The current economy and dire predictions of the real estate market to come may frighten prospective buyers from taking that big step into home ownership. But with careful preparation and research, there’s no reason to be afraid when setting out to obtain a home loan.
As with any large purchase, research is the first step to finding and applying for a mortgage. Examine your personal finances and assets, figure out what kind of monthly payment you can afford, not to mention whether you have enough on hand to cover fees, underwriting and closing costs. The majority of lenders require a significant down payment – between five and twenty percent – and you should know ahead of time how to secure that lump sum. Beyond your current financial situation, make sure to contact one or more credit report services to review your credit score and history, making sure to correct any errors right away. Once you’re satisfied that you have the assets and income necessary to maintain your mortgage payments, it’s time to research potential lenders.
Whether it’s through a credit union, broker or direct lender; rates, fees and closing costs determine which loan is best for you. Look into the approval percentages of the lenders you’re interested in, as well as their interest rates. If you go with an adjustable rate rather than fixed, ask how your monthly payments will vary with market fluctuations. Another often overlooked expense is Private Mortgage Insurance. If you apply for a loan that is more than 80% the cost of the property, most lenders will require a monthly insurance payment to protect them in the event you default on the loan. There are limitless online resources for loan shoppers, and www.fdic.gov even offers a shoppers worksheet to help you compare and contrast the details of up to four different loans. Remember, these institutions are fighting for your business. Don’t hesitate to let them know that you’re shopping around for the best rates.
When you’re ready to apply for the loan, ask for a “lock-in” that puts the rate, fees, points and closing costs in writing, protecting you from rate changes throughout the approval process. For the application you’ll need to provide proof of residency, check stubs, bank statements, tax returns and any income from investments you may have. Once you’ve provided the lender with the application they’ll review your credit history, evaluate your ability to pay and perhaps appraise the property. Given the research and due diligence necessary, it can take up to three or four weeks to receive a final decision. Remember, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act protects borrowers from discrimination by lenders due to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, marital status, or income from public assistance. If you suspect your failure to be approved is due to discrimination don’t hesitate to confront the creditor and your state’s Attorney General. However, with hard work and preparation, chances are good that you’re on the road to owning your own property.