Following the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent collapse of the housing bubble, many (but not all) real estate markets eventually recovered. Entered into in a prudent way, home ownership remains something you should consider in your long-term financial planning. Understanding how mortgages and their interest rates work is the best way to ensure that you're building that asset in the most financially beneficial way.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now owned by the federal government, are providing mortgage help to hundreds of thousands of homeowners from a few different programs. Since they are responsible for and service the vast majority of mortgages that are issued by hundreds of banks, many people will qualify for help from them and may not even realize it. Find the various Fannie and Freddie Mac mortgage programs.
To qualify you for a conventional loan, your lender will consider whether you have stable and reliable income. It may require copies of paystubs, W-2s, income tax returns and other documentation to make an assessment. Frequently changing jobs will not necessarily disqualify you for a conventional mortgage, if you can show that you’ve earned a consistent and predictable income.
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A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is also called a conventional rate mortgage. The rate that you see when mortgage rates are advertised is typically a 30-year fixed rate. The loan lasts for 30 years and the interest rate is the same—or fixed—for the life of the loan. The longer timeframe also results in a lower monthly payment compared to mortgages with 10- or 15-year terms.
Grants are awarded through a rather competitive application process. The applications themselves are quite complex and failing to answer any question could result in a denial. The good news is that there is literally millions of dollars in grant money made available each year. Many grants are offered only to minorities or to applicants meeting certain qualifications, such as earning a low income. These restrictions reduce the number of applications, meaning that there is less competition for the award. There is also no limit to the number of times an applicant can apply for a grant, which even further increases the odds of receiving the offered funds.
“Get pre-approved early, and know your numbers. Make sure you understand the monthly payment that goes along with your price point. Your expectations and your reality need to sync up. Also, rely on your professionals like loan officers and real estate agents. Never feel like you’re bugging them with questions, they should want you to bug them with questions. They’d certainly rather you get the correct info from them than the incorrect info from Google. Also, I think it’s ok to overpay a little for a house you love. If the market isn’t giving you many options to buy and you find a house you love, don’t get hung up on a couple thousand bucks, especially if you’re going to stay in the house long-term. If you can afford it, make it happen.”–Tyler Baker, Branch Manager, Olathe, KS
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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.
Grants are often given to assist home buyers with down payments, as well as help to lock in certain mortgage rates when they are first purchasing the property. These are awarded by the government based on need or other status. For instance, there are U.S. Veteran mortgage assistance grants, grants for low-income families, first-time homeowner grants, single mother grants, and grants for people who plan to do significant home improvement. These grants often cap the down payment at a certain low percentage of the total cost of the home.
A third option – usually reserved for affluent home buyers or those with irregular incomes – is an interest-only mortgage. As the name implies, this type of loan gives you the option to pay only interest for the first few years, and it’s attractive to first-time homeowners because of the low payments during their lower earning years. It may also be the right choice if you expect to own the home for a relatively short time and intend to sell before the bigger monthly payments begin.
A married couple may decide to get a reverse mortgage but leave one spouse off the HECM. If the borrowing spouse dies or moves out permanently, a non-borrowing spouse can continue to live in the home as long as he or she is listed in the HECM documents as such. The surviving spouse must maintain the home and pay taxes and insurance as long as he or she continues to live in the home, and will not receive any of the reverse mortgage proceeds.
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.
Eric Bank is a senior business and real estate writer, freelancing since 2002. He has written thousands of articles about business, insurance, real estate, investing and taxes, Eric writes articles, blogs and SEO-friendly website content for dozens of clients worldwide, including get.com and valuepenguin.com. Eric holds two Master's Degrees -- in Business Administration and in Finance. His website is ericbank.com.
Research your utilities. If you're moving into a larger home than you're used to, a home that is newer or older than you're used to or located in a climate that's hotter or colder than you're used to, ask your real estate professional to find out what the home's energy bills have typically been. This can help prevent being surprised by a higher utility bill than you're expecting. If you're moving into a new community, find out about water costs, too.
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.
Conforming loan. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Conforming loans meet their underwriting guidelines and fall within their maximum size limits. For a single-family home, the loan limit is currently $424,100 for homes in the contiguous states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, or $636,150 for homes in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, in certain high-cost counties, loans limits can go as high as $954,225.
When you apply for a home loan the lender will want to see two years of employment history. The lenders require this because they want to originate loans that will perform over a long time. When you have a gap of employment longer than six months, this usually is a red-flag to a lender. If you hop around from job to job it can be even more difficult as […]
Home ownership is just not a realistic option for everyone right now, despite what may look like once-in-lifetime mortgage rates. If you fall into this category, don’t despair. Your financial circumstances could change, the economy is still very much in flux, and remember that the current mortgage crisis involved a lot of home buyers getting in over their heads. When it comes to a major purchase like a home, timing is critical.
There are thousands of non-profit housing counseling agencies that are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Counselors will work with homeowners to help them prevent a foreclosure or get back on track with paying their mortgage. Most of the services are free for struggling homeowners. Get more details on HUD housing counseling agencies.