Know how much cash you'll need at closing. When you buy your home, you’ll need cash for a down payment (see how much you should put down) and closing costs (estimate your closing costs). The down payment typically varies from 5% to 20% or more. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (keep reading for more on that). Closing costs could be about 3-7% of the total loan amount and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.
In today’s competitive market, many buyers skip this important step when they start looking for a home. A pre-approval allows you to confirm how large of a loan you can qualify for based on several factors. It also positions you to make a serious offer when you find the home you want to buy. For a pre-approval, the lender verifies the buyer’s application information through income and asset documents provided by you or retrieved directly by the mortgage company. Many lenders can also provide a “prequalification” online, based on unverified information provided by the buyer. However, most sellers don’t give much value to a letter that doesn’t state the information has been validated. The most important thing is to take the time to provide what is needed for a thorough pre-approval process.
Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.
If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
Requirements for getting a mortgage loan often change, and if you are considering applying for a home loan in the near future, be ready to cough up the cash. Walking into a lender’s office with zero cash is a quick way to get your home loan application rejected. Mortgage lenders are cautious: Whereas they once approved zero-down mortgage loans, they now require a down payment.
A lot of borrowers choose to pick up the phone and call a handful of lenders to request interest rates. Those who do that may be surprised when the lender is asking questions before listing off rates. Again, interest rates vary and are dependent on many factors such as the loan program, your financial situation (including credit score), the cost of the home you’re looking to fund, etc. So, both the borrower and the lender should be interviewing one another to narrow down best options. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you! It's all part of the process of getting you into the best loan for your financial situation.
The US Treasury administers the Hardest Hit Fund, which provides aid to the states that were most impacted by the economic crisis. Each of these states have local agencies that help homeowners in various ways, including mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed, principal reduction, and transactional assistance. This helps people either afford the homes they’re in, or move to more affordable housing.
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.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.
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Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
If there’s going to be a gap between the sale of your home and the purchase of your new property, some people apply for what’s known as a ‘bridging loan’ to bridge this gap. This type of loan means you can move into your new property before you’ve sold your home. However, these should only be considered a last resort as they usually very high interest rates and fees. Seek professional advice if you’re unsure, and if you’re considering this type of loan you must be comfortable with the risks involved as you’ll essentially own two properties for a period of time.
Apartment renting is great when you are a twenty-something college student and all of the best trendy restaurants are within walking distance of your home. It doesn’t take long, however, until those things slowly fade away and the desire to own a home becomes more than a thought. This is usually the point where you realize you need to evaluate your finances if you are going to apply for a home loan. Fast forward to the point where you have made the decision to buy a home and you are getting an approval. The bank comes back to you saying that you did not get approved for the loan. It can be devastating but if you know the reasons why you can’t qualify for a loan, the easier it will be to work on fixing them so that your dream of owning a home can become a reality.
Note: If you pay half your house payment every two weeks instead of one monthly payment, you’ll end up saving money on your loan. You’ll wind up paying 26 payments per year, one more payment annually than if you just paid monthly. The re-amortized loan will eventually result in more of the payment paid on principal and less on interest. The extra payments go to pay down the principal on the loan.
Short Sale: Your servicers may allow you to sell the home yourself before it forecloses on the property, agreeing to forgive any shortfall between the sale price and the mortgage balance. This approach avoids a damaging foreclosure entry on your credit report. 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, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS, and consider consulting a financial advisor, accountant, or attorney.