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Mortgage News

By Kira Brecht March 3, 2015 U.S. News Money

If you've got the itch to ditch your landlord and take the leap to homeownership, mortgage rates are still low by historical standards. But beware because they are expected to begin creeping higher throughout the year.

"The cost of renting is really high right now. Rents have been rising and rising," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "Renters are getting squeezed, and some want to convert to ownership.".

The NAR expects 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages to average 3.80 percent in the first quarter. However, mortgage rates are forecast to start inching higher throughout the year. The NAR forecasts an average 4 percent rate in the second quarter, 4.3 percent in the third quarter and 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter.

Economic forces, including an improving U.S. labor market and faster economic growth, are conspiring to push mortgage rates higher this year. "The Federal Reserve is likely to raise short-term interest rates in the summer, which will be a signal for the rest of the market for rates to go higher," Yun says.  

"There's a window of opportunity for buying and refinancing at crazy-low rates, but it's closing," says Gina Pogol, loan expert at Charlotte, North Carolina-based LendingTree.

If this is the year you want to sign on the dotted line and become a homeowner, experts have several suggestions to help you move quickly through the mortgage approval process.

The overall lending environment remains stringent, and the best mortgage rates will be awarded to those with higher credit scores. Your credit score is a three-digit number generated using information on your credit report, and generally, the higher it is, the better. Here's what you need to do to get the best rates.

Mind your credit score. "Minimum credit scores required by lenders have steadily dropped, and mortgage insurers' underwriting guidelines have also loosened a bit, but it's still a little tough," Pogol says. "Average FICOs of applicants approved for home loans continue to come down, but they're still hovering around the 700 mark. Unfortunately, three-fourths of U.S. consumers have scores lower than 700."

What's an ideal credit score? "To get the best rate, strive for above 740. That is the benchmark for A-plus lending," says Jeannie Meronk, assistant vice president and mortgage loan officer at First State Bank of Illinois.

Visit your lender before you hit the open houses. Create a game plan that makes sense for your budget. It pays to talk to a lender about what you can afford and qualify for before you fall in love with a home outside your price range.

"It is really important from a budget standpoint to be shopping in the right price range," Meronk says.

Just because you qualify for a certain loan amount doesn't mean that is what you should spend. Consider your monthly budget, and determine what level of monthly payment feels comfortable. Remember that there will be other costs relating to homeownership, including property taxes, maintenance and unexpected repairs.

Also know that most sellers won't take an offer seriously unless you have been preapproved for a loan. "Preapproval means actually applying for a loan, having your credit checked and your income documented. Preapproved means that as long as the property meets the lender's requirements, you can close," Pogol says.

Don't make any changes to your financial picture. Once you've been preapproved, this is not the time to open new credit cards, change jobs, transfer large sums of money or make big-ticket purchases using credit. "Once you are preapproved, don't apply for any new credit. If you go ahead and finance furniture, it can mess up the amount that you were preapproved for," Meronk says.

If you are fortunate enough to have a parent, in-law or relative who is willing to gift you some or all of your intended down payment, be sure to talk with your lender about this. You will need to document this properly with a letter for your lender.

If you are thinking of buying a rental property, however, gift money can't be used toward a down payment. It only can be used for a primary residence, according to Meronk.

If you are self-employed, expect to jump through more hoops. Be prepared to provide two years' worth of tax returns. If your income fluctuated from one year to the next, underwriters will average the income from the two years. Also, underwriters will look at your income after your business deductions have been taken.

"It often comes as a surprise to self-employed applicants that their gross income isn't counted by underwriters. It's their taxable income that's used. So if you write off every meal and every vacation as a business expense, that comes off the top of your income," Pogol says.

Organize your financial paperwork and keep it up to date. If you are shopping for a home, keep a file and drop in new documents as you receive them, including your most recent pay stub and all pages of your bank statement.

"Many times applications sit on mortgage processors' desks because the borrowers have not supplied everything necessary to get the file into underwriting. If an underwriter needs additional information or documents, get that in as quickly as possible. In a busy office, every time your application needs something else, it may be moved to the bottom of a pile and not resurface for days," Pogol says.

Call your insurance company. Before you close, you will need to procure a home insurance policy. "You need to call your insurance agent and tell them you are buying a house. You need to secure a first year's home insurance policy before closing. Until I get your homeowners insurance amount, I can't tell you the exact amount of your payment," Meronk says.

Posted by Chris Styner on March 3rd, 2015 1:29 PM

Finance  By: October 2nd, 2014 

Picking out the perfect home can be a challenging task. But that’s only the first step.

You still need to be an attractive loan candidate, navigate the mortgage process and plan well for the future.

Since all that can get a little tricky, many home buyers made mortgage mistakes that cost them dearly.

In order to avoid some of the biggest missteps, you should first know what they are.

1. Picking Any Old Mortgage

You don’t want to be saddled for even a short period of time with the wrong mortgage.

Investigate all of your options, and then you need to lay your choices side-by-side and do the math—making sure you have an emergency savings for worst-case scenarios.

Loan shop with several different lenders and use the realtor.com® mortgage calculator to fine-tune your estimates.

2. Confusing Pre-Approval or Pre-Qualification With Commitment  

When you’re pre-qualified, the lender is simply giving you an estimate about how much you can borrow based on information you’ve provided.

When you’re pre-approved, the lender has verified everything you’ve provided and is offering to lend you up to a given amount at current interest rates—under certain conditions.

It’s much better to be pre-approved when shopping for a home, but it’s still not a guarantee: the lender’s final clearance and a loan commitment are subject to an appraisal satisfactory to the lender, a good title, a last-minute credit check and other verifications.

3. Having Too Much Debt

Even if you pay your bills on time, lenders tend to focus just as much on how much credit you have available to you—that is, your debt-to-income ratio—as they do on timeliness.

Being up to your ears in debt is a sure way to be turned down for a mortgage. Postpone any big-ticket purchases until after you buy your house.

4. Forgetting About Your Credit

Before you apply for a loan, you should know your credit score and credit report inside and out.

Thoroughly check your credit report for any possible mistakes. You can order a free credit report from each of the big three credit report agencies—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—once a year.

If you see a mistake, dispute it. If your credit is bad, that’s okay: just work on repairing it before you apply for a mortgage.

5. Lying on Your Loan Application

Exaggerating your income on a mortgage application or putting down other untruths can be a federal offense.

If a lender finds out, they can make your loan due and payable. And while bad loan officers may stretch the truth to get a client approved, it’s the borrowers who end up paying the price.

6. Hiding From Payments

The worst thing you can do is ignore phone calls and letters from your lender when you are behind on your payments.

Lenders have many options at their disposal to help keep borrowers from losing their homes to foreclosure, but they can’t do anything for you unless they can talk to you about your difficulties.

7. Skipping a Home Inspection

Failing to make your purchase contingent on a satisfactory home inspection could be a costly mistake.

Good home inspectors examine houses from stem to stern. They’ll be able to tell you whether the roof or basement leaks, whether the mechanical systems are in good shape and how long the appliances should last.

Don’t get caught off guard by needed repairs, or it will mean more money for your mortgage payments.

If you’re unsure of where to find a good home inspector, ask a REALTOR® for a referral. 

8. Making Big Life Changes

Lenders like stability.

It’s a good idea to have kept your job for at least a year or two before applying for a mortgage, and it’s even more important to keep your job throughout the mortgage process.

If you’re looking to switch jobs, wait until after you’ve closed the deal.

Updated from an earlier version by Lew Sichelman.

Posted by Chris Styner on February 13th, 2015 3:40 PM

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