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.
It’s a loan with your house and land used as collateral. If you don’t pay back the loan, the lender will foreclose. That doesn’t mean the bank owns the house until you pay it off. It means they’ve got a lien against the property. A lien is the right to take possession of someone else’s property, in this case your home, until a debt is paid off. So you really are a homeowner even if you have a mortgage. You just own a home with a lien. Zillow’s Mortgage Learning Center offers extensive information about mortgages and is a great resource for anyone in the market for a home loan.
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.
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.
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.

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.


*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.
Many mortgage programs will require a 620 or higher credit score in order to qualify for a loan. Although, FHA loans are available to people with credit scores as low as 580. However, just because you have a 580 credit score doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify. Lenders look at a lot more than just your credit score. You should have a relatively clean credit history over the past 12 months, with no late payments or collections.

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.

A married couple may decide to get a reverse mortgage but leave one spouse off the HECM. If the borrowing spouse dies or moves out permanently, a non-borrowing spouse can continue to live in the home as long as he or she is listed in the HECM documents as such. The surviving spouse must maintain the home and pay taxes and insurance as long as he or she continues to live in the home, and will not receive any of the reverse mortgage proceeds.


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.


Selling Your House: Your servicers might postpone foreclosure proceedings if you have a pending sales contract or if you put your home on the market. This approach works if proceeds from the sale can pay off the entire loan balance plus the expenses connected to selling the home (for example, real estate agent fees). Such a sale would allow you to avoid late and legal fees and damage to your credit rating, and protect your equity in the property.
If you have a credit card with a $20,000 limit, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should spend $20,000 on purchases with the card. The same logic is true when it comes to mortgages -- just because you can qualify for a certain mortgage amount doesn't mean that you have to max out your budget. Be sure that your new mortgage payment not only fits your bank's standards but your budget as well.
Mortgage forbearance programs are offered by numerous lenders, including Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. Forbearance allows borrowers a temporary suspension of their monthly mortgage payments. So a homeowner will have time to explore their options, receive counseling, or modify their loan during this timeframe. In addition, a foreclosure on your home will not occur during the forbearance period. Learn more on mortgage forbearance.
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