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.
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You may have heard that you should put 20 percent down when you purchase a home. It’s true that having a large down payment makes it easier to get a mortgage and may even lower your interest rate. But many people have a hard time scraping together a down payment that large. Fortunately, there are many options for homebuyers with little money for a down payment. FHA loans offer down payments as low as 3.5 percent. VA and USDA loans may require no down payment at all.
Buying a home with a mortgage is probably the largest financial transaction you will enter into. Typically, a bank or mortgage lender will finance 80% of the price of the home, and you agree to pay it back – with interest – over a specific period. As you are comparing lenders, mortgage rates and options, it’s helpful to understand how interest accrues each month and is paid.
The mortgage industry standard is a 20% down payment. However, you may be able to get a conventional mortgage with significantly less money up front -- as low as 3% of the purchase price in many cases. Specialized loan types, such as VA and USDA mortgages require no down payments at all for those who qualify. The point is that while a higher down payment will lower your monthly housing costs, you may be able to get into a home with less money in savings than you think.
You can opt for an interest-only mortgage where, as the name suggests, you just pay the interest every month. However, you’ll have to pay off the capital eventually so it’s important to have a repayment plan in place. The number of lenders offering interest-only mortgages has reduced over the last few years because there are concerns that many of those who have them have no repayment plan in place and could be left unable to pay back the capital at the end of the term.
Lenders will generally pull your credit at least twice -- when you originally apply and shortly before closing (as happened in my situation). If there are any significant differences between the two, such as a new account or a significantly higher debt balance, it could lead to delays and could even disqualify you for the mortgage. Be safe -- just leave your credit alone until you've signed your closing documents.