If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, before you start house hunting or get pre-approved for a loan, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is. 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.


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How much you can afford. Lenders will be happy to tell you how much they’re willing to lend you, but that’s not actually a good indication of how much house you can afford. Check out our affordability calculator to get an idea of where you stand before you start looking for houses. Remember that your monthly payment will be more than just principal and interest. It will also include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and, potentially, mortgage insurance (depending on your loan program and down payment). You’ll also need to factor in utilities and maintenance.
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.

DO THIS: SET UP A QUICK MEETING WITH YOUR LOAN OFFICER TO SEE IF YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM A REFINANCE TO REDUCE YOUR MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENTS. YOU COULD ALSO REFINANCE TO CONSOLIDATE YOUR CREDIT CARD, LOAN, AND OTHER DEBT TO LOWER YOUR INTEREST RATES; TO FINANCE HOME RENOVATIONS OR EXTENSIONS BY USING THE EQUITY ON YOUR EXISTING HOME; OR TO GET A NEW HOME LOAN WITH BETTER FEATURES, LIKE AN OFFSET ACCOUNT OR REDRAW FACILITY.
You can find a lender on Zillow to learn how much you can borrow. And you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator to estimate what you can afford.  But you should go a step further and figure out what you can be comfortable with. Is travel a passion? Do you like spending a fair amount on dining out or other entertainment? The lender won’t factor biannual vacations or a craving for high-end restaurants into their calculations, so you have to. Fortunately, that’s easy enough with tools that help you calculate your monthly payment as well as estimate what you should be able to afford given your existing income and debts. Chances are, even after the sub-prime crisis, a lender will be willing to offer you a bigger mortgage than you think you can afford. Only you can know how much you are willing to set aside for a mortgage payment each month.
When you apply for a mortgage, you'll need to document your income, employment situation, identity, and more, so it can be a good idea to start gathering the necessary documentation before you walk into a lender's office. This isn't an exhaustive list, but you should locate your last couple of tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, pay stubs, W-2s, driver's license, Social Security card, marriage license (if applicable), and contact numbers for your employer's HR department. Here's a more comprehensive list that can help you determine what you'll need.
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.
This is the number of years during which you will be making payments on your mortgage. The most popular mortgage is a 30-year fixed, with 15-year fixed coming next. Common terms for fixed mortgages are 15 and 30 years, but some banks offer mortgages in other five-year increments from 10 to 40 years. Stretching out payments over 30 years or more will mean that your monthly outlay will be lower, but the overall cost of your home will be more because you’ll be paying interest for more years. To make your home cost less, choose a shorter term, such as 15 years.
If you have a credit card with a $20,000 limit, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should spend $20,000 on purchases with the card. The same logic is true when it comes to mortgages -- just because you can qualify for a certain mortgage amount doesn't mean that you have to max out your budget. Be sure that your new mortgage payment not only fits your bank's standards but your budget as well.
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.

Mortgages will require mortgage insurance if you have less than a 20% down payment. PMI is between 0.35% – 1.0% annually depending on the type of mortgage program you choose. FHA loans PMI is 0.85% of the loan amount, and is required for the life of the loan. Conventional mortgage PMI is 0.51% and is required until the loan balances reaches 78% LTV.
Eric Bank is a senior business and real estate writer, freelancing since 2002. He has written thousands of articles about business, insurance, real estate, investing and taxes, Eric writes articles, blogs and SEO-friendly website content for dozens of clients worldwide, including get.com and valuepenguin.com. Eric holds two Master's Degrees -- in Business Administration and in Finance. His website is ericbank.com.
The programs vary in what they can offer. In some cases direct financial assistance may be provided to help you pay your mortgage for a short period of time. Payment plans or reduced monthly payments may be offered. However most of the government programs and non-profit organizations will help facilitate some form of loan modification to qualified homeowners. This will provide families time to get back on track by ideally lowering their monthly payment, reducing interest rates or waiving fees.
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