When it comes to looking at mortgages, ask yourself one BIG question: What is your goal?
Mortgages are probably the most crucial piece to buying, selling, or owning a home. And, honestly, they are not as hard to understand as you might think. You can benefit from the experience of others who have mortgages (which is just about everybody you know), and with a little homework, you can make the best financial decisions.
When you are looking for a first mortgage, there are two things to think about: what you can actually afford, and what you can borrow. Why are they different? Because the lender is not going to look at how much you spend in a month on gourmet wine or movies, or how comfortable you’ll be with a big payment. They may be willing to loan you much more than you think you can spend on your mortgage. Only you know how much flexibility or not that your lifestyle has, which determines how much you can afford in a home.
A lender looks at your income (and income potential) vs. your debt, as well as your savings and credit history. Then they determine how big a risk you’d be for the lender to take on. They’re also going to look at the value of the house you want to buy, and the interest rate of the loan you’ll be getting. And then they arrive at a loan amount their firm can live with. In a perfect world it will match (or exceed) what you need to bridge the gap between your down payment and the price of the house you want.
The most common mortgages are fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages.
Fixed-rate mortgages offer the stability of regular monthly payments over a given length of time, or term. Many people feel these are ideal because they make it easy to budget family finances and there is no rate risk.
Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) programs offer you the flexibility of an initial interest rate and payment lower than a standard fixed-rate mortgage. ARM mortgages may also be a great option for home buyers who do not plan to stay in their current home for a long period of time.
Tip: Pay half your house payment every two weeks instead of one monthly payment. This results in 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.
Government loan programs, such as FHA or VA loans, are backed by the government rather than PMI. There is no monthly mortgage insurance on VA loans, however you will have monthly mortgage insurance on a new FHA loan.
- an honorably discharged veteran
- an active duty service member
- an un-remarried surviving spouse of a military service member
- a Reservist, or
- a National Guardsperson
- 0% down payment required
- Gift funds may be used to pay for closing costs
- Maximum loan amount: $417,000 or the geographic VA maximum mortgage limit
FHA loans are government-insured loans through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also called HUD. FHA loans offer an excellent start to first-time home buyers, with options such as a low down payment or a low closing cost option.
- Low down payment is required
- Your own personal savings are not required to pay down payment or closing costs. Gift funds may be used instead
- You can buy an existing home, or build a new one
- Some geographic limitations apply
You might think that it’s stupid to get a loan with a prepayment penalty, but some lenders offer very low (and therefore tempting) interest rates in exchange. Also, some borrowers agree to loans with penalties if they have bad credit and it’s the only way they can get the loan. Mostly, a prepayment penalty is a financial decision. There are situations where accepting a prepayment penalty on a loan can save you thousands of dollars in interest.