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.
However, it's perfectly acceptable to work seller-paid closing costs into your offer in order to reduce your out-of-pocket expense. In other words, if you want to offer $195,000 on a home, you can offer $200,000 and ask the seller to pay up to $5,000 in closing costs for you. This can be an excellent strategy for first-time buyers with limited savings to improve their ability to get a mortgage.
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If you're interested in buying real estate in the US, the most important point to remember is that the mortgage lending market is extremely competitive. The overall interest rates are similar to those found in many European countries, but there is a lot of competition between different banks and brokers. That's why it's vital to shop around before you settle on a lender.

In simple terms, a mortgage is a loan in which your house functions as the collateral. The bank or mortgage lender loans you a large chunk of money (typically 80 percent of the price of the home), which you must pay back -- with interest -- over a set period of time. If you fail to pay back the loan, the lender can take your home through a legal process known as foreclosure.
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.
"I don't know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Mortgage Help. After a long and expensive battle with medical bills, I faced foreclosure of a home that has been in my family for over 100 years. I was finally able to get a successful loan modification and a payment I can afford in order to take care of my home. I'd have lost everything if it wasn't for their assistance."
Treasury/FHA Second Lien Program (FHA2LP): If you have a second mortgage and the mortgage servicer of your first mortgage agrees to participate in FHA Short Refinance, you may qualify to have your second mortgage on the same home reduced or eliminated through FHA2LP. If the servicer of your second mortgage agrees to participate, the total amount of your mortgage debt after the refinance cannot exceed 115% of your home’s current value.
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.

Insurance: This will be paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice; this is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.


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.
The possibility of losing your home because you can’t make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. Perhaps you’re having trouble making ends meet because you or a family member lost a job, or you’re having other financial problems. Or maybe you’re one of the many consumers who took out a mortgage that had a fixed rate for the first two or three years and then had an adjustable rate – and you want to know what your payments will be and whether you’ll be able to make them.
Second Lien Modification Program (2MP): If your first mortgage was permanently modified under HAMP SM and you have a second mortgage on the same property, you may be eligible for a modification or principal reduction on your second mortgage under 2MP. Likewise, If you have a home equity loan, HELOC, or some other second lien that is making it difficult for you to keep up with your mortgage payments, learn more about this MHA program.
*If a homeowner obtains a loan modification that changes the mortgage payment amount being made through the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, the Servicer is responsible for notifying Keep Your Home California of the change, so the amount of benefit assistance can be modified accordingly. As long as the homeowner was still qualified under program guidelines, Keep Your Home California would then process the payment change at the earliest possible funding date.
To be clear, you don't need a pre-approval to start looking at houses. However, since a pre-approval is essentially the same as a full mortgage approval, just without a specific home in mind, it can be an extremely valuable shopping tool. Specifically, if you submit a pre-approval along with your offer, it tells the seller that you're a serious buyer who is not likely to run into trouble when obtaining financing. One caveat: A pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different things. A pre-qualification is based solely on information you provide and is not a commitment to lend money, therefore it doesn't carry nearly as much weight.

A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyer's market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.
Perhaps the most intimidating part of buying a home is applying for a mortgage. You may know exactly what “APR,” “points” and “fixed-rate” mean — but if this is your first home, or you just need a refresher, there are a lot of great resources to get you up to speed so you can be a well-prepared mortgage shopper. And because this is such a crucial part of owning a home, we’re going to break it all down.
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
If you are receiving any sort of financial assistance or even a financial gift for your down payment from someone make sure that you are depositing it into your account at least two months prior to applying for your mortgage. That way the bank will not need to source the large deposit. If this is not done then the gifter will have to write a letter stating that the money was truly a gift and not a loan. If you are needing a loan for the down payment the lender may see this as a sign of financial dependence and it may hurt your chances of obtaining a loan.
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.
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.

DO THIS: SET UP A QUICK MEETING WITH YOUR LOAN OFFICER TO SEE IF YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM A REFINANCE TO REDUCE YOUR MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENTS. YOU COULD ALSO REFINANCE TO CONSOLIDATE YOUR CREDIT CARD, LOAN, AND OTHER DEBT TO LOWER YOUR INTEREST RATES; TO FINANCE HOME RENOVATIONS OR EXTENSIONS BY USING THE EQUITY ON YOUR EXISTING HOME; OR TO GET A NEW HOME LOAN WITH BETTER FEATURES, LIKE AN OFFSET ACCOUNT OR REDRAW FACILITY.
In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bid on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding. Stick to your budget to avoid a mortgage payment you can’t afford.
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.

While some agencies limit their counseling services to homeowners with FHA mortgages, many others offer free help to any homeowner who is having trouble making mortgage payments. Call the local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the housing authority in your state, city, or county for help in finding a legitimate housing counseling agency nearby. Or consider contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF); 888-995-HOPE. HPF is a nonprofit organization that partners with mortgage companies, local governments, and other organizations to help consumers get loan modifications and prevent foreclosures.

Homeowner’s Insurance. Homeowner’s insurance is insurance that covers damage to your home from fire, accidents and other issues. Some lenders require this insurance be included in your monthly mortgage payment. Others will let you pay it separately. All will require you have homeowner’s insurance while you’re paying your mortgage—that’s because the lender actually owns your home and stands to lose a lot of it you don’t have insurance and have an issue.
Yes, the word “homework” makes us shudder too, but this time the reward is much bigger than memorizing geometry theorems or the periodic table. You’re finding a home but you’re also making a financial commitment you’ll have to live with for years: get the best deal you can. Research loans, rates and brokers exhaustively before you sign or commit to anything. Doing the hard work now will pay off down the road with a better rate and terms.
If you’re interested in refinancing to take advantage of lower mortgage rates, but are afraid you won’t qualify because your home value has decreased, you may want to ask if you qualify for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) or the HOPE for Homeowners (H4H) program. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
At the end of the day, your mortgage loan is the single biggest financial decision you’re likely to make in your life. It’s important to take time to get it right, and that ultimately comes down to finding a lender who can do three things: offer competitive rates, offer great service and quickly process your loan. By keeping these areas in mind, you’re not only going to win as you go to buy your house — you're going to also save money and time.
In addition to what is mentioned above, the Home Affordable Modification Program has also been enhanced and a new version was created by the federal government. Improvements to it will allow a larger number of homeowners the ability to apply for assistance, including principal reductions or loan modifications that will have an even lower interest rate.
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