and closing costs (estimate your closing costs). The down payment typically varies from 5% to 20% or more. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (keep reading for more on that). Closing costs could be about 3-7% of the total loan amount and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.

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.
This seemed to be the thinking a few years ago, and things didn’t turn out very well. When you borrow more than you can realistically pay, that’s a sub-prime mortgage. Banks sold a lot of those to people who assumed the housing market would keep rising like gangbusters. Their home values would go up, giving them nearly instant equity and they could refinance quickly at a lower rate or sell the home for a quick profit. Lenders sold these loan products because they were making the same bet, and interest rates are always higher on sub-prime loans. Even if some ended up in foreclosure, the lenders would still make a tidy profit. Unfortunately, it was a bad bet for almost everyone.
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.
NOTE: These programs are only available to homeowners whose mortgage servicing company agrees to the terms and conditions governing the use of these funds. If your servicer is not currently participating in Keep Your Home California, you may want to call them and encourage them to do so. A homeowner cannot receive assistance if their servicer has not signed an agreement with CalHFA MAC. See a list of participating servicers and which programs they are currently offering.
You don’t need a zero balance on your credit cards to qualify for a mortgage loan. However, the less you owe your creditors, the better. Your debts determine if you can get a mortgage, as well as how much you can acquire from a lender. Lenders evaluate your debt-to-income ratio before approving the mortgage. If you have a high debt ratio because you’re carrying a lot of credit card debt , the lender can turn down your request or offer a lower mortgage. This is because your entire monthly debt payments — including the mortgage – shouldn’t exceed 36% of your gross monthly income. However, paying down your consumer debt before completing an application lowers your debt-to-income ratio and can help you acquire a better mortgage rate.
It’s short for private mortgage insurance. It’s usually required if you put less than 20 percent down on your house, and it protects the lender in case you default. The cost varies, as do the methods to get rid of the PMI once you have 20 percent equity in your home. Government loan programs, such as FHA or VA loans, are backed by the government rather than PMI. There is no monthly mortgage insurance on VA loans, however you will have monthly mortgage insurance on a new FHA loan.
Your credit score. Your credit score is one of the most significant factors in getting approved for a mortgage, and it also influences the interest rate you’ll end up with. The better your score, the lower your rate will likely be and the less you’ll pay in interest. You’re entitled to free credit reports each year from the three major credit bureaus, so request them from annualcreditreport.com and dispute any errors that may be dragging your score down.
*Keep Your Home California works directly with California’s Employment Development Department to determine a homeowner’s employment status. If it is determined that a homeowner’s unemployment benefits were terminated because they became fully re-employed at any time during the eighteen (18) month Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefit period, and the homeowner failed to notify Keep Your Home California as required, Unemployment Mortgage Assistance benefit payments will be terminated immediately.
The NID-Housing Counseling Agency (NID-HCA) is a non-profit, HUD approved agency that assists homeowners with addressing financial situations including defaults and foreclosure, predatory lending, credit repair, referrals, foreclosure counseling, and other services. Their services are mostly free, and their goal is to help people stay in their homes. The NID Housing Counseling agency deals with a number of debt and foreclosure issues.
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