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DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
A jumbo mortgage is usually for amounts over the conforming loan limit, currently $453,100 for all states except Hawaii and Alaska, where it is higher. Additionally, in certain federally designated high-priced housing markets, such as New York City, Los Angeles and the entire San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area, the conforming loan limit is $679,650.

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.

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.
The prices for mortgage-backed bonds, and by extension, the mortgage rate a lender offers, are constantly responding to economic factors. In a strong economy, the rise in inflation (i.e., the general price level of goods and services) speeds up as greater demand increases competition for financing, goods, services and labor. This drives mortgage rates higher. A slow-down or recession causes mortgage rates to fall. The U.S. stock market is considered a leading indicator of economic activity. If it tanks, demand for investment shrinks and mortgage rates drop. Conversely, rates rise when the stock market is strong. When there is high unemployment, the economy is relatively weak and mortgage rates tend to fall. If jobs are easy to find, the economy is strong, and rates rise. Like the stock market, rising foreign markets indicate a strengthening world economy and higher rates. When foreign markets tumble, it puts downward pressure on interest rates.

Coming up with a down payment can be the one of the biggest obstacle when buying a home, especially for first-time home buyers. No matter what type of loan you choose, you will likely have to put some amount of money down. Saving up for a down payment can seem like a daunting task, but with the right planning and budgeting you can reach your savings goals faster than you think. Click here for strategies that can help you save for a down payment.
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.
Start by asking someone you know who has recently gotten a mortgage to see if they would recommend their lender. Ask a financial adviser, business colleague or real estate agent you know to help you write a short list of referrals. An agent should be able to provide you at least two options. Anything less, and you might question whether there’s a financial interest in the relationship between the agent and the mortgage company they suggest. Often national lenders referred by agents end up offering higher interest rates when compared to local mortgage companies.
The internet is filled with “discount” mortgage financing options with great rates, but often they are not able to quickly close your mortgage or offer you the level of service you need. On the other end of the spectrum you have the large, national mortgage companies that purport to offer both great service and value but in reality are not able to give you a competitive rate, and the service is not on the level you might receive from a local company.
Short sale can be an alternative to a foreclosure, and it will allow you to sell your home for less than the current outstanding mortgage balance on it. While this can be a drawn out process and take time, this option is becoming more common and acceptable by banks, real estate agents and servicers. Learn more on how short sales can stop foreclosures.

There are cases where your mortgage can factor into your other financial plans, making them more or less attainable. For example, Charlie Donaldson, MBA, College Funding Advisor at College Bound Coaching, says, “The amount of your home equity can count against you when attempting to get financial aid to pay for your child’s college education, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars each year your child is in college.”

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 Salvation Army provides financial assistance to help with basic needs. If funding permits, the charity offers a rent and mortgage assistance program. To qualify for mortgage assistance, a foreclosure notice from the mortgage company is required. Applicants are screened to determine eligibility. You must have an income sufficient to resume making the payments. Prepare to provide proof of all bills, such as credit cards and utilities. If approved, a check for the month's mortgage is mailed directly to the lender.
As the housing market shows more upward movement, the temptation to borrow more than you can afford becomes enticing. That’s why it’s important to really look at how much you can spend. Your mortgage payment should be comfortable even if it’s a stretch, not a weight that drags you down each month. The lender will look at your income, debt and savings, and is required by federal regulation to demonstrate your ability to repay a loan. So while that determines how much you can borrow, it isn’t necessarily what you can afford.
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.

Mortgage forbearance agreements are a type of emergency mortgage assistance given by lenders in order to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Effectively, what they come down to are extensions, given in times of great need. If your family just incurred unexpected medical expenses, if your family's primary income producer just lost his/her job, or in the event of an unforeseeable disaster, you may qualify for a forbearance agreement. This allows you to put your mortgage on hold while you deal with your difficult situations.


With an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM, the interest rate—and therefore the amount of the monthly payment—can change. These loans start with a fixed rate for a pre-specified timeframe of 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years typically. After that time, the interest rate can change each year. What the rate changes to depend on the market rates and what is outlined in the mortgage agreement.
Interest – This is what you are paying to borrow the money for your home. It is calculated based on the interest rate, how much principal is outstanding and the time period during which you are paying it back. At the beginning of the loan repayment period, most of your payment actually is going toward interest, with a small portion going against paying down the principal. Over time this will reverse and more of your payment will go toward reducing the loan balance.
According to John Lyons, a broker and real estate agent in Chicago, getting a typical mortgage takes an average of 30 to 60 days. So if you’re itching to buy right away, you’ll want to start the pre-approval process soon so you’re ready to go when you find the right house. Lyons recommends getting pre-approved by a reputable company and having all of your financial documentation ready in order to increase your chances of securing a mortgage in a timely fashion.
*The funds available to the borrower may be restricted for the first 12 months after loan closing, due to HECM reverse mortgage requirements.  In addition, the borrower may need to set aside additional funds from the loan proceeds to pay for taxes and insurance. Information accurate as of 10/1/2017. Update underway to reflect latest changes to PLFs by HUD
Learn about a federal government program, Hope for Homeowners, that is offered through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). It will help hundreds of thousands of lower income homeowners pay or refinance their mortgages (including subprime). Some forms of help may even be available if the value of your home has significantly declined and if your loan is “underwater”. Continue with Hope for Homeowners.

Lenders will generally pull your credit at least twice -- when you originally apply and shortly before closing (as happened in my situation). If there are any significant differences between the two, such as a new account or a significantly higher debt balance, it could lead to delays and could even disqualify you for the mortgage. Be safe -- just leave your credit alone until you've signed your closing documents.


Buying a home with a mortgage is probably the largest financial transaction you will enter into. Typically, a bank or mortgage lender will finance 80% of the price of the home, and you agree to pay it back – with interest – over a specific period. As you are comparing lenders, mortgage rates and options, it’s helpful to understand how interest accrues each month and is paid.
Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications may include reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A modification also may involve reducing the amount of money you owe on your primary residence by forgiving, or cancelling, a portion of the mortgage debt. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, see www.irs.gov. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income or increased payments on an ARM.
The prices for mortgage-backed bonds, and by extension, the mortgage rate a lender offers, are constantly responding to economic factors. In a strong economy, the rise in inflation (i.e., the general price level of goods and services) speeds up as greater demand increases competition for financing, goods, services and labor. This drives mortgage rates higher. A slow-down or recession causes mortgage rates to fall. The U.S. stock market is considered a leading indicator of economic activity. If it tanks, demand for investment shrinks and mortgage rates drop. Conversely, rates rise when the stock market is strong. When there is high unemployment, the economy is relatively weak and mortgage rates tend to fall. If jobs are easy to find, the economy is strong, and rates rise. Like the stock market, rising foreign markets indicate a strengthening world economy and higher rates. When foreign markets tumble, it puts downward pressure on interest rates.
If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is early on.  You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com. Check for mistakes on your credit report. A mistake on your credit report can cost you when trying to secure a home loan. Mistakes do happen, so review your credit report closely to ensure everything is correct and dispute any errors you might find with the appropriate credit bureau.
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.
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