Friday, April 17, 2009

Steps to Consider when Looking for a Mortgage

The process of applying for a mortgage can be long and complicated, especially if you are a first time buyer, have poor credit, or have special mortgage requirements. Whether you’re a first time buyer or a seasoned pro, it’s good to refresh yourself on the important steps you should consider when you’re shopping for a new mortgage.

Step One: Your Finances

Regardless of any other circumstances, the first step in applying for a mortgage (or any other large loan, for that matter) should always be a thorough investigation of your finances, including your credit rating. This is an important first step, even though your lender will eventually want to examine your finances more thoroughly. Having a rough idea of your financial situation, and the amount of money you can afford to borrow, is going to be important when it comes time to choose a mortgage type and speak with potential lenders.

To examine your finances, look at your total monthly income, and total monthly debts, to find out how much you can afford in the way of mortgage repayments each month. In addition, check out your credit score. If your credit rating is over 700, good news, you should not have any trouble getting a mortgage. Under 700, you’ll probably be looking at a higher interest rate on your loan. To get a handle on fixing your credit, make sure you pay bills on time, and check your credit report for any obsolete information or errors.

Step Two: What Kind of Mortgage?

Generally you’ll be deciding between a fixed rate mortgage or an adjustable rate mortgage. If you plan to move or refinance within five years or so, a balloon mortgage may also be a viable option.

In most cases the main point to consider, apart from your finances, is how long you plan to stay in the home. A fixed rate mortgage gives you long-term peace of mind, in knowing that your mortgage repayments will never increase, so it’s a good option when you know you’ll be living in the home long term. The lower initial repayments of an adjustable interest rate or a balloon mortgage, on the other hand, can be useful if you know you will sell the home within a few years.

Step Three: Comparing Mortgage Quotes and Choosing a Lender

Once you’ve decided on the type of loan you want, it’s time to start getting quotes from lenders. Doing this before you start house-hunting can be very useful. Getting pre-approval gives you leverage when you make an offer on the property, and it saves time at closing too.

Try to get all your quotes within the same 14 day period, to make sure your credit rating isn’t affected by your credit inquiries. Getting all your quotes within a short space of time will also make comparing those quotes more accurate.

The problem is, it’s not always easy to get reliable quotes. Unscrupulous lenders often advertise very low rates to attract potential customers, but aren’t able to deliver on the advertised rates. Tell prospective lenders you can apply for a mortgage immediately, and most will be more likely to quote accurate rates they can deliver on.

Narrow down your list of lenders, and ask questions to help make your final decision. Ask about points and interest rates, closing costs, private mortgage insurance, pre-payment penalties, and anything else that’s important to you.

Once you’ve chosen your lender and applied for the mortgage, you should receive an Annual Percentage Rate and a Good Faith Estimate within three days. The GFE is required by law but lenders aren’t required to guarantee the estimate, so if a lender is willing to supply a written guarantee, consider that a good sign.

Step Four: Interest Rates and Points

Another important part of the application process is buying points, and locking in your interest rate. By purchasing points, you can buy down your interest rate, potentially saving thousands of dollars over the term of the mortgage. However points must be paid in cash when you close on the house, so if your cash flow is tight, it may not be an option. Also check out whether buying points will actually save money, as sometimes the money you spend on points may turn out to be more than the amount you save over the mortgage term.

Finally, a note on locking in your interest rate: It’s tempting to try and ride the market for as long as possible, hoping to lock in a low rate, but this requires some very careful attention to detail. Waiting even one day too long could leave you locked into a rate you can’t afford in the long term.

About the Author

Rachel Jackson is a freelance writer who writes about topics and pertaining to the mortgage industry such as how to refinance home mortgage

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