When it comes to buying a home, whether it is your first time or your fifth, it is always important to know all the facts. With the large number of mortgage programs available that allow buyers to purchase a home with a down payment below 20%, you can never have too much information about Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).
“An insurance policy that protects the lender if you are unable to pay your mortgage. It’s a monthly fee, rolled into your mortgage payment, that is required for all conforming, conventional loans that have down payments less than 20%.
Once you’ve built equity of 20% in your home, you can cancel your PMI and remove that expense from your mortgage payment.”
As the borrower, you pay the monthly premiums for the insurance policy, and the lender is the beneficiary. Freddie Mac goes on to explain that:
“The cost of PMI varies based on your loan-to-value ratio – the amount you owe on your mortgage compared to its value – and credit score, but you can expect to pay between $30 and $70 per month for every $100,000 borrowed.”
According to the National Association of Realtors, the average down payment for all buyers last year was 10%. For first-time buyers, that number dropped to 6%, while repeat buyers put down 14% (no doubt aided by the sale of their home). This just goes to show that for a large number of buyers last year, PMI did not stop them from buying their dream homes.
Here’s an example of the cost of a mortgage on a $200,000 home with a 5% down payment & PMI, compared to a 20% down payment without PMI:
The larger the down payment you can make, the lower your monthly housing cost will be, but Freddie Mac urges you to remember:
“It’s no doubt an added cost, but it’s enabling you to buy now and begin building equity versus waiting 5 to 10 years to build enough savings for a 20% down payment.”
If you have questions about whether you should buy now or wait until you’ve saved a larger down payment, let’s get together to discuss our market’s conditions and to help you make the best decision for you and your family.
In many markets across the country, the number of buyers searching for their dream homes greatly outnumbers the amount of homes for sale. This has led to a competitive marketplace where buyers often need to stand out. One way to show you are serious about buying your dream home is to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before starting your search.
Even if you are in a market that is not as competitive, knowing your budget will give you the confidence of knowing if your dream home is within your reach.
Freddie Mac lays out the advantages of pre-approval in the My Home section of their website:
“It’s highly recommended that you work with your lender to get pre-approved before you begin house hunting. Pre-approval will tell you how much home you can afford and can help you move faster, and with greater confidence, in competitive markets.”
One of the many advantages of working with a local real estate professional is that many have relationships with lenders who will be able to help you with this process. Once you have selected a lender, you will need to fill out their loan application and provide them with important information regarding “your credit, debt, work history, down payment and residential history.”
Freddie Mac describes the 4 Cs that help determine the amount you will be qualified to borrow:
Capacity: Your current and future ability to make your payments
Capital or cash reserves: The money, savings and investments you have that can be sold quickly for cash
Collateral: The home, or type of home, that you would like to purchase
Credit: Your history of paying bills and other debts on time
Getting pre-approved is one of many steps that will show home sellers that you are serious about buying, and it often helps speed up the process once your offer has been accepted.
Many potential home buyers overestimate the down payment and credit scores needed to qualify for a mortgage today. If you are ready and willing to buy, you may be pleasantly surprised at your ability to do so as well.
Your loan term might be fixed, but it doesn’t have to dictate when you’ll be mortgage-free. Find out how to speed up the process.
A lot can happen in 30 years. Kids become adults, jobs change, and life goals are accomplished and reset. Change during such a lengthy period is inevitable. But if you’re a homeowner, there’s one thing that won’t change: Your obligation to make a monthly mortgage payment.
The good news? A loan term doesn’t have to dictate when you free yourself from this financial commitment. There are a few tried-and-true ways to cut the ties early while lowering the total amount paid in the process. Follow these recommendations, including the No. 1 tip to pay off your mortgage early on your home, whether it’s in Seattle, WA, or Boston, MA.
5. Refinance into a 15-year mortgage
Cutting your loan term in half is a big financial step, but the benefits are substantial. Not only will you shorten the payoff time, but you’ll also be rewarded with a lower rate and pay significantly less in interest over the life of the loan.
The key here is determining whether you can shoulder the larger monthly cost that comes with a 15-year mortgage. Pamela Capalad, CFP and founder of Brunch and Budget, explains, “The downside is, you’ve locked in a much higher monthly payment. Make sure you have the cash flow to afford this new monthly payment on a regular basis.”
Not completely confident in your ability to commit to a higher monthly payment? Fake a 15-year mortgage by challenging yourself to make the payments you would be making if you had locked into a 15-year mortgage. Then, if financial circumstances change, you still have the flexibility to return to a lower monthly payment.
4. Refinance into a lower rate but keep payments the same
The benefits of refinancing your loan but sticking to the same payments are twofold: You will pay less in interest over the life of the loan and create a shorter path to mortgage freedom. Plus, it’s not as drastic as jumping from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage.
However, it’s important to do a bit of research before you refinance. Closing costs for refinancing are generally lower than if you were to purchase a new home, but they’re still an added expense. Your new interest rate should be low enough to negate the cost of refinancing, or you should be planning on staying put long enough to reap the benefits of a smaller rate. (Use the Trulia refinance calculator to see if this is a good choice for you.)
3. Get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI)
If you financed more than 80% of your conventional mortgage, chances are, you are paying private mortgage insurance to protect the lender in case of default. Redirecting this amount — usually 0.05%–1% of the loan amount annually — to the principal on your mortgage can have a big impact over time.
You can request to get rid of PMI once you reach an 80% loan-to-value ratio, but the lender is required to remove it after you’ve reached a 78% loan-to-value ratio. You can speed up the process by increasing your equity through home upgrades, or, if the home has already increased in value for other reasons, you can opt to refinance. Some lenders may even allow you to get an appraisal to show the new value and your increased equity — without paying for a refinance.
2. Put those windfalls to work
Maybe your monthly budget doesn’t have wiggle room and paying the costs to refinance isn’t in the cards. There’s another option.
Tax returns, bonus checks, and inheritance payments present the opportunity to pay off a chunk of your mortgage without feeling the pain in your monthly budget. This could mean thousands of additional dollars chipping away at this massive financial responsibility each year. Sometimes your money could be better spent elsewhere — like paying off high-interest debt — but if wiping out your mortgage early is a priority, this is a great place to start.
1. Make extra or higher principal payments
Jennifer Harper, CFP and director of Bridge Financial Planning, says one small change can make a world of difference. “Even small [additional] principal payments add up over time! On a $150,000 loan for 30 years at 3.75%, with no additional payments, more than $100,000 will be paid in interest over the course of the loan. By adding just $100 per month in principal payments, the total interest paid is reduced by nearly $25,000 and the loan will be paid off more than six years sooner!”
Another way to do this is by making biweekly mortgage payments. Instead of making 12 monthly payments, this equals out to 26 half-payments — or 13 full payments — per year. But beware, explains Harper, not all loan servicers make it easy to apply these extra payments to the principal. Make sure to speak to yours and ensure they aren’t simply holding on to the extra money and applying it toward the interest.
The bottom line: Choose what works for you
Which method should you choose to pay down your mortgage faster? That depends, explains Pamela Capalad.
“Choose the option that resonates the most with you based on your current financial situation and any possible changes you foresee. If you have a steady job or career that you feel confident will last in the long term, it might make sense to refinance to a shorter term. If your income is a bit less consistent, you may want the flexibility of making additional payments when you can.”
If you’ve served in the U.S. military, you can get a loan backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with no down payment.
As the financial crisis gets further behind us, mortgage options get more flexible. One loan program that’s often overlooked is a VA loan. If you’ve served in the U.S. military, you can get a loan backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with no down payment.
VA loan features
This may be a surprise: VA loans aren’t actually made by the VA. They are made by mortgage lenders, and the VA backs the loans, which enables lenders to be more flexible when making these loans.
Features of VA mortgages include:
Financing for up to 100 percent of a home’s value. The national loan limit is $417,000, but can go up to $1,000,000 in high-cost areas. VA loan limits for your area are available on the VA site, and a VA lender can also give you local VA loan limits.
The ability to finance most of your closing costs, including appraisal, credit report, title insurance, lender origination fee, recording fees, and survey fees. These represent the bulk of the closing costs in most home purchase transactions.
The ability to finance the one-time VA funding fee that’s required on all VA loans, and the ability to have this fee waived for certain circumstances, such as injury and disability.
No mortgage insurance. This is a material benefit that will save hundreds of dollars per month compared to other government-backed programs like FHA loans, which come with high mortgage insurance fees.
No prepayment penalty if you pay off the loan early.
You will, however, need to provide your lender with a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to verify that you’re eligible for a VA loan. The COEs for each category of eligible VA borrower have different requirements.
An expert VA lender can also help you obtain the correct COE based on your circumstances. If you fall into one of the eligible categories but don’t know how to get your COE, ask a lender to help you.
The VA loan approval process
Getting your VA loan approved is mostly the same as getting a non-VA loan approved. A lender will calculate your total proposed monthly housing cost plus all other monthly debt — like payments on credit cards, cars, and student loans — and compare it to your income. They’ll want to see that these total monthly costs don’t exceed 43 percent of your monthly income — although in certain cases, the automated loan underwriting engines lenders are required to use for VA loans might allow monthly costs to go as high as 50 percent of income.
Lenders will also look at your credit scores. Each lender will vary in terms of the credit score they require, but generally a score of 620 or better is required to qualify for a VA loan.
If you’re buying a condo, the VA must approve the condo project. The agency maintains a database of pre-approved condos, and if the condo you want isn’t on this list, you’ll need to work with your lender to get the condo approved.
This can add considerable time to the transaction, so make sure you do this research before writing an offer. And make sure your real estate agent is aware you’re getting a VA loan.
In the long home-buying journey, lenders are often pegged as the bad guy—the villain who holds the purse strings and decides whether (or not) to loosen ’em up and grant you a mortgage.
OK. Let’s take a step back. This bad rep is mostly a bad rap. Because the reality is that lenders make homeownership possible for the majority of Americans who do not have the ready cash to buy a home. And even if you’re a less-than-ideal home buyer, because of bad credit or lack of a down payment, they can actually help your loan go through.
Here are five ways lenders can assist you on the path to homeownership, and some recommendations as to how you can make the most of this relationship.
1. Lenders can get you pre-approved
If you know you’re ready to buy—before you’ve even seen the inside of a single house—it’s wise to head to a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, pronto. This means lenders check your financial history and determine how much money they’re willing to loan you to buy a home. “You want to apply before you’re entirely under the gun,” says Steven Bogan, regional managing director for Glendenning Mortgage Corporationin Haddonfield, NJ. “If you wait until you’ve made an offer on a house, you could run into problems.”
Pre-approval is proof to home sellers—and yourself!—that you won’t have problems getting the loan you need, once that special house comes your way. It is best to seek a pre-approval at least a month or two in advance, Bogan says. Requirements for approval in a post-housing bubble world can create headaches even for stellar borrowers.
But don’t start too early. Pre-approvals are only good for 30 to 60 days, so make sure you’re really ready to hit the pavement and start looking for houses. Still, don’t stress if your pre-approval expires; getting it re-upped isn’t a big deal.
“We usually just need to run your credit again, maybe get an updated pay stub or bank statement, and you’re good to go,” says Bogan.
2. If you can’t get pre-approved, lenders can show you how
So what if you apply for pre-approval and get denied? It hurts, but don’t worry—the pre-approval process isn’t a one-shot deal. Most lenders will be happy to work with you, even if you aren’t pre-approved right off the bat.
“The majority of lenders will give buyers a step-by-step path they need to follow to get up to approval,” says Bogan. And that usually involves boosting your credit score (more on that next).
3. Lenders can help you boost your credit score
One of the most common reasons home buyers don’t get approval is a lousy credit score—the all-important numerical summary of how reliable they’ve been paying off debts, from credit cards to college loans. You want a simple equation? The lower your score, the less likely you are to get a loan. The good news is that you can take action to boost your credit score. A credit repair company will show you the ropes, but will charge for those services.
You’ve actually got a free credit-boosting guide at your disposal: the lenders who just passed you up for a loan. In most cases, they’ll be happy to show you what you need to do to boost your credit score. And while it usually takes a few months for the credit bureaus to record these changes, lenders have another ace up their sleeve: They can do a “rapid re-score” that corrects and updates info on your credit report in a matter of days.
4. Lenders can help atypical borrowers
Many home buyers are employed, earning a regular W-2 income—a generally safe bet for lenders. But If you’re self-employed, a contractor or running your own business, and your income is more prone to valleys and peaks, a good relationship with a lender can help you cut past reservations about your loanworthiness. “Basically, we’re just going to look at the last two years of tax returns, instead of W-2’s and pay stubs,” says Bogan.
However, Bogan does recommend applying even earlier if you’re a non-W-2 wage earner, since there is more paperwork and more of an investigative process into your earnings. And unlike everyone else, you’ll need to consider your timing. “Say, for example, 2016 tax returns are almost due, and it was a great year incomewise. It would probably be in your advantage to wait until after you’ve filed your taxes to apply for a mortgage,” Bogan says.
No matter what your situation, though, to get the best help, you’re actually going to have to call. “You absolutely want to talk with somebody in person,” says Bogan. So skip the online forms, and ask your friends and family (or your Realtor®, if you have one already) to recommend someone you can sit down with to get the process rolling.
There are many potential homebuyers, and even sellers, who believe that you need at least a 20% down payment in order to buy a home, or move on to their next home. Time after time, we have dispelled this myth by showing that there are many loan programs that allow you to put down as little as 3% (or 0% with a VA loan).
If you have saved up your down payment and are ready to start your home search, one other piece of the puzzle is to make sure that you have saved enough for your closing costs.
“Closing costs, also called settlement fees, will need to be paid when you obtain a mortgage. These are fees charged by people representing your purchase, including your lender, real estate agent, and other third parties involved in the transaction. Closing costs are typically between 2 and 5% of your purchase price.”
We’ve recently heard from many first-time homebuyers that they wished that someone had let them know that closing costs could be so high. If you think about it, with a low down payment program, your closing costs could equal the amount that you saved for your down payment.
Here is a list of just some of the fees/costs that may be included in your closing costs, depending on where the home you wish to purchase is located:
Government recording costs
Credit report fees
Lender origination fees
Title services (insurance, search fees)
Tax service fees
Is there any way to avoid paying closing costs?
Work with your lender and real estate agent to see if there are any ways to decrease or defer your closing costs. There are no-closing mortgages available, but they end up costing you more in the end with a higher interest rate, or by wrapping the closing costs into the total cost of the mortgage (meaning you’ll end up paying interest on your closing costs).
Home buyers can also negotiate with the seller over who pays these fees. Sometimes the seller will agree to assume the buyer’s closing fees in order to get the deal finalized.
Speak with your lender and agent early and often to determine how much you’ll be responsible for at closing. Finding out you’ll need to come up with thousands of dollars right before closing is not a surprise anyone is ever looking forward to.