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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.
A third option – usually reserved for affluent home buyers or those with irregular incomes – is an interest-only mortgage. As the name implies, this type of loan gives you the option to pay only interest for the first few years, and it’s attractive to first-time homeowners because of the low payments during their lower earning years. It may also be the right choice if you expect to own the home for a relatively short time and intend to sell before the bigger monthly payments begin.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is working aggressively to halt and reverse the losses represented by foreclosure. Through its National Servicing Center (NSC), FHA offers a number of various loss mitigation programs and informational resources to assist FHA-insured homeowners and home equity conversion mortgage (HECM) borrowers facing financial hardship or unemployment and whose mortgage is either in default or at risk of default.
Several utility companies are part of this organization and participate in the program. Grants are available for needy families and individuals and they can provide assistance with a wide variety of needs. For example, prescription medications, eyeglasses, artificial limbs, medical care and bills, wheelchairs, ramps or other handicap renovations are examples of the grants awarded each month. However, please note that no utility bills are paid through this program. Call your utility company and ask about Operation Round Up.
Your credit score can make a big difference in how much home you can afford and how much interest you'll end up paying. For example, if you're obtaining a $200,000 mortgage and have a FICO score of 750, you can expect to pay $138,324 in interest over the term of a 30-year mortgage as of this writing. On the other hand, with a score of 650, you can expect to pay almost $35,000 more. MyFICO.com has an excellent calculator that can tell you the cost of your credit score. Before you start the homebuying process, it can be a good idea to check your credit report and FICO score and to do damage control if necessary.
The next step is to thoroughly research these grants to ensure that you satisfy the eligibility criteria and complete their applications. The complexity of grant applications makes it worthless to apply for grants for which you are ineligible. Save your time by only completing applications for those grants that you feel you have a chance of receiving. Non-profit housing organizations and your city's housing authority may be able to assist you with your application.
There are a number of programs to assist homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure and otherwise struggling with their monthly mortgage payments. The majority of these programs are administered through the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD. This page provides a summary of these various programs. Please continue reading in order to determine which program can best assist you.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.
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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.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
Once you find a home you want to put an offer on, you have to obtain the actual mortgage loan. Apply for a loan with your chosen mortgage lender. Within three days of your application you should receive a loan estimate that includes closing costs, the interest rate, and the monthly amount you’ll pay for the principal, interest, insurance, and taxes. After that, it’s off to the underwriter, who will review all of your financial information and make the final call to approve or deny your loan.
Another part of the payment you make goes towards the interest you owe the lender. For example, let’s say you borrow $300,000 for 30 years at 5%. Your payments will be about $1,600 a month. During the first year, almost all of that $1,600 goes towards interest unless you take an interest-only loan (which is not usually a good idea). Let’s see why you mostly pay the interest during the first years of your mortgage.
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.
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.
Remember that whenever you apply for a loan, including a mortgage, the “hard inquiry” the lenders make shows up on your credit report and temporarily lowers your score. Applying for several mortgages in a two week period only counts as one inquiry, but if you drag it out and canvas as many lenders over a longer period, you’ll end up doing damage to your score, which could result in a lower rate than you were hoping for.
On the whole, the lowest interest rates are available to borrowers who have large deposits, or in the case of those remortgaging, significant equity in their property. Typically, you’ll need at a deposit of at least 40% to be eligible for one of the best rates. If you have only 10%, there are mortgages available but you’ll probably pay a higher rate.
In addition to higher credit score requirements, several missed payments, frequent lateness, and other derogatory credit information can stop mortgage approvals. Pay your bills on time, lower your debts, and stay on top of your credit report. Cleaning up your credit history beforehand and fixing errors on your credit report are key to keeping up a good credit score.
A grant is an award of money that does not need to be repaid. Grants are typically provided by non-profit organizations, housing agencies, state governments, and the federal government. Awarded funds are only usable for the purpose for which they were offered and most agencies require recipients to submit periodic updates demonstrating how the funds were used to ensure that they were not misappropriated.
Taxes. You can usually choose to pay property taxes as part of your mortgage payment or separately on your own. If you pay property taxes as part of your mortgage payment, the money is placed into an escrow account and remains there until the tax bill for the property comes due. The lender will pay the property tax at that time out of the escrow fund.
That depends of you and your goals for this purchase. Is this the house you plan to stay in forever? Is it a starter home you plan on selling to trade up in five years? How long you think you’ll stay in a home will help you decide between fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages. It will also help you decide whether to focus on interest rate or points.
With this in mind, it’s important to do research before choosing a mortgage lender. You not only want to compare the rates but also the level of service each lender provides. When comparing rates, be sure to get the estimates on the same day as rates can change daily. When reviewing level of service, ask how quickly they can process your loan. Is the lender available to personally help you choose the right product and rate, or are you waiting on hold for “the next available representative”? Do they make you jump through hoops just to get a rate quote?
Forbearance: Your mortgage payments are reduced or suspended for a period you and your servicer agree to. At the end of that time, you resume making your regular payments as well as a lump sum payment or additional partial payments for a number of months to bring the loan current. Forbearance may be an option if your income is reduced temporarily (for example, you are on disability leave from a job, and you expect to go back to your full time position shortly). Forbearance isn’t going to help you if you’re in a home you can’t afford.
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: These programs are only available to homeowners whose mortgage servicing company agrees to the terms and conditions governing the use of these funds. If your servicer is not currently participating in Keep Your Home California, you may want to call them and encourage them to do so. A homeowner cannot receive assistance if their servicer has not signed an agreement with CalHFA MAC. See a list of participating servicers and which programs they are currently offering.
Most lenders today will want to know every detail of your financial life. If something looks odd, or doesn’t make sense they will want to have some sort of explanation. This means that you will have to write letter explaining everything. For instance they may want to know why a credit card issuers pulled your credit three months ago when you were trying to apply for store credit, or why you changed jobs a few months ago or why you have moved from job to job over the last couple years. It’s best to write them and explain everything in full detail and move on. They do this simply to verify your financial stability and it is usually something that is requested from time to time.
Grants are often given to assist home buyers with down payments, as well as help to lock in certain mortgage rates when they are first purchasing the property. These are awarded by the government based on need or other status. For instance, there are U.S. Veteran mortgage assistance grants, grants for low-income families, first-time homeowner grants, single mother grants, and grants for people who plan to do significant home improvement. These grants often cap the down payment at a certain low percentage of the total cost of the home.
Tax benefits. The tax code currently provides tax benefits for homeownership. You may be eligible for a deduction for the interest paid on your mortgage, private mortgage insurance premiums, points or loan origination fees, and real estate taxes. And when you sell your primary residence, you may be able to exclude all or part of your gain on the sale of your home from taxable income.
During dynamic economic periods, interest rate volatility can increase and move mortgage rates quickly. As a mortgage shopper or holder, these periods offer both risks and rewards. For example, you wouldn’t want to lock yourself into an interest rate that drops before the home closing, but you’d welcome a rate lock if rates were on the rise. Some mortgage lenders address this problem by offering rate locks that protect you from rising rates but allow you take advantage of a rate drop before closing.
Find information on the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program, which is the new federal government short sale program. This is a plan created by the Obama administration that provides financial incentives to both homeowners and lenders. It both encourages the parties to use short sale process by providing financial aid to banks and homeowners, and it also simplifies the process. Find more on the short sale program from HAFA.