HARP, or the Home Affordable Refinance Program, is the latest federal program designed to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages. Designed to help people who are "underwater" with their mortgages due to lowered home values, it allows people who owe more on their home than it's worth to refinance their mortgages and get lower interest rates. In this sense it is a sort of emergency mortgage assistance program, but it only works for people who don't have any late or delinquent payments. If you are rejected while trying to refinance your home or go through a loan modification program, HARP may benefit. This only applies if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and you need to owe 125% or less of your home's value in order to qualify.
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.
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Many mortgage programs will require a 620 or higher credit score in order to qualify for a loan. Although, FHA loans are available to people with credit scores as low as 580. However, just because you have a 580 credit score doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify. Lenders look at a lot more than just your credit score. You should have a relatively clean credit history over the past 12 months, with no late payments or collections.
Know your credit score. As soon as you decide to start looking for a home, check your credit report and credit score with any of the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you find any mistakes that need to be corrected, addressing these issues early will put you in a better position when it’s time to buy a house. (Bank of America credit card clients can get a free FICO® score in Online and Mobile Banking.)
Some people don’t know the first thing about getting a mortgage loan. They hear reports of dropping interest rates and lower home prices and hastily decide to jump into home ownership. But the process of getting a home loan differs from getting a car loan or renting an apartment, and applicants who don’t recognize these key differences are often disappointed when a lender denies their mortgage loan application.
Once you’ve been keeping regular tabs on your credit report, you’ll be able to see how you’re doing. Dispute any inaccuracies with the 3 credit bureaus and get everything cleared up. If your debt-to-credit ratio is too high, monitoring your score over time will show you how your score might change. If you see accounts that you didn’t open or addresses that aren’t yours, take immediate steps to investigate what could be identity fraud.
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.
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.
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.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now owned by the federal government, are providing mortgage help to hundreds of thousands of homeowners from a few different programs. Since they are responsible for and service the vast majority of mortgages that are issued by hundreds of banks, many people will qualify for help from them and may not even realize it. Find the various Fannie and Freddie Mac mortgage programs.
The possibility of losing your home because you can’t make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. Perhaps you’re having trouble making ends meet because you or a family member lost a job, or you’re having other financial problems. Or maybe you’re one of the many consumers who took out a mortgage that had a fixed rate for the first two or three years and then had an adjustable rate – and you want to know what your payments will be and whether you’ll be able to make them.
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.
If you are receiving any sort of financial assistance or even a financial gift for your down payment from someone make sure that you are depositing it into your account at least two months prior to applying for your mortgage. That way the bank will not need to source the large deposit. If this is not done then the gifter will have to write a letter stating that the money was truly a gift and not a loan. If you are needing a loan for the down payment the lender may see this as a sign of financial dependence and it may hurt your chances of obtaining a loan.
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.
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.
The major downside of taking out a mortgage is that it does put your home at risk if you fail to make payments. You may want to look into other options if you want to consolidate your debt. Some people choose to refinance their original mortgage to cash out their equity and to avoid two mortgage payments. When they refinance, they cash out the equity or take out more than they still owe on the loan. Like a traditional mortgage, refinancing has set monthly payments and a term that shows when you will have the loan paid off.
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.
Wells Fargo Loan Modification Program - They offer two main plans for homeowners. They include ProjectLifeline, which delays the foreclosure process, and also the Fast-Trac solution for adjustable rate mortgages. These two programs from Wells Fargo have helped thousands of homeowners. Benefits have included more time to pay your loan, and more affordable interest rates. More details on the Wells Fargo Lifeline.