By Andrea Murad
Make sure you understand your financing options before you take the important step of buying a home.
Buying a home is time-consuming. Before you even start searching for that perfect property, whether you’re searching for homes for sale in Chicago, IL, or Houston, TX, you’ll need to spend hours working with mortgage lenders to learn how to budget your finances for your home purchase.
Once you’ve interviewed multiple mortgage lenders and vetted your lender to make sure they’re reputable, explain your financial situation: What’s your monthly income, what are your other big monthly expenses, and what can you ultimately afford as a down payment? Mortgage lenders will respect that you work hard for your money — and you want to spend it wisely.
After running a credit check, your lender will present you with options for what you may qualify to borrow. The mortgage amount can be different depending on two things: the product and interest rate. Since the interest rate determines what you’ll owe every month on that balance, understanding how different mortgage products work is key. Here are 10 questions to ask to make sure you’re getting the best rate (and the best deal).
1. What is the interest rate?
Your lender will offer you an interest rate based on the loan and your credit. The interest rate, along with the mortgage balance and loan term, will determine your real monthly payment. A loan with a lower balance or a lower interest rate will make for a smaller monthly payment. If you’re not satisfied with the interest rates offered, work to clean up your credit so you can qualify for a lower interest rate.
2. What is the monthly mortgage payment?
As you develop a budget for your new home, make sure you can afford this monthly mortgage payment — and be sure to include insurance and taxes in your monthly payment calculations. And don’t forget about short-term financial goals — say, saving up for a vacation or buying a new computer — and long-term retirement goals to consider. Your monthly mortgage payment shouldn’t be so high that your money can’t work toward your other financial goals.
3. Is the mortgage fixed rate or an ARM?
Fixed-rate loans keep the same rate for the life of the loan, which can range between 10 and 30 years. Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, have interest rates that change after an initial period at regular intervals. If you don’t plan to stay in your home long-term, a hybrid ARM with an initial fixed-rate period may be a better choice, since this type of loan tends to have lower interest rates than fixed-rate mortgages.
If you do consider an ARM, make sure you ask (and understand!) when the rate will change and by how much. Ask how often the rate will change after the initial interest rate change, the index that it’s tied to, and the loan’s margin. There are usually caps to how much the interest rate can increase during one period and over the life of the loan, so recalculate the monthly payment to make sure you can afford that higher rate.
4. What fees do I have to pay?
One-time fees, typically called “points,” are due at closing. For every point you pay, your lender will decrease your interest rate by 1%. You can also inquire about whether you might have the option of paying zero closing fees in exchange for a higher interest rate.
5. Does the loan have any prepayment penalties?
If you’re saving up to make some extra mortgage payments to pay off your mortgage principal early, you may have to pay a fee. Don’t forget to ask this important question.
6. When can I lock in the interest rate and points, and how much does this cost?
Your lender may be able to lock in your interest rate for a time, and for a fee. If rates go up, you’ll still be able to benefit from a lower rate on your mortgage.
7. What are the qualifying guidelines for this loan?
The underwriting guidelines are different for every loan, as are income and reserve requirements. Along with requiring you to have sufficient funds for the down payment and closing costs, most mortgages require proof of income and reserves of up to six months of mortgage payments.
8. What is the minimum down payment required for this loan?
Different loan products have different down payment requirements. Most mortgages require a 20% down payment, but if you qualify for an FHA loan, for example, your down payment could be as low as 3.5%. In general, loans with lower down payments cost more.
9. Do I have to pay for mortgage insurance, and how much will this cost?
Putting down less than 20% on your purchase requires paying mortgage insurance until your loan-to-value, or LTV, ratio falls below 80%. Mortgage insurance premiums can be expensive, sometimes costing up to $100 per month for every $100,000 borrowed.
10. Do you have other mortgage products with lower rates that I qualify for?
The best way to comparison-shop is to start with your current lender. They probably offer more than one type of loan, and these may have terms better suited to your financial situation.