Perhaps the most intimidating part of buying a home is applying for a mortgage. You may know exactly what “APR,” “points” and “fixed-rate” mean — but if this is your first home, or you just need a refresher, there are a lot of great resources to get you up to speed so you can be a well-prepared mortgage shopper. And because this is such a crucial part of owning a home, we’re going to break it all down.
For the majority of homebuyers, a fixed-rate loan is the best choice, especially in a low-interest environment like we're in now. However, if you don't plan on being in the home you buy for more than a few years, an adjustable-rate mortgage could save you thousands of dollars in interest. For example, if you're buying a home to live in during four years of graduate school, an adjustable-rate mortgage with a five-year initial rate period could be a smart idea.

The foreclosure prevention specialist: The “specialist” really is a phony counselor who charges high fees in exchange for making a few phone calls or completing some paperwork that a homeowner could easily do for himself. None of the actions results in saving the home. This scam gives homeowners a false sense of hope, delays them from seeking qualified help, and exposes their personal financial information to a fraudster. 
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.
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.)
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Homeowners are encouraged to explore free HUD foreclosure prevention counseling, which could help you qualify for other programs. Homeowners should also contact their servicer to find out if they qualify for a loan modification or other foreclosure prevention options. Some of these may include transition to other foreclosure alternatives, such as deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or short sale.
If you have lost your job, had a reduction in work hours or income, or are unemployed, then you may qualify for assistance. Homeowners can receive mortgage help from the federal government Home Affordable Unemployment Program. This program can reduce someone’s monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months, which will provide an individual time to find a new job. Read more on the unemployment mortgage program.
Are you looking for information about grant programs that may help with mortgage payments? Through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal government offers mortgage payment assistance to the public. States and non-profit agencies have followed the federal government's lead and also offer mortgage payment grants. While competitive, these grants can help homeowners get back on their feet and avoid foreclosure.
*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
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.

When you're shopping around, don't just check the big national mortgage lenders. Some regional or local banks may offer unique lending programs, especially for first-time homebuyers. For example, the young couple who bought a house from me a few years ago used a 100% financing program from Regions Financial that required no mortgage insurance for first-time buyers with outstanding credit.
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.

Amortization is what you are actually paying per year against your loan. You can get a mortgage with a term of 10, 15 or 30 years. You pay each month and the principal decreases until it’s paid off. The payments don’t change but at the beginning of the term, most of the payment is going toward interest. By the end of the term, that’s flipped and you’ll be paying down the mortgage principal.
It’s short for private mortgage insurance. It’s usually required if you put less than 20 percent down on your house, and it protects the lender in case you default. The cost varies, as do the methods to get rid of the PMI once you have 20 percent equity in your home. Government loan programs, such as FHA or VA loans, are backed by the government rather than PMI. There is no monthly mortgage insurance on VA loans, however you will have monthly mortgage insurance on a new FHA loan.

To be clear, you don't need a pre-approval to start looking at houses. However, since a pre-approval is essentially the same as a full mortgage approval, just without a specific home in mind, it can be an extremely valuable shopping tool. Specifically, if you submit a pre-approval along with your offer, it tells the seller that you're a serious buyer who is not likely to run into trouble when obtaining financing. One caveat: A pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different things. A pre-qualification is based solely on information you provide and is not a commitment to lend money, therefore it doesn't carry nearly as much weight.


The Federal Housing Authority gives mortgage assistance to anyone with a FHA loan. You can refinance your mortgage without going through a lot of difficult begging or bureaucratic red tape. They let you reduce your mortgage rates and skip a month's payment without a third-party appraisal. In order to qualify for this, you need to a) not have any late payments on your current loan, b) have a decent credit score and c) wait a minimum of six months between streamlining processes. Refinancing doesn't always reduce your rates - it just lowers them to the current rates. Always make sure you're getting a good deal before deciding to streamline or refinance.
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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.
It’s a loan with your house and land used as collateral. If you don’t pay back the loan, the lender will foreclose. That doesn’t mean the bank owns the house until you pay it off. It means they’ve got a lien against the property. A lien is the right to take possession of someone else’s property, in this case your home, until a debt is paid off. So you really are a homeowner even if you have a mortgage. You just own a home with a lien. Zillow’s Mortgage Learning Center offers extensive information about mortgages and is a great resource for anyone in the market for a home loan.

Refinancing your mortgage simply means you’ll be replacing your current mortgage with a new home loan. You’ll get a new rate, new terms and conditions, new closing costs, and the possibility to choose a new lender. Refinancing can be a good idea when mortgage rates are low (as we saw at times in the past year) or when and if your home has seen a big jump in its market value.**
Closing costs. Closing costs are expenses over and above the sales price of a home. They may include origination fees, points, appraisal and title fees, title insurance, surveys, recording fees and more. While fees vary widely by the type of mortgage you get and by location, Realtor.com estimates that they typically total 2 to 7 percent of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500 (a wide range indeed, Realtor.com acknowledges).
Because the interest rate is not locked in, the monthly payment for this type of loan will change over the life of the loan. Most ARMs have a limit or cap on how much the interest rate may fluctuate, as well as how often it can be changed. When the rate goes up or down, the lender recalculates your monthly payment so that you’ll make equal payments until the next rate adjustment occurs.

Once you research the types of financing available, determine which is best for your financial situation when buying a home: 15-year mortgage or 30, adjustable or fixed. If you are looking for security and a guarantee that payments won’t increase, a fixed rate mortgage might be the way to go. If you believe mortgage rates could still fluctuate and you want more flexibility, consider an adjustable rate mortgage.
Prepare to spend some time sitting back and waiting. Each application is thoroughly reviewed by the grant-making agency, sometimes causing a long lag time between when you submit your application and when you are notified about the decision. In the meantime, don't stop making your mortgage payments, or at least pay as much of them as you are able to, or it may look like you aren't taking your mortgage obligation seriously.

DO THIS: GET IN CONTACT WITH YOUR LENDER TO DISCUSS THE REMAINING BALANCE ON YOUR MORTGAGE — AND WHEN YOUR PMI, IF YOU HAVE IT, CAN BE DROPPED. IF YOU’RE BUYING, CHAT WITH YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT FINANCING YOUR UPFRONT MORTGAGE INSURANCE INTO A LOW-DOWN-PAYMENT LOAN, LIKE AN FHA, OR SEE IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE FOR LOANS WITHOUT MORTGAGE INSURANCE, LIKE A VA LOAN.

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A warm, friendly, and most importantly unbiased place to learn about mortgages, ideally before you make contact with a real estate agent or lender. The more you know, the better you’ll feel, and hopefully all that hard work will help you snag a lower mortgage rate too! So what are you waiting for? Let's go! View all mortgage help topics to get started or check out the latest mortgage tips and news below.
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.
When you're shopping around, don't just check the big national mortgage lenders. Some regional or local banks may offer unique lending programs, especially for first-time homebuyers. For example, the young couple who bought a house from me a few years ago used a 100% financing program from Regions Financial that required no mortgage insurance for first-time buyers with outstanding credit.
The annual percentage rate (APR) includes fees and points to arrive at an effective annual rate. Because different lenders charge different fees and structure loans differently, the APR is the best way to compare what each lender is offering. For example, Lender A may offer you an astounding 2.0 percent interest rate that sounds far better than Lender B’s 3.5 percent. But Lender A is including points and exorbitant fees. So the APR, or what you’ll really be paying could be higher for Lender A even though the interest rate is lower. APR helps you compare apples to apples.
Oftentimes, rates you see in advertisements online aren’t necessarily for the loans you qualify for. So you’ll need to investigate. Interest rates vary by location and can change daily. And they vary depending on your specific financial picture, such as income, credit score, and debts.  A good place to get an idea of what rates are available to you right now is to search for interest rates on Zillow. You can get free quotes anonymously, based on your specific financial picture, so you don’t have to worry about being hassled. You’ll also be able to see mortgage rates from multiple lenders so you can easily compare rates.

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.
When the fixed rate period ends, you’ll usually be automatically transferred onto your lender’s standard variable rate, which will typically be higher than any special deal you’ve been on. At this point you’ll see your interest payments increase. However, you will be free to remortgage to a new mortgage deal, which may help keep your payments down.

When your application is received and your eligibility is confirmed, the NC Housing Finance Agency may place a temporary stay-of-foreclosure for up to 120 days so that the company that owns your mortgage cannot foreclose on your home or take other legal action while your Mortgage Payment Program loan application is under review. If you qualify for the loan, the NC Housing Finance Agency will make your mortgage payment directly to your loan provider or bank. At the end of the assistance period, you will resume making your mortgage payment.


Conventional loans require a home buyer to make a 20 percent down payment and many home buyers don’t have enough cash on hand to make that down payment therefore they are required to pay for mortgage insurance as part of their monthly payment. This insurance protects lenders if a borrower should default on the loan. Until late 2014, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac required down payments of at least 10 percent. This requirement pushed many home buyers into Federal Housing Administration loans or FHA loans, which have a 3.5 percent minimum down payment. The problem is that FHA premiums are costlier than private mortgage insurance. But in 2015, qualified buyers will be able to get Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent. These premiums will be dependent on credit scores and the size of the down payment. Private mortgage insurance premiums are generally more affordable than FHA premiums.
Bankruptcy: Personal bankruptcy generally is considered the debt management option of last resort because the results are long-lasting and far-reaching. A bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, and can make it difficult to get credit, buy another home, get life insurance, or sometimes, get a job. Still, it is a legal procedure that can offer a fresh start for people who can’t satisfy their debts. 
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.
Your real estate agent is a vital and important partner in finding and buying your next home, but it’s important that you choose your lender rather than blindly going with who your agent recommends. The reality is sometimes there is a financial tie between your real estate company and the lender it refers. In this case, as always, it’s important to closely compare rates with other lenders. Family and friends who have recently purchased a home, as well as trusted professionals who work with lenders can help steer you in the right direction. If you find a lender that wasn’t referred by your agent, ask your agent to do a quick phone interview with the lender to be sure you’re not missing anything.
Modify your mortgage loan. In many cases your payment is no longer affordable due to changing personal or financial circumstances. A loan modification can reduce your payments, waive fees, lower your interest rates, and more. Banks and lenders are also offering loan modifications with interest rates as low as 2%. They have determined this is in their best financial interest as well. Learn more on low interest rate loan modifications. Find all of the pros and cons as well as details on modifying mortgages.
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