Refinancing your mortgage simply means you’ll be replacing your current mortgage with a new home loan. You’ll get a new rate, new terms and conditions, new closing costs, and the possibility to choose a new lender. Refinancing can be a good idea when mortgage rates are low (as we saw at times in the past year) or when and if your home has seen a big jump in its market value.**
You should know where your credit score stands before you start looking for a home or begin the mortgage process. Even if you think you have perfect credit, there may be issues or mistakes on your credit report that you are not aware of. A mistake on your credit report can seriously cost you in the long run. If your credit is less than perfect, you can work to build up your credit and hold off on buying a home until your credit has improved, or you can apply for an FHA loan. FHA-insured loans are less risky for lenders, allowing them to offer more lenient qualification standards. Because FHA loan programs offer easier qualifying guidelines than many other loan types, they can be a good option for borrowers who have poor credit.
FHA loans. FHA loans are a program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They’re designed to help first-time homebuyers and people with low incomes or little savings afford a home. They typically offer lower down payments, lower closing costs and less-stringent financial requirements than conventional mortgages. The drawback of FHA loans is that they require an upfront mortgage insurance fee and monthly mortgage insurance payments for all buyers, regardless of your down payment. And, unlike conventional loans, the mortgage insurance cannot be canceled, even if you have more than 20 percent equity in your home.
Mortgage loan repayment works through a process called amortization. When you take out a mortgage loan, you agree to pay back the principal amount (actual loan money) in addition to interest over a specified period of time. Because the interest can add up to more than the principal amount, an amortization schedule (provided by your lender) balances out the interest and principal cost over the course of the loan repayment. A borrower pays off more interest to start, and the ratio gradually reverses to where the borrower pays off more of the principal as the loan nears its end. This way, the payment amount is able to remain stable over the course of the loan. If you're considering refinancing your mortgage, an amortization schedule is an essential tool in learning how much money you can save.
Oftentimes, rates you see in advertisements online aren’t necessarily for the loans you qualify for. So you’ll need to investigate. Interest rates vary by location and can change daily. And they vary depending on your specific financial picture, such as income, credit score, and debts. A good place to get an idea of what rates are available to you right now is to search for interest rates on Zillow. You can get free quotes anonymously, based on your specific financial picture, so you don’t have to worry about being hassled. You’ll also be able to see mortgage rates from multiple lenders so you can easily compare rates.
Conventional loans require a home buyer to make a 20 percent down payment and many home buyers don’t have enough cash on hand to make that down payment therefore they are required to pay for mortgage insurance as part of their monthly payment. This insurance protects lenders if a borrower should default on the loan. Until late 2014, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac required down payments of at least 10 percent. This requirement pushed many home buyers into Federal Housing Administration loans or FHA loans, which have a 3.5 percent minimum down payment. The problem is that FHA premiums are costlier than private mortgage insurance. But in 2015, qualified buyers will be able to get Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent. These premiums will be dependent on credit scores and the size of the down payment. Private mortgage insurance premiums are generally more affordable than FHA premiums.
As an example, when I was buying my first home, my lender called me three days before closing to let me know that my credit score had fallen to one point below the threshold for my interest rate, so I would either have to take an action that would improve my credit score immediately or accept a significantly higher interest rate. The solution required me to pay off one of my credit cards and fax proof of it to the lender -- not an impossible situation, but certainly a hassle when I was told it had to be done right away and I was at work.
DO THIS: GET IN CONTACT WITH YOUR LENDER TO DISCUSS THE REMAINING BALANCE ON YOUR MORTGAGE — AND WHEN YOUR PMI, IF YOU HAVE IT, CAN BE DROPPED. IF YOU’RE BUYING, CHAT WITH YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT FINANCING YOUR UPFRONT MORTGAGE INSURANCE INTO A LOW-DOWN-PAYMENT LOAN, LIKE AN FHA, OR SEE IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE FOR LOANS WITHOUT MORTGAGE INSURANCE, LIKE A VA LOAN.
Mortgage principal reductions are becoming more common. The latest data shows that banks and lenders are forgiven, deferring or reducing the principal balance on about 15% of home mortgages, and they are writing off billions of dollars in principal. Studies show that reducing the balance on a mortgage may be the most effective solution to a housing crisis. Locate a list of mortgage loan principal reduction programs from banks.
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.
In addition to a down payment, you will also have to pay closing costs to finalize your loan. This can be a substantial amount of money, so it’s important to plan ahead and be aware of the amount you will likely have to bring to the table. Make sure you have budgeted and saved up enough for these fees in advance, so they don’t catch you by surprise.
Where to get the best deal. If you qualify for an FHA, VA or USDA loan, you may be able to get a better deal on interest rates and other costs using their programs. Familiarize yourself with their criteria. Whether you choose a government-backed or conventional loan, keep in mind that fees and interest rates can vary widely by lender, even for the same type of loan, so shop around for the best deal. You can start your search by comparing rates with LendingTree.
Grants are awarded through a rather competitive application process. The applications themselves are quite complex and failing to answer any question could result in a denial. The good news is that there is literally millions of dollars in grant money made available each year. Many grants are offered only to minorities or to applicants meeting certain qualifications, such as earning a low income. These restrictions reduce the number of applications, meaning that there is less competition for the award. There is also no limit to the number of times an applicant can apply for a grant, which even further increases the odds of receiving the offered funds.
Amortization. Each mortgage payment is split so that part goes to paying the principal and the rest goes to interest. In the early years of your mortgage, interest makes up a greater part of your overall payment, but as time goes on, the principal becomes a larger portion because you have a smaller amount of principal to charge interest against. Your lender will provide an amortization schedule (a table showing the breakdown of each payment).
The US Treasury administers the Hardest Hit Fund, which provides aid to the states that were most impacted by the economic crisis. Each of these states have local agencies that help homeowners in various ways, including mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed, principal reduction, and transactional assistance. This helps people either afford the homes they’re in, or move to more affordable housing.
Note: If you pay half your house payment every two weeks instead of one monthly payment, you’ll end up saving money on your loan. You’ll wind up paying 26 payments per year, one more payment annually than if you just paid monthly. The re-amortized loan will eventually result in more of the payment paid on principal and less on interest. The extra payments go to pay down the principal on the loan.
It literally takes a few minutes to pull your credit report and order your credit score. But surprisingly, some future home buyers never review their scores and credit history before submitting a home loan application, assuming that their scores are high enough to qualify. And many never consider the possibility of identity theft. However, a low credit score and credit fraud can stop a mortgage application dead in its tracks.
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Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.