Here is a tip for those who are shopping for Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): the "margin" is almost as important as the initial rate. The margin is the percentage point above the average yields for Treasury notes on which future rate adjustments will be calculated.

Let's compare two hypothetical one-year ARMs. The first may have an initial interest rate of 7% with a 2.5 margin, while the second begins at 6 7/8% with a 2.75 margin. Both loans have rate caps of 2%. Suppose that at the end of the first year of the loan, the average of the one-year Treasury note yield has been 5 1/2%. For each loan, the lenders will add the margin to that 5 1/2% average yield. Thus the interest rate for first loan would increase from 7% to 8%, and the second would go from 6 7/8% to 8 1/4%. While the first ARM had a slightly higher initial rate, it will have lower rates in subsequent years, unless the Treasury note rates increase enough to activate the annual caps on the amount of the increase. There is a wide variance among margins in ARMs offered by competing lenders, and this should be a factor when you decide on your loan.

Assuming a Mortgage

You may be able to assume the seller's mortgage liability when buying a house instead of having to apply for a new loan.

Assuming a loan could minimize your down payment or closing costs and get you a more advantageous interest rate. To know whether an assumption will work, find out the loan balance. If the balance is a small fraction of the purchase price, you will have to come up with a large down payment or get a second loan for the difference, unless the seller is willing to provide some of the financing. If the loan balance is high, the loan may have been made when interest rates were higher than they are today.

Most newer loans that are assumable have adjustable rates. If you are considering an assumption because of credit problems, you will need the lender's approval to make the transaction work.

Balloon Mortgages

In loan terminology a "balloon" is the unpaid loan balance that must be paid in full on a specified due date. Federal savings and loan associations are permitted to make balloon mortgages with as little as five percent down and monthly payments that are smaller than the amount needed to fully amortize the debt. On the due date, which may be only a few years after the loan was made, the balance must be paid off or the loan must be renegotiated. Balloon borrowers must be cautious and plan carefully to avoid overlooking balloon payment obligations. It is easy to be lulled into complacency by the easy monthly payment terms.

Today's complex economics have produced a wide variety of options for potential borrowers, who are often surprised by how much house they can afford to buy. Loan approval is ultimately in the lender's hands, but your real estate agent can help you to determine your real buying power.

Bridge Loans

What if you hear one day that the house you have coveted for years is on the market. Out of curiosity, you might call your real estate agent and arrange to see if the inside of your dream house is as terrific as the outside. It is, and you fall in love with the place. The sellers need a relatively fast settlement, and are not in a position to accept an offer that is contingent on selling your home before closing on the new one. While you are confident your house will sell fairly quickly, you cannot be sure in a fluctuating market.

A bridge loan might be your solution. Many lenders specialize in providing short term loans for just this type of situation. The principal and interest is paid back when you close the sale of your present house. If the market in your area is strong and there is a good possibility of selling your home quickly, or if you are willing to offer your home at a price that will make it attractive in a sluggish market, then a bridge loan is a tool that could make the home you love a real possibility. A good real estate agent and a knowledgeable loan officer are the team you need to work it out.

Buying Cooperatively

Today it is becoming quite common for friends to pool their resources to buy a larger home than either of them could afford alone. Some builders cater specifically to this group of buyers by offering homes with two "master suites" instead of the more typical room arrangement. If you are considering a joint purchase, you and your buying partner should outline clearly your agreements about your shares in the down payment, the monthly mortgage payments, and what you will do if one of you decides to move out.

Before committing to a property, sit down with a real estate professional to discuss your options. Should you take possession as joint tenants? Will you have a 50/50 interest in the property, or should the interest be adjusted to reflect each person's share of the down payment or the monthly mortgage payment? Your agreements with your buying partner should be clearly expressed in writing.

Choosing A Lender

When you are buying a new home or refinancing your present one, it is wise to do some comparison shopping among lenders. A low interest rate isn't the only criterion by which to evaluate a loan. You should also consider the terms of the mortgage, what your closing costs will be and the reputation of the lender.

Real estate agents are a good source of information about loans and lenders, whether you are buying a home or just refinancing your present home. We routinely assist buyers when they need a mortgage in order to purchase a home. We know what loan packages are available and the qualifying requirements. The companies with the lowest rates sometimes have very conservative underwriting guidelines, and may not be willing to make loans on certain types of property or to buyers who are marginally qualified. We can tell you which companies and loan officers will go the extra mile to provide excellent service to make sure that the transaction closes.

Convertible ARMs

Many lenders are offering a type of Adjustable Rate Mortgage which will allow the buyers to convert their ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage without the expense of refinancing. There are several variations of this type of loan, so you should be informed about the various options before you decide on a loan.

Each lender places restrictions on when the ARM can be converted to a fixed-rate loan. Some allow a conversion after the first year of the mortgage, while others allow a change only on the rate adjustment dates. There is usually a fee for converting the mortgage, but it is much less than the cost of refinancing. The rate that you will pay after the conversion may be slightly higher than the going rate for fixed-rate mortgages. A real estate agent can provide you with a list of lenders who offer convertible ARMs, so that you can shop for the one that is best for you.

Credit Card Mania

Most people know that a checkered credit history can disqualify you for a home loan, and maxed-out credit cards can do the same thing. But what most people don't know is that merely having a large number of credit cards, even with low balances and a history of timely payments, can disqualify you for a home mortgage loan just as quickly.

According to credit experts, having a number of credit cards can be just as detrimental to the granting of further credit as a history of late payments. Lenders look at it this way: If you have ten credit cards, each with a limit of $5,000, that means you have the potential to run up $50,000 in debt virtually any time you choose. That mere possibility makes you a greater risk, from their point of view.

The moral of the story? If you are planning to apply for a home loan in the future, keep only those credit cards you actually need to use and cancel the others.

Early Loan Approval

Many lenders help prospective buyers get pre-approved for a mortgage loan before the buyers begin a serious house-hunting effort. If you are in this position, give the loan officer all of the information about your assets, income, and debts so they can tell you how much you will be able to borrow under the available loan options. The loan officer will do a credit check and work with the lender to straighten out any problems with your credit rating.

Pre-approval from a lender can make you more attractive to the seller when you find the home you want. Multiple offers sometimes come in on a house, and you may find yourself competing with other buyers. In that case, it is helpful if you have included a letter from the lender with your offer stating that you have an approved loan and are, indeed, qualified to buy. This will also save you time by eliminating from consideration any homes that you would not be able to afford.

FHA Advisory

If you are in default on an FHA-insured mortgage, and the lender intends to foreclose, you should know about the Mortgage Assignment Program. You will have to provide certain information to the FHA to apply for this program.

To be considered eligible for assistance, the home must your principal residence. You must be at least three full payments behind on the mortgage, and the reason for your failure to make the mortgage payments must be due to circumstances beyond your control, such as unexpected unemployment. The FHA must be reasonably certain that you can resume making the payments at the end of 36 months and that the accrued deficiencies will be paid back before taking over the loan.

The Veteran's Administration also has a mortgage assistance program for those who have VA mortgages.

Financial Help

Escalating home prices often cause many first-time buyers to seek help from their families for the down payment on a new home. If your parents are providing financial assistance for the purchase of a home, it is important that you have very clear agreements with them about the conditions under which their help will be provided.

Sit down with your parents to discuss the details of the arrangement. Is the money they are providing a gift or a loan? If it is a gift, be sure to check with your tax expert to minimize the tax implications. If your parents are loaning the money for the down payment, how will it be paid back? Will there be joint ownership with an equity-sharing agreement? Will your parents be named on the ownership papers with you? Are special documents needed?

Whatever form it takes, parents who help their children buy a home give them an incredible gift!

Financially Qualified

Most purchase agreements allow buyers to get out of the contract if they can't qualify for a mortgage. If you are selling your home, be sure to get some reassurances before you make a commitment to buyers. Most contracts now require timely loan applications and pre-qualifying letters from the lender.

There is no way to be absolutely certain that buyers will be able to obtain financing. Real estate professionals will help buyers determine what they can afford and whether there are financing alternatives. They will also eliminate buyers who are not financially qualified. Training and experience enable them to resolve difficulties quickly to avoid wasting time.

Financing Clauses

Residential sales agreements usually have clauses referred to as financing contingencies which allow the buyers to declare the contract null and void if they are unable to obtain financing. This may be the most important condition in your contract if you are buying a home, so read the contract carefully before you sign it.

Most financing clauses set a time limit of from 30 to 45 days for obtaining a firm commitment from a lender. They may set deadlines for applying for a loan, and require the buyer's full cooperation in obtaining all the information needed to process your loan. If the loan is not approved by the deadline, it may be necessary to request an extension from the sellers or take specific steps to void the contract and get your deposit money back. Be sure to note all of the financing deadlines in the contract, apply for your loan as soon as possible, and be diligent about providing the lender with any documents that are requested.

Finding A Loan

There are two important steps preliminary to becoming a homeowner. First you must find the right home and negotiate the price and terms with the sellers. Then you come to one of the most difficult parts of the transaction--finding the perfect loan.

You should do some comparison shopping among lenders. Your real estate agent can refer you to several reputable lending institutions which should be able to complete the loan process before your proposed financial approval date. The loan officer will take your application and have you sign all the necessary papers to authorize credit and employment verifications. You and the real estate agent should get periodic progress reports to make sure that all of the details are taken care of. Such reports will help to ensure that any potential problems are discovered and addressed before they can hinder the transaction.

Finicky Financiers

Buying an old house to fix up has an attraction for many people. If you can find a house with charm and character, a renovation may enable you to create just the living environment that you want. You should start with a good real estate agent to help you locate the right house and recommend lenders who make both acquisition and construction loans.

Financing a renovation is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole project, especially if the house needs extensive work. Few banks will make these loans to people who are not professional developers. You should prepare for your loan application by having a written proposal. It helps to have an engineer's report or architectural plans and to include estimates from contractors covering the costs and timetables for the work to be done. Your real estate agent can help you put together a market analysis of the neighborhood to show that you will not be over-improving the property compared with other homes in the area.

Good Faith Estimates

Several years ago the U.S. Congress tried to protect consumers from a few unscrupulous lenders by requiring all lenders to calculate and disclose the annual percentage rate (APR) you pay on your mortgage loan. But most homebuyers will learn more by directing their attention to the Good Faith Estimate of Settlement Costs (GFE). Although Congress meant well, in practice the APR is not helpful and may be confusing.

If you are looking for a good way to understand your costs of borrowing and/or to compare one lender's costs to another, the GFE is your best bet. Get your lender(s) to provide a written GFE before you commit your mortgage business. When reviewing a GFE, keep in mind that the lender actually controls only a certain portion of the disclosed costs. Other parties typically control costs of appraisal, settlement, title insurance, recording fees and taxes, survey, and the "prepaid" expenses of homeowner's insurance, mortgage insurance, real estate taxes, etc. Review these origination fees, discount points, etc. and you will have the ability to understand the full costs of your proposed mortgage loan.

Happy Banking

When you have found the perfect home, the search for the perfect loan begins. There are other factors you should consider besides the interest rate and loan fees when you are shopping for a loan. One important issue is the lender's general reputation.

A professional real estate agent can provide you with the names of several mortgage lenders and can help you compare their programs. Some lenders may have great rates, but may have very conservative standards for qualifying customers. Others may be more willing to consider people who are marginally qualified or have less-than-perfect credit histories. Some lenders have local underwriters and can process loans quickly, while others may need extra time to process paperwork. The ordinary consumer deals with only a few mortgage lenders over a lifetime, but real estate agents deal with many lenders every month. Ask your agent to help you match your individual needs to the many offerings in this complicated marketplace.

Home Buyers Education

As the number of mortgage lenders increases, competition forces lenders to get more creative in finding ways to lend people money. This often takes the form of giving homebuyers a "break" in the down payment. The downside of this approach is that statistically, the smaller the down payment, the more likely the borrower will default. Lenders have put together an education program to prevent delinquencies, which fills a much-needed gap in the increasingly complex world of home finance.

Home buyer education classes focus on a variety of money management topics, including all the costs connected with obtaining and owning a home. One lender got together with FANNIE MAE (a government-sponsored loan guarantor) to launch a 3 percent down payment loan which requires participation in this education course. Other lenders have shown a decline in the default rate with five percent loans that are associated with similar education courses.

Home Buyers Education

As the number of mortgage lenders increases, competition forces lenders to get more creative in finding ways to lend people money. This often takes the form of giving homebuyers a "break" in the down payment. The downside of this approach is that statistically, the smaller the down payment, the more likely the borrower will default. Lenders have put together an education program to prevent delinquencies, which fills a much-needed gap in the increasingly complex world of home finance.

Home buyer education classes focus on a variety of money management topics, including all the costs connected with obtaining and owning a home. One lender got together with FANNIE MAE (a government-sponsored loan guarantor) to launch a 3 percent down payment loan which requires participation in this education course. Other lenders have shown a decline in the default rate with five percent loans that are associated with similar education courses.

Home Free

Conventional wisdom says, "Don't pay off your mortgage early." Are you foolish to consider an early payoff? Absolutely not! By adding just $50 to $100 to your mortgage payment every month, you can save thousands of dollars in interest, pay off your loan quicker, and eliminate a major monthly expense.

The argument usually given against paying off a mortgage early is that you can make investments with your extra cash, such as mutual funds, stocks or bonds, which pay higher returns. This approach enables you to take the mortgage interest deduction and have easy access to your money, in case you need it. These are all definite pluses, but are not guaranteed savings results.

Any extra income which an investment might generate above your home equity appreciation can be offset by a bad year in the investment market. Investment earnings can virtually eliminate the income tax advantage of your mortgage interest deduction, since stocks and bonds are likely to generate a fair amount of dividends, interest income and capital gains.

It isn't as simple as conventional wisdom--consult a financial expert.

Hybrids Offer Low Rates

In the field of home financing, "hybrid" mortgages have grown in popularity with homebuyers. With interest rates gradually rising in today's market, the hybrid mortgage product saves money, provides a period of fixed-rate security and helps buyers qualify for financing.

Hybrid mortgage loans offer a very low fixed-rate for a period of time, usually from 5 to 7 years, then revert to an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) for the remainder of the term of the loan. The interest rate is typically lower than with a 30-year fixed-rate loan, and the borrower has the assurance that the rate will not change for a period of years. Such a loan works well for buyers who plan on reselling the home within a finite period.

Other specialty mortgages now available include an ARM loan with a provision allowing it to be converted to a fixed-rate loan when that is a practical step for the borrower. Still others offer an interest-only loan that requires payments to be made on the interest only for a specified number of years, then reverts to an amortized loan with interest and principal payments each month. Consult with an experienced mortgage professional to determine whether one of these loan products will meet your needs.

If You Are Self Employed

There's no question that it could be more difficult for you to get a mortgage loan if you are a free lance viola player than if you are a government accountant. Traditionally, lenders have been more cautious when evaluating loan applications of buyers who are self-employed than people who work for a regular salary.

However, if you are self-employed, there is no reason for you to shy away from applying for a home mortgage loan, especially if your earnings have been in the same field for at least two years. It is a good idea to meet with one or more loan officers before you begin your search. They will probably want to analyze your tax returns for the past 2 or 3 years, keeping in mind that many self employed people can look impoverished on paper, since you can write off some expenses that salaried individuals can not. Try to get pre-approval from the lender, and ask for a letter stating that you have pre-qualified for a loan which your real estate agent can attach to any offer you submit on a home. This will make you more attractive to the sellers.

Lenders Want to Say Yes

If you wish to buy a home but consider yourself incapable of getting credit, you may be living in the past in terms of assessing your financial situation. Lenders have become more flexible in underwriting mortgage loans.

A recent survey of mortgage lenders revealed some interesting trends. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed had cut their standard down payment requirements for moderate-income buyers, and 93% said they are more lenient regarding debt-to-income-ratios. Ninety-four percent of those surveyed said they now have more flexible approaches to credit histories, and look at rent and utility payments more than credit cards. Seventy-nine percent of lenders say they have relaxed employment criteria. They now look more at your capacity to generate a stable flow of income rather than requiring a long history at one job.

There are more lenders today, and they are in fierce competition with each other. The home loan industry has created entire markets that cater to those with less-than-perfect credit.

More Down Payment Help

One of the most common deterrents to first-time home buyers is the lack of a down payment. However, the home loan industry has practically re-created itself in the last ten years, making it easier than ever to obtain a mortgage, and new mortgage programs are always cropping up.

Some states sponsor loan programs that allow buyers to purchase a home without putting any money down. A parent or other relative can guarantee repayment of ten percent of the loan if the buyer defaults. The only cash needed is for the closing costs, which typically run about three percent of the loan. Parents can also give their children down payment help through a personal note or second trust deed. The terms can be set up for monthly payments or annual payments amortized over a period of time. You could pay the interest only, and have the payoff due when the property is sold.

With so many alternatives, doesn't it make sense to call your real estate agent for a free consultation? You may be closer to home ownership than you think.

More On ARMs

Lenders are always looking for new ways to help buyers get into the home of their dreams. Today they frequently use adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) to increase the buyer's options. The interest rate on an ARM changes periodically to reflect changes in the national market. Since the loan starts at a rate that is lower than the national average, lenders can reduce the borrower's qualifying criteria.

One way to distinguish between different ARMs is by the national index to which they are tied. Some ARMs are tied to a slow-moving index called the cost-of-funds index; these are usually the most desirable. ARMs that are tied to a more volatile index, such as Treasury Notes, can be adjusted upward at a quicker rate. Look at all the factors before choosing a loan. The faster index loan may start out with lower rates and lower monthly payments, but the slower index ARM may eliminate your concern about having to re-finance down the road.

Mortgage Fears

It is not unusual for home buyers to feel that the lender is being very critical during the loan approval process. The buyer is required to provide all kinds of financial information, and then the lender asks for more. If this is your experience, and the process seems discouraging, remember that none of this is personal!

Some lenders have more stringent requirements than others, but every lender requires a substantial amount of documentation on a mortgage loan. They must verify employment, credit history, and recent financial transactions involving your liquid assets. If your Visa payment was late, they may ask for a letter explaining why. If you are self-employed, they will ask for tax returns from at least three years and probably a year-to-date profit and loss statement.

Government regulations require mortgage companies to document everything. And while the loan officer may know that you are a reliable risk, the underwriters must be able to defend the loan to a federal bank examiner or auditor.

Mortgage Myths

Nationwide surveys indicate that a large number of potential home buyers count themselves out of the market because of widely-held myths about home financing. Some of the most prevalent myths include: 1) home buyers need large down payments (more than is actually the case); 2) the loan process works against people under age 35; 3) owning a home is more expensive than renting; and 4) minorities have no chance of getting a mortgage.

The surveys found that many people view the mortgage process as "difficult, stressful, and incomprehensible." Many qualified first-time buyers are unaware of special programs designed to make home ownership affordable to them. The home loan industry is always looking for new ways to dispel these myths because lenders want more business, not less. The alternatives to traditional 20% down, thirty-year fixed mortgages are astonishing. Mortgage brokers are experienced in explaining today's financing and debunking the myths.

Mortgage Terms

New mortgage loan products offer a more complex selection of terms. Lenders now offer mortgages that are blends of short-term ARMs and 30-year fixed-rate loans with a lower fixed-rate of interest for a period of five, seven or ten years. Be sure that you understand what happens at the end of the initial term before you sign on the dotted line for such a loan.

Many of these loans revert to a 1-year adjustable rate loan at the end of the initial term and can be adjusted once a year based on an index tied to the cost of money. You should know how much over the index your rate will be set and the limit or cap on how much your payments can increase. A "balloon" note requires the entire balance to be paid to the lender after the initial period of the loan ends. Most of these loans require the lender to guarantee to refinance the note at that point if payments have been timely. The lender should spell out how the re-finance rate will be determined and what costs will be involved. These loans can help you buy a more expensive house than you could afford with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, but be sure that you understand the terms and the potential risks.

New Loans

If you are considering applying for a mortgage to purchase a new home or to refinance your present home, don't delay. Despite fluctuation in interest rates, lenders are still processing many new loan applications.

You should gather all the necessary paperwork before you apply, and submit your loan application as soon as possible. At a minimum, the information required by a lender will consist of proof of your earnings and a clear picture of your total monthly income and expenses. If you are self-employed, or have long-term obligations such as alimony or child support, the preparation time and the amount of paperwork increases.

Despite the need to move rather quickly for a mortgage in today's market, you should "make haste carefully." Shop carefully for your loan by comparing all costs and terms. With the number of lenders vying for your business, new and better deals are always appearing.

Owner Financing

If you are selling a house in which you have a lot of equity, and you don't need that equity to buy a new home, an owner-financing agreement may benefit you and your buyers.

Seller financing arrangements usually involve the buyers securing the largest portion of their purchase money from a mortgage company and getting a smaller second loan from the sellers. For example, they may finance 75% from a lender, put in 15% from savings, and ask the sellers to finance the remaining amount. The terms and interest rates on seller carry-backs are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Sellers may be able to negotiate a note that provides a better return on their money than 1-to-5 year CD's or treasury notes. They should ensure that the note protects them to the fullest. Use common sense when considering such a loan, and verify the buyers' income, credit history, and job stability before making your final decision.

Qualifying For A Loan

It is useful for home buyers to understand the difference between loan pre-qualification and pre-approval. Pre-qualification, which in today's marketplace is usually done by mortgage brokers, means working with the buyers to determine how much they can afford and which loans are the most likely to be available to them. Loan pre-qualification can save buyers time and money and can even be a bargaining tool with a seller. However, pre-qualification is not the same as loan "pre-approval". The mortgage broker can often get the buyer a pre-qualification letter, but pre-approval must be issued by the mortgage lender.

Pre-approval means that the lender has definitely committed to loaning the buyer money, once the house itself is approved. Since it is a much stronger pledge, it is a much more valuable negotiating tool. When you hear someone talking about "pre-approval", they are referring to specific acknowlegment by a lender that they are willing to loan the buyer money. The real estate agent can be of assistance in this process.

Qualifying Guidelines

It may be difficult to qualify for a home mortgage loan. As a buyer, you may find the perfect home, but finding the perfect financing might become elusive. After you complete the application process, your lender may turn you down, which is an upsetting development for any prospective homebuyer. What can be done to remedy such a setback?

The answer depends on why you were turned down. If your income is too low to satisfy one mortgage company, there might be another company with more liberal qualifying guidelines. If you have had credit problems, some lenders may be more willing than others to help you clear them up in a manner that satisfies their underwriters. If your loan runs into problems, sit down with the loan officer and your real estate agent to investigate the possibility of using a different lender. The first company may be able to "assign" the package to a competitor, enabling you to use your same credit report and appraisal. You will need the cooperation of your sellers, too.

While loan rejections are disappointing, they can be resolved.

Refinancing Your Home

Interest rates fluctuate as changes occur in the general economy. If you purchased your home when interest rates were higher, you may want to consider re-financing your loan at a lower rate.

You will have to apply for the new mortgage and have your current income eligibility assessed. Depending on how long you have had your present loan, a current appraisal may be required. There are closing costs, such as attorney, title fees, recording and notary fees, and appraisal charges. The biggest factor in your decision should be the length of time you plan to remain in your home. If you will be there for only a year or two more, it might not pay to re-finance. If you will be in your home longer, re-financing could provide you with lower mortgage payments. Your real estate agent can help you work out the numbers and can refer you to reputable home appraisers and mortgage lenders.

Shopping for the Best

The most important thing to look for when you are shopping for a mortgage is the interest rate, right? Not necessarily. There are many other factors to consider, including the lender's charges for making the loan, the terms under which the loan will be approved, and the lender's reputation for timely completion of loan applications to meet purchase agreement deadlines.

When real estate agents are involved in sales transactions, they don't tell buyers which mortgage companies to use. They can provide the names of established lenders who have provided good service to their customers. They can give general information about the different mortgage options that are available today. Using a low interest rate as the main criteria for choosing a mortgage could cost you money--and perhaps the home you want--if the company cannot deliver on its promises.

The Language of Financing

When you meet with a lender to apply for financing, you may feel as if you are in a foreign country when the loan officer begins to talk about points, Regulation Z margins, PMI, and ARMs.

You are not alone if you feel left behind by loan terminology. Like many professionals, lenders use a highly specialized language. Don't hesitate to ask for a translation! This is especially true if you are investigating some of the more complicated loans with rates that can be adjusted periodically. As you consider the various loan options, find out what the interest rate will be and at what point the lender will commit to that rate. If the loan has an adjustable rate, be sure that you understand how often the rate will adjust, and by how much your payments may go up. Find out if the loan can be assumed by a future buyer. The lender isn't trying to confuse you. The mortgage process is complicated, so just keep asking questions until you understand.

The Loan Application

When you have decided on a mortgage lender, you begin the loan process by filling out a loan application. You should be fully prepared to go over your current financial situation and credit history with the loan officer.

Have a record of all of your current bank accounts, including the name and address of bank(s), type of account(s), and approximate balance(s). Be prepared to provide details about outstanding loans, including student loans and major credit accounts. You will also need information about your assets, such as car title, stocks and bonds, and life insurance policies. If you foresee any credit problems, ask the loan officer for advice on how to keep them from interfering with approval of your mortgage loan. The loan officer can usually give you a prompt opinion about your chances for obtaining a mortgage

The Margin on an ARM

When you are shopping for an Adjustable Rate Mortgage, the important thing to consider is the margin. Each time your loan is adjusted, the new interest rate will be tied to an index of Treasury notes. The margin is the percentage point above that index where your rate will be set.

Let's suppose that you have a one-year ARM with a 2.5 margin. Your initial rate was 7.5%, and during the first year of the loan, the index of 1-year Treasury notes was at 6.25%. The rate for the second year of your loan would be adjusted to 8.75%. With a margin of 2.75, it would increase to 9%. Some lenders offer lower initial rates with higher margins. In this case, the subsequent rates could be higher after the first year, than if you chose a higher initial rate with a lower margin.

If you are confused by the various mortgage offers, ask a professional mortgage broker to sit down with you and show you how it works. Today the rates and different financial possibilities are so variable that it is a good idea to talk to a mortgage broker--they usually know where the best rates can be found.

The Mortgage Shop

The most important thing to look for when you are shopping for a mortgage is the interest rate, right? Not necessarily. There are many other factors to consider, including the lender's charges for making the loan, the terms under which the loan will be approved, and the lender's reputation for timely completion of loan applications to meet purchase agreement deadlines.

When real estate agents are involved in sales transactions, they don't tell buyers which mortgage companies to use. They can provide the names of established lenders in the area who have provided good service to their customers. They can give general information about the different mortgage options that are available today. Using a low interest rate as the main criteria for choosing a mortgage could cost you money--and perhaps the home you want--if the company cannot deliver on its promises.

The Real Bottom Line

An important part of buying a house is sitting down with your real estate agent or a mortgage lender to get a clear idea of how much you can afford. They will add up all of your monthly expenses, the mortgage payment, insurance, real estate taxes, homeowners or condo association fees--and the grand total can throw you into shock!

The important thing to remember is that the grand total isn't really the bottom line. When you add your tax savings to the equation, you may be pleasantly surprised. During the early years of your loan, almost all of the mortgage can be deducted from your state and federal income tax. The same is true of your real estate taxes. If you use part of your house as a home office, you may be able to qualify for additional tax savings. In some areas, homes with ground floor apartments are popular for offsetting part of the mortgage and offering even more tax savings.

When you make calculations about the monthly costs that include the tax savings, you may find that owning your own home is less expensive than renting a house or apartment of comparable size.

The Seller May Pay

The costs of buying a home may be daunting. For example, you may have finally saved enough for a down payment on your first home, with a little left over to buy the furniture you will need. Then you hear about having to pay closing costs you weren't anticipating, and this may seem like a real setback.

One way to cover such a shortage is to make the sellers an offer that calls for them to credit you for some of the closing costs. As a rule, the sellers may pay a maximum of 3 percent of the sales price if the buyer is putting five percent down. If the buyer is making a down payment of 10 percent or more, the seller can contribute up to 6 percent of the sales price to cover the buyer's closing costs. Some items, such as prepaid taxes and the first month's mortgage payment, must be paid by the buyers. Sellers may also contribute to paying the appraisal, points, title insurance, settlement attorney fees, state or local transfer taxes and similar items.

Keep in mind that if the credit is included in the price of the house, the appraiser will have to justify the amount, based on sales prices of similar homes in the neighborhood.

They Said Yes

Applying for a mortgage loan brings out the paranoia in everyone, even those who are most compulsive and consistent about paying their bills on time. Remember that the lender wants your business and will do everything possible to help finalize your home purchase.

There will be nothing to worry about if you have paid your bills more or less on time. If you have a record of late payments but no serious credit problems, you may have to provide the lender with a written explanation of why certain payments were late. The loan approval may depend on whether or not the excuses are reasonable. Your lender can probably help you work things out if your problems are not serious. If your credit problems are serious, it will help to sit down with a lender even before you begin house hunting.

Watch Your ARMs Length

Most buyers know that first-year interest on Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) is typically lower than the interest on available fixed-rate mortgages. This makes ARMs easier to qualify for, but also requires that borrowers have some understanding about how such loans work, because there are significant details associated with the low first-year rate.

First, check to see how long the low rates offered on the ARM are guaranteed. After that period of time, the rates can go up two points a year to a typical rate cap of six points over the life of the loan. Lenders will usually require borrowers to qualify for a mortgage loan that is several percentage points above the actual initial rate charged on the ARM. This is intended to keep borrowers from becoming overburdened by debt. Some lenders may charge special fees or caps which can increase the cost of the loan. If you think that an ARM may work for you, it is a good idea to shop around.

When Interest Rates Rise

Many people fall out of the home buying market when interest rates start to go up. This is often a mistake. Many of the best mortgages deals become available when lenders are competing for new business and sellers are competing within a smaller buyer pool. You just have to know how to keep the costs down in order to counter the higher interest rates.

One of the best tricks is the buy-down. In a buy-down, a fee is paid at the closing to get a lower interest rate. In a soft market, an anxious seller may be lured into to paying all or part of the buy-down. Another approach is to get the seller to pay some of closing costs, thus lowering the amount of cash a buyer needs to close. Frequently the seller's costs can be used as a write-off by the buyer. Always consult with your tax advisor if you are considering such an arrangement.

If the market is softening due to rising or higher rates, the price itself becomes an area where a buyer may be able to save a lot of money on a house through skillful negotiating. Lower prices mean lower loan amounts, so don't be discouraged by higher rates--use them to your advantage.

Who Pays the Points

When home buyers shop for financing, they must consider two important factors--the interest rate and the points. Each point is equal to one percent of the mortgage amount. If you are selling a home, the buyers may ask you to share the points with them.

The buyer usually pays the points. But if the offer is attractive and will give you the amount you want, paying one or more points might be a good idea. When a contract is presented, your real estate agent will go over the price and terms to help you calculate the net price you will receive. If the offer isn't strong enough or has risky contingencies, you might make a counter offer to increase your profit on the sale by eliminating the points from your selling costs or by increasing the price to help you absorb additional costs you will pay.

In some cases, buyers with limited cash may need some assistance from the sellers to make the transaction work. Your real estate agent will help you look at the total picture and the buyer's overall qualifications, so that you can make a decision based on the bottom line.

Your Financial Cushion

When you calculate how much you will need to purchase a home you will add up the down payment and closing costs. It is also a good idea to leave yourself with some financial cushion to cover the incidental expenses associated with moving.

First, you will have to pay the moving company unless you can find friends with strong backs who will help you. Then many buyers plan to do some work, such as painting, replacing carpet, or refinishing floors. If you are moving into a larger space, you may find yourself making some major furniture purchases within a few months of closing.

A financial cushion is important enough that some lenders require buyers to have an amount in the bank equivalent to two or three months mortgage payments. This is especially true for buyers who are putting less than ten percent down. Your real estate agent can give you guidance. A lot depends on your overall financial situation. If your mortgage is a relatively low percentage of your monthly income, you will be able to rebuild a comfortable amount of savings in a few months.

Your Mortgage

Many homeowners overlook the mortgage payment as a tool for financial management. They get the mortgage, move in, make the payments, and pay off the loan eventually. Smart homeowners know that by properly adding to their monthly payments, even by a small amount, they can substantially reduce the term of their loan, not to mention the total interest they will pay. In fact, prepaying one full year of a standard mortgage can save thousands of dollars in interest. The key is to do it properly and to find the right lender for whom prepayment is not a problem.

More progressive lenders allow the option to add money to the monthly payment which goes directly to the principal. How much should you add? It's largely a personal decision, and it depends on your cash flow. But be mindful of the fact that the mortgage interest rate is probably the lowest interest loan you will find, so don't short yourself with prepayment only to run up credit card debt!

Shirl A Thornton
Shirl A Thornton