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.
If you plan on staying put until the mortgage is paid off, a fixed-rate loan will give you stability. The interest rate is a little higher than an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). But it won’t go up like an ARM can. The only things that will change your house payment over time are property taxes and insurance rates, but those will change regardless of which type of loan you get.
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.
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.
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.
If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.
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.
Mortgage forbearance programs are offered by numerous lenders, including Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. Forbearance allows borrowers a temporary suspension of their monthly mortgage payments. So a homeowner will have time to explore their options, receive counseling, or modify their loan during this timeframe. In addition, a foreclosure on your home will not occur during the forbearance period. Learn more on mortgage forbearance.