In today’s competitive market, many buyers skip this important step when they start looking for a home. A pre-approval allows you to confirm how large of a loan you can qualify for based on several factors. It also positions you to make a serious offer when you find the home you want to buy. For a pre-approval, the lender verifies the buyer’s application information through income and asset documents provided by you or retrieved directly by the mortgage company. Many lenders can also provide a “prequalification” online, based on unverified information provided by the buyer. However, most sellers don’t give much value to a letter that doesn’t state the information has been validated. The most important thing is to take the time to provide what is needed for a thorough pre-approval process.

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.

Following the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent collapse of the housing bubble, many (but not all) real estate markets eventually recovered. Entered into in a prudent way, home ownership remains something you should consider in your long-term financial planning. Understanding how mortgages and their interest rates work is the best way to ensure that you're building that asset in the most financially beneficial way. 
The good news for today’s FHA borrowers is that roughly 3,000 zip codes got a 7-percent hike in FHA loan limits this year. Now homebuyers can borrow up to $314,827, an increase from last year’s $294,515. In more costly areas, loan limits rose to $726,525 from $679,650. These higher limits offer buyers access to a bigger piece of the market, especially as home prices continue to climb upwards.
"In August 2006, my husband and I were notified by the mortgage company that our rate was going to adjust. I contacted them about locking in a rate, only to be told that they wouldn't be able to help. Our house payment went up $700/month. We struggled to put gas in our vehicles to get to work and to buy groceries. Then, a friend gave me the number to Iowa Mortgage Help. We are convinced that without the vast knowledge and assistance of Iowa Mortgage Help, we would have lost our home."
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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.
National policy favors homebuyers via the tax code (although less than it previously did). For many families the right home purchase is the best way to build an asset for their retirement nest egg. Also, if you can refrain from cash-out refinancing, the home you buy at age 30 with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage will be fully paid off by the time you reach normal retirement age, giving you a low-cost place to live when your earnings taper off.
When your application is received and your eligibility is confirmed, the NC Housing Finance Agency may place a temporary stay-of-foreclosure for up to 120 days so that the company that owns your mortgage cannot foreclose on your home or take other legal action while your Mortgage Payment Program loan application is under review. If you qualify for the loan, the NC Housing Finance Agency will make your mortgage payment directly to your loan provider or bank. At the end of the assistance period, you will resume making your mortgage payment.
Once you find a home you want to put an offer on, you have to obtain the actual mortgage loan. Apply for a loan with your chosen mortgage lender. Within three days of your application you should receive a loan estimate that includes closing costs, the interest rate, and the monthly amount you’ll pay for the principal, interest, insurance, and taxes. After that, it’s off to the underwriter, who will review all of your financial information and make the final call to approve or deny your loan.

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.

Find information on mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs from various companies, federal government agencies, non-profits, HUD counseling agencies, banks and states. Numerous organizations have pledged to provide loan modification and other forms of mortgage help to millions of Americans. Resources are available that can help prevent or stop foreclosures as well as assist homeowners with paying their current and back mortgage payments.
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