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).
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.

Loans that are backed by the federal government (i.e., the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are designed to make buying homes more affordable and typically offer low down payments. Because conventional loans are not guaranteed by the federal government if the buyer defaults, they’re a higher risk for the banks, credit unions and other lenders that offer them. Conventional loans require larger down payments than most federally backed loans, but may offer lower interest rates and the flexibility to negotiate fees – usually resulting in a lower monthly payment.


Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
Note that the Hope for Homeowners program indicated above has been expanded. Families can now receive aid on a second mortgage, and more lenders are participating and cooperating with the FHA. Banks and lenders have been provided further incentive to participate in the program. Find how the FHA Expanded Hope for Homeowners to assist more borrowers.
Once you find the perfect home, the next step is to apply for a mortgage. You will need to provide detailed information in order to receive your loan approval. Below is a list of standard documents that are required for just about everyone. Depending on your situation, you may be asked for more or less information. Use this checklist to help you prepare in advance, so the application process is quick and easy.

The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal advice or regulatory guidance. The CFPB updates this information periodically. This information may include links or references to third-party resources or content. We do not endorse the third-party or guarantee the accuracy of this third-party information. There may be other resources that also serve your needs.

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.
Your real estate agent is a vital and important partner in finding and buying your next home, but it’s important that you choose your lender rather than blindly going with who your agent recommends. The reality is sometimes there is a financial tie between your real estate company and the lender it refers. In this case, as always, it’s important to closely compare rates with other lenders. Family and friends who have recently purchased a home, as well as trusted professionals who work with lenders can help steer you in the right direction. If you find a lender that wasn’t referred by your agent, ask your agent to do a quick phone interview with the lender to be sure you’re not missing anything.
Keep Your Home California defines “cash out” as monies disbursed to the borrower, or paid to a third party for the benefit of the borrower (e.g., debt consolidation, home improvement, tuition, etc.), when the combined amount of those disbursements exceeds 1% of the new loan amount. Reasonable and customary costs associated with refinancing (e.g., appraisal, processing feeds, title insurance, origination fees, etc.) may be financed in the loan and are not considered “cash out.”

In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.
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.
Community Action Agencies are private and public nonprofit organizations. The main goal of a CAA is to help people achieve self-sufficiency. Each CAA is governed locally and features different programs. The organizations work directly with state and local government assistance programs and charities. According to the Community Action Partnership, 94 percent of CAAs provide referrals for assistance and 91 percent provide emergency services, including food banks and homeless prevention. Assistance is generally available only to low-income families and individuals.
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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