Loans that are backed by the federal government (i.e., the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are designed to make buying homes more affordable and typically offer low down payments. Because conventional loans are not guaranteed by the federal government if the buyer defaults, they’re a higher risk for the banks, credit unions and other lenders that offer them. Conventional loans require larger down payments than most federally backed loans, but may offer lower interest rates and the flexibility to negotiate fees – usually resulting in a lower monthly payment.
The key takeaway: ask specific questions. See how each lender goes about the process of closing a loan and find out what additional fees you will have to pay. Asking questions is also a great way to gain insight into the lender’s level of professionalism and communication skills. Remember, you’ll be sharing a lot of personal information and placing a lot of trust in this person. Do your due diligence and you're certain to find the best mortgage lender.
Example – A $200,000 fixed-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) at an annual interest rate of 4.5% will have a monthly payment of approximately $1,013. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in this figure.) The annual interest rate is broken down into a monthly rate as follows: An annual rate of, say, 4.5% divided by 12 equals a monthly interest rate of 0.375%. Every month you’ll pay 0.375% interest on the amount you actually owe on the house.
You can get pre-qualified for a mortgage, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it's willing to lend you, and under what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.
If you and your loan servicer cannot agree on a repayment plan or other remedy, you may want to investigate filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have a regular income, Chapter 13 may allow you to keep property, like a mortgaged house or car, that you might otherwise lose. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to use your future income toward payment of your debts during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender the property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, you receive a discharge of certain debts.
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.
While it's true that the interest rates in the mortgage-backed bonds market are the primary determinant of the mortgage rate lenders charge, individual factors can impact the ultimate rate your bank offers you as an individual borrower. You are likely to receive a lower interest rate if you have a good-to-excellent credit score. If your score is poor, expect to pay a higher interest rate, and your bank might even turn down your loan request. Variable-rate mortgages often start with a low “teaser” rate, but the rate might rise sharply later, well above fixed mortgage rates. Many banks and credit unions offer loans that are guaranteed by a federal agency, such as the Federal Housing Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Veterans Administration. In some cases, these agencies make direct loans. Agency mortgages typically have lower interest rates than conventional mortgages. Rates also can vary from state to state. Furthermore, rates for rural homes might differ from those on urban property. Small or jumbo mortgages often have higher interest rates. You might reduce your interest rate by increasing your down payment or agreeing to a shorter-term mortgage.
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.
Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: You voluntarily transfer your property title to the servicers (with the servicer’s agreement) in exchange for cancellation of the remainder of your debt. Though you lose the home, a deed in lieu of foreclosure can be less damaging to your credit than a foreclosure. You will lose any equity in the property, although under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe. However, it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS. A deed in lieu of foreclosure may not be an option for you if other loans or obligations are secured by your home.
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.
Fixed rates and adjustable rates are the most common types of mortgages. Over 90% of US mortgages are fixed rate loans. A second mortgage works the same as a first mortgage, allowing a borrower to take out a lump sum of money and then make monthly payments to pay it back. You can use the second mortgage to make repairs on your house, to consolidate your bills, or to help with the down payment on the first mortgage to avoid needing to pay PMI.
In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.
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.
Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor—they’ve been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your counselor can develop a tailored plan of action for your situation and help you work with your mortgage company. They’re experienced in all of the available programs and a variety of financial situations. They can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.