The Hardest Hit Fund was created to provide additional options to residents of those states that have the highest unemployment rates, most significant job losses, and that have been hit hardest by the nation’s housing crisis. This program is only available in certain parts of the country. Borrowers can qualify for zero interest rate loans that do not need to be repaid, so these can be thought of as grants. Click here to read more on Hardest Hit mortgage fund.
Mortgages and home equity loans are two different types of loans you can take out on your home. A first mortgage is the original loan that you take out to purchase your home. You may choose to take out a second mortgage in order to cover a part of buying your home or refinance to cash out some of the equity of your home. It is important to understand the differences between a mortgage and a home equity loan before you decide which loan you should use. In the past both types of loans had the same tax benefit, however the 2018 tax law no longer allows homeowners to deduct interest paid on HELOCs or home equity loans unless the debt is obtained to build or substantially improve the homeowner's dwelling. Interest on up to $100,000 of debt which substantially improves the dwelling is tax deductible. First mortgages and mortgage refinance loans remain tax deductible up to a limit of $750,000.
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.

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.
Your first action item is to seek pre-approval from a lender. It's important to note that pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different processes. For pre-approval, the lender will check your credit and other financial information to determine what price home you can afford. (You can use an online mortgage calculator to give you a ballpark figure on how much home you can afford.) This will give you a price range to stay within during your home search and lets buyers know that you’re serious when you make an offer. Getting pre-approval for a standard loan should take a couple of days.
You can find a lender on Zillow to learn how much you can borrow. And you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator to estimate what you can afford.  But you should go a step further and figure out what you can be comfortable with. Is travel a passion? Do you like spending a fair amount on dining out or other entertainment? The lender won’t factor biannual vacations or a craving for high-end restaurants into their calculations, so you have to. Fortunately, that’s easy enough with tools that help you calculate your monthly payment as well as estimate what you should be able to afford given your existing income and debts. Chances are, even after the sub-prime crisis, a lender will be willing to offer you a bigger mortgage than you think you can afford. Only you can know how much you are willing to set aside for a mortgage payment each month.
Lenders generally use two different debt ratios to determine how much you can borrow. The short version is that your monthly housing payment (including taxes and insurance) should be no more than 28% of your pre-tax income, and your total debt (including your mortgage payment) should be no more than 36%. The ratio that produces the lower payment is what the lender will use. Many lenders have more generous qualification ratios, but these are traditionally the most common.
Finding a trustworthy and competent mortgage lender is an important and often overlooked step of the home buying or refinancing process. Signing off on a mortgage is one of the most significant financial decisions you can make, one that can last anywhere from 15-30 years. So, you need to make sure you’ve found a mortgage lender who will assist you through the process, ensuring you’re not making any mistakes along the way.
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.

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.


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.
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.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
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.
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.
Property tax help is available which will in effect free up a homeowner’s income. Since home values have declined in most parts of the nation, you are more than likely paying too much in real estate and property taxes. Learn how to lower your property taxes by contesting your property assessment. There is no cost to do this, and anyone can challenge the assessed value on their home.
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