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Before you begin searching for a home - and a mortgage -it’s important to take a close look at the funds you have available to make your purchase. You’ll want to consider: Your present income; Your expected income over the next few years; Outstanding long-term debt; and How long you expect to stay in your home.
Essentially, the amount of money you can borrow will be determined by the size of the monthly payment you can afford. As a general rule, lenders do not allow the monthly payment to exceed 25% to 33% of gross monthly income. Other lenders have more flexible debt-to-income ratios. Start by taking a careful look at your current assets (including income, savings, investments, IRAs, life insurance, pensions and corporate thrift plans, and equity in other real estate, etc.) and liabilities (including outstanding loans, credit card balances, etc.). Also, think about how your income—or household income, if there are two wage earners in the family—might change over the next several years.
Since some mortgage options are less conservative than others, it is important to determine if you are a “risk-taker” or if you prefer more stability in your financial dealings. Do you invest in the stock market? Or put money into Certificates of Deposit? These are two different ways of handling money. Depending on your answers to these questions, and others that may be asked by your lender, you will be able to choose the mortgage that is right for you.
Most loan rates that you hear quoted are for conforming loans. A conforming loan is one with an original balance of $275,000 or less for a single-family home. Any loan amount larger than that is called non-conforming. Two major agencies—the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) or Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC) or Freddie Mac—can purchase conforming loans. For lenders who sell their loans after they are closed, there is an extremely liquid market. But the availability of potential buyers is reduced greatly when the loan amount goes above the conforming limit. To attract enough buyers for these loans, a lender often increases the rate on non-conforming loans. The conforming loan limit is adjusted annually at year-end by FNMA and FHLMC. Some lenders also have their own guidelines for dollar differentiation between conforming and non-conforming loans.
To protect the public, congress decided that a more precise measure of the true cost of a mortgage loan was needed. The concept of the annual percentage rate (APR) was developed to more accurately reflect this cost factor. The APR represents not only the rate of interest charged on the loan but certain other pre-paid finance charges. These costs are expressed in terms of percent and may include, among other costs, the following: origination fees, loan discount points, private mortgage insurance premiums, and the estimated interest pro-rated from the closing date to the end of the month. Please note: What may appear as a low interest rate may have a lot of optional loan discount points added to increase the effective rate to the lender. Reviewing the APR will help you to determine if this type of situation exists. When shopping for mortgage rates, get the APR from your lender to make sure you have an accurate comparison to other available mortgage rates.
The APR rate reflects the cost of your mortgage loan as a yearly rate. This rate is generally higher than the rate stated on your mortgage note because the APR includes other costs, such as origination fee, loan discount points, and pre-paid interest. The APR allows you to compare, in addition to the interest rate, the total cost of financing your loan, among various lenders.
It is important to ask the lender how long they guarantee the quoted interest rate. Some lenders guarantee the rate for 20, 30, 45, 60 or 90 days. Other lenders may only agree to set a rate when the loan is approved. On occasion, lenders will not set a rate for the loan until just before closing. A longer guarantee period allows you to protect the rate for a longer length of time, which could be beneficial to you in a volatile interest rate market. Also, be sure to inquire whether long guarantee periods are available and what additional costs may be involved.
Mortgage rates can change from day to day or even more often. If you are concerned that interest rates may rise during the time your loan is being processed, you can 'lock in' the current rate (and loan fees) for a short time, usually 60 days. The benefit is the security of knowing the interest rate is locked if interest rates should increase. If you are locked in and rates decrease, you may not necessarily get the benefit of the decrease in interest rates. If you choose not to 'lock in' your interest rate during the processing of your loan, you may 'float', or hold off locking in until you are comfortable about the rate. The borrower takes the risk of interest rates increasing during the time from application to the time the rate is locked in. The downside is that the borrower is subject to the higher interest rates. The benefit to floating a rate is if interest rates were to decrease, you would have the option of locking into a lower rate than if you had already locked in the rate.
This is interim interest that accrues on the mortgage loan from the date of the settlement to the beginning of the period covered by the first monthly payment. Since interest is paid in arrears, a mortgage payment made in June actually pays for interest accrued in the month of May. Because of this, if your closing date is scheduled for June 15, the first mortgage payment is due August 1. The lender will calculate an interest amount per day that is collected at the time of closing. This amount covers the interest accrued from June 15 to July 1.
Yes. The two basic types of mortgages are fixed rate and adjustable rate.
If you’re looking for a mortgage with payments that will remain essentially unchanged over its term, or if you plan to stay in your new home for a long period of time, a fixed rate mortgage is probably right for you. With a fixed rate mortgage the interest rate you close with won’t change—and your payments of principal and interest remain the same each month—until the mortgage is paid off. The fixed rate mortgage is an extremely stable choice. You are protected from rising interest rates and it makes budgeting for the future very easy. But in certain types of economies, the interest rate for a fixed rate mortgage is considerably higher than the initial interest rate of other mortgage options. That is the one disadvantage of a fixed rate mortgage. Once your rate is set, it does not change and falling interest rates will not affect what you pay. Fixed rate mortgages are available with terms of 15 to 30 years with the 15-year term becoming more and more popular. The advantage of a 15-year over a 30-year mortgage is that while your payments are higher, your principal will be paid off sooner, saving you money in interest payments. Also, the rates may be lower with a 15-year loan.
An adjustable rate mortgage is considerably different from a fixed rate mortgage. ARMs have only been around since the early 1980s. They were created to provide affordable mortgage financing in a changing economic environment. An ARM is a mortgage where the interest rate changes at preset intervals, according to rising and falling interest rates and the economy in general. In most cases, the initial interest rate of an ARM is lower than a fixed rate mortgage. However, the interest rate on an ARM is based on a specific index (such as U.S. Treasury Securities). This index reflects the level of interest rates and allows the lender to match the income from your ARM payment against their costs. It is often selected because it is a reliable, familiar financial indicator. Monthly payments are adjusted up or down in relation to the index. Most ARMs have caps—limits the lender puts on the amount that the interest rate or payment may change at each adjustment, as well as during the life of the mortgage. With an ARM, you typically have the benefit of lower initial rates for the first year of the loan. Plus, if interest rates drop and you want to take advantage of a lower rate, you may not have to refinance as you would with a fixed rate mortgage. An ARM may be especially advantageous if you plan to move after a short period of time. The convertible ARM is an option that is currently very popular because it allows you to convert to a fixed rate mortgage after a specified period of time has elapsed. For instance, you could get a one-year ARM with the option to convert to the prevailing fixed interest rate at any time after the first through the fifth adjustment period. Convertible ARMs offer the ability to take advantage of lower rates initially and have possible savings, and the option to convert to a fixed rate loan later on when you may be able to better afford it. Depending on your financial needs, you might find this option the best of both worlds. As a relatively new phenomena, the purpose of an ARM is often misunderstood. Ask your mortgage lender to explain the details to you so you can determine if this type of mortgage fits your specific financial situation.

The typical application is basically an outline of who you are, the property you want to buy or refinance, and your financial assets and liabilities.

The lender initiates a credit check and arranges for an appraisal of the property you plan to buy (or the current property you want to refinance). The appraisal assures you and the lender that the property has fair market value. The lender is investing in you and, in the unlikely event of default on your loan, the property must be worth enough to settle the debt.

Once your credit check, appraisals and verifications are complete, this “credit package” is reviewed by an underwriter who makes the loan decision. If your loan is approved, your lender will issue you a loan commitment (a binding agreement) to lend you the money. The commitment spells out all the details of the loan including all charges and fees, closing requirements, and any important conditions including:

A list of documents you will need for closing;
Information on when the commitment expires; and
Important information you should know when closing on your home.

The loan commitment may also may have certain conditions that you must meet before the loan is granted—bills you must pay off, or special requirements of the homeowners association, fox example.

In the case of new construction, the lender will want the appraiser to inspect the home just prior to closing. This is to ensure that it is in accordance with the plans and specifications furnished by the builder or contractor.

You and an attorney (if you choose to have an attorney represent you) should review the loan commitment carefully. Make sure the terms are acceptable to you. Assuming you and the lender come to terms, your agreement with the lender is now complete.

The lender will check the title to the property to make sure there are no outstanding liens or title problems. The lender requires, and sometimes will arrange for, title insurance to protect the property against unforeseen problems. This is called a “lender’s” title insurance policy. You may want to obtain title insurance to protect your own interest in the property. This is called an “owner’s” title insurance policy. These policies ensure that your property is free and clear of any title defects, claims or encumbrances.

Generally, your down payment can be anywhere from 5% to 20% of the home’s value. Veterans, or those serving active military duty, may obtain loans with no down payment at all.

If the down payment on your home is less than 20%, your lender will probably require that you get private mortgage insurance. This insurance insures the lender against possible default on the loan. It is not to be confused with mortgage life insurance or homeowners insurance.

The cost of PMI is divided into two parts. The first part is a payment made at the loan closing. The second part is an ongoing payment made each month along with the principal and interest payment.

Normally, PMI may be removed if you have reduced the principal amount of your loan to 80% or lower than the original purchase price. It also may be removed if you have obtained an independent appraisal stating that the outstanding principal amount of the loan is 80% or lower than the appraised value.

Some lenders do not require PMI. Instead, they may increase their origination fee and/or the interest rate on the loan. This can represent a significant advantage to the borrower since PMI premiums are not deductible for tax purposes and mortgage interest is usually deductible.

Closing costs and procedures vary from state to state and from county to county. In some jurisdictions, an attorney represents the lender. In others, the title company represents the lender. There may be state or county transfer taxes to be paid. There may also be fees for recording certain documents. There are also standard charges that are paid at all closings. Taxes, title insurance premiums, and interest on the loan pro-rated from the closing date to the end of the month.

Prior to closing, be sure to inquire if the lender requires an escrow account set up for the payment of the real estate taxes and homeowners insurance. Some lenders will waive the escrow requirements if the down payment is above a certain limit. Depending on when you close and when real estate taxes are paid in your jurisdiction, the cash required to set up the real estate tax escrow could represent one-half to three-quarters of the annual real estate tax bill.

It is important that you review what the closing costs will be with your lender and attorney. This should take place far enough in advance of the closing to allow yourself time to obtain the necessary funds to pay the closing costs.

This is the day you’ve been waiting for, the final step before you own your new home or complete the refinancing of your current home. At the closing you, the seller, the lender and the attorneys for all involved validate, review and sign all documents relating to the purchase or refinance. The lender provides the check for the loan amount. You receive the title to your property and the keys to your new home.

The dollar difference between the market value of your home and your current mortgage balance determines your home equity. In other words, if you sold your home this would be the cash you would receive after the sale. A home equity loan allows you to access this cash without selling your home by using your home as collateral. As you pay down your mortgage, and/or your home’s value increases, your available equity increases accordingly.

Because home equity loans and lines of credit are secured by your home, there are three distinct advantages over other types of loans: lower interest rates, tax deductible interest (consult your tax advisor) and large loan amounts. Based on your personal financial situation, you may be able to borrow up to 100% of your available home equity.

You can use a home equity loan or line of credit for almost any expense — to buy a car, consolidate debt, build an addition, remodel your home, or pay college tuition. Many people use home equity loans to pay off higher interest debt such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans.

A home equity loan is advanced in one lump sum. You make fixed monthly payments over a fixed term and are charged interest only on the unpaid balance. A loan makes it easier to budget since your monthly payments are fixed over the life of the loan.

A home equity line of credit is a set amount of money you are approved to use whenever you like. You access your funds by writing checks. As you repay the balance, you can reuse it up to your approved credit limit. You are charged interest based on the unpaid balance. A line of credit gives you the flexibility to borrow funds when you need them. When the line of credit expires, you need to renew or pay your outstanding balance.