In simple terms, a mortgage is a loan in which your house functions as the collateral. The bank or mortgage lender loans you a large chunk of money (typically 80 percent of the price of the home), which you must pay back -- with interest -- over a set period of time. If you fail to pay back the loan, the lender can take your home through a legal process known as foreclosure.
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.
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.
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.
NOTE: These programs are only available to homeowners whose mortgage servicing company agrees to the terms and conditions governing the use of these funds. If your servicer is not currently participating in Keep Your Home California, you may want to call them and encourage them to do so. A homeowner cannot receive assistance if their servicer has not signed an agreement with CalHFA MAC. See a list of participating servicers and which programs they are currently offering.
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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.
The mortgage industry works a little differently in the US than it does in many other parts of the world. Mortgage loans are treated as commercial paper, which means that lenders can convey and assign them freely. That results in a situation where financial institutions bundle mortgage loans into securities that people can invest in. The purpose of this system is to quickly free up money for the financial institutions to lend out in the form of new mortgages. The US also has a number of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that exist to facilitate this system. Most mortgages have fixed rates, which is also a departure from the variable rates that are commonly found in Europe and elsewhere.

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.
Catholic Charities assist people in need regardless of religion, race and background. The agencies offer emergency financial assistance for people who suffer a crisis, such as a job loss, unexpected medical expenses, car repairs or a death in the family. Although an unpaid mortgage qualifies under the Emergency Assistance Program, some locations have specific programs designed to provide mortgage help. The Housing Counseling Program helps homeowners find a permanent solution to avoid foreclosure.
As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.
Community Action Agencies are private and public nonprofit organizations. The main goal of a CAA is to help people achieve self-sufficiency. Each CAA is governed locally and features different programs. The organizations work directly with state and local government assistance programs and charities. According to the Community Action Partnership, 94 percent of CAAs provide referrals for assistance and 91 percent provide emergency services, including food banks and homeless prevention. Assistance is generally available only to low-income families and individuals.

In the beginning, you owe more interest, because your loan balance is still high. So most of your monthly payment goes to pay the interest, and a little bit goes to paying off the principal. Over time, as you pay down the principal, you owe less interest each month, because your loan balance is lower. So, more of your monthly payment goes to paying down the principal. Near the end of the loan, you owe much less interest, and most of your payment goes to pay off the last of the principal. This process is known as amortization.
Real estate agents are often a terrific resource for getting suggestions regarding a number of home buying issues. They will know which mortgage lenders are trustworthy and who does the best job of completing the process in a timely fashion. After all, they work with lenders on a weekly (even daily) basis. Plus, you can trust there are no hidden agendas because it is against the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act RESPA to receive a commission for referring a client to a mortgage lender.
It’s easy to get carried away planning for the year ahead. But take a moment to put your goals and your numbers in perspective, especially when budgeting your monthly mortgage. This can apply to both refinancing and buying a house. “Standard guidelines call for keeping housing expenses below 35 percent of total income,” Kevin Gallegos, consumer finance expert at Freedom Debt Relief, says. “Some experts are revising that number down to 28 percent.”
If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.
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In addition, Countrywide will be spending billions of dollars to modify mortgages as a result of a lawsuit they settled with the federal government. Many state governments sued the lender for all of the questionable home loans that they issued to uninformed borrowers, and the funds to the settlement will go directly to helping homeowners. Find more details on the free mortgage modification from Countrywide.
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