The amortization chart below (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) shows how the proportion of your payment that is credited to the principal of your loan increases each year, while the proportion credited to the interest decreases each year. In the later years of your mortgage, more of your payment will be applied to principal, helping you build equity faster.

When working out the terms of your mortgage loan, it is important to understand all aspects of the loan, including your interest rates, amortization schedule, and payment terms (such as, for example, whether you can prepay extra principal payments on your mortgage if your budget allows). Pay attention to detail, as what may seem like slight adjustments can actually have a big impact on the amount you end up paying.
Your credit score can make a big difference in how much home you can afford and how much interest you'll end up paying. For example, if you're obtaining a $200,000 mortgage and have a FICO score of 750, you can expect to pay $138,324 in interest over the term of a 30-year mortgage as of this writing. On the other hand, with a score of 650, you can expect to pay almost $35,000 more. MyFICO.com has an excellent calculator that can tell you the cost of your credit score. Before you start the homebuying process, it can be a good idea to check your credit report and FICO score and to do damage control if necessary.
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While it's true that the interest rates in the mortgage-backed bonds market are the primary determinant of the mortgage rate lenders charge, individual factors can impact the ultimate rate your bank offers you as an individual borrower. You are likely to receive a lower interest rate if you have a good-to-excellent credit score. If your score is poor, expect to pay a higher interest rate, and your bank might even turn down your loan request. Variable-rate mortgages often start with a low “teaser” rate, but the rate might rise sharply later, well above fixed mortgage rates. Many banks and credit unions offer loans that are guaranteed by a federal agency, such as the Federal Housing Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Veterans Administration. In some cases, these agencies make direct loans. Agency mortgages typically have lower interest rates than conventional mortgages. Rates also can vary from state to state. Furthermore, rates for rural homes might differ from those on urban property. Small or jumbo mortgages often have higher interest rates. You might reduce your interest rate by increasing your down payment or agreeing to a shorter-term mortgage.
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.

Typically your lender will want to see a couple of months of mortgage payments in reserves. A lender does not want to give a mortgage loan to someone who is depleting all of their savings to qualify. The more reserves you have the better. Having a large amount of savings can sometimes make it a little easier to qualify for a mortgage. A large amount of reserves is seen as a compensating factor, it could help make up for having flawed credit.
During dynamic economic periods, interest rate volatility can increase and move mortgage rates quickly. As a mortgage shopper or holder, these periods offer both risks and rewards. For example, you wouldn’t want to lock yourself into an interest rate that drops before the home closing, but you’d welcome a rate lock if rates were on the rise. Some mortgage lenders address this problem by offering rate locks that protect you from rising rates but allow you take advantage of a rate drop before closing.
As interest rates rise, so does your monthly payment, with each payment applied to interest and principal in the same manner as a fixed-rate mortgage, over a set number of years. Lenders often offer lower interest rates for the first few years of an ARM, but then rates change frequently after that – as often as once a year. The initial interest rate on an ARM is significantly lower than a fixed-rate mortgage.

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.

If you do not shop multiple lenders, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if you are sure this is the lender you want to use, getting quotes from other lenders can help you negotiate a better deal. Not every lender will give you the same mortgage rate, or closing costs. This is why shopping multiple lenders is very important. Getting at least 3 or 4 loan offers is recommended.
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.
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.
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.
Grants are often given to assist home buyers with down payments, as well as help to lock in certain mortgage rates when they are first purchasing the property. These are awarded by the government based on need or other status. For instance, there are U.S. Veteran mortgage assistance grants, grants for low-income families, first-time homeowner grants, single mother grants, and grants for people who plan to do significant home improvement. These grants often cap the down payment at a certain low percentage of the total cost of the home.
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.

If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor—they’ve been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your counselor can develop a tailored plan of action for your situation and help you work with your mortgage company. They’re experienced in all of the available programs and a variety of financial situations. They can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.
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