10 Frequently Asked Mortgage Questions
Not necessarily, but it will certainly help. It is possible to get a conventional mortgage with a FICO credit score as low as 620, and you can obtain a higher-cost FHA mortgage with a score in the 500s. However, be aware that the lower your score, the higher your interest rate will be. You can find a current list of mortgage rates broken down by credit score here. On a $250,000 mortgage, the difference between a 620 credit score and an "excellent" 760 adds up to more than $86,000 in interest savings over the life of a 30-year loan.
The short answer is that you can get a conventional mortgage with as little as 3% down, an FHA loan with 3.5% down, and a VA or USDA loan with no money down at all. However, with a conventional or FHA loan, you'll have to pay private mortgage insurance, aka PMI, if your down payment is less than 20% of the home's sale price. (Those payments won't be a permanent fixture in your monthly payments, however. Once the loan-to-value ratio on your mortgage falls to 80%, you can ask your lender to drop them. And even without your request, lenders are required to cancel PMI when the loan-to-value ratio drops to 78%.)
The term "closing costs" refer to all of the charges you'll need to pay before your loan is completed. This can include origination fees, title insurance, prepaid escrows, and more. Closing costs can vary significantly, but generally, expect to pay around 2% to 3% of the home's price in closing costs.
When interest rates are historically low, like they are now, a fixed-rate mortgage makes good financial sense. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of mortgages originated today are fixed-rate. In fact, only about 3% of buyers are choosing adjustable-rate loans. That said, while a fixed-rate mortgage is the best choice for the majority of homebuyers, there are some circumstances where an ARM may be better. For example, if you expect to sell the house before the fixed-interest period ends and the rate starts to float, an ARM could end up saving you thousands of dollars. Or, during periods of falling interest rates, an ARM can allow you to get a low initial rate and will save you money later if rates drop further.
A rate lock means that you're guaranteed today's mortgage interest rate for some predetermined period, typically 30 to 60 days. If interest rates have been trending upward, it's generally a good idea to lock in your rate. While the prevailing mortgage rate doesn't usually make a big move in a month or two, it's certainly possible.
Discount points are money that you pay up front on your mortgage in exchange for a lower interest rate. One "point" is equal to 1% of the loan amount, so on a $200,000 mortgage, one discount point would be $2,000. Discount points are tax-deductible, and mathematically, if the interest savings over the life of the loan is greater than the points paid, it can be worth it. A mortgage calculator can help you determine whether discount points are a good idea by comparing the effect of various interest rates on your mortgage.
This depends on how much you want to stretch your budget. If you can afford the higher monthly payments, a 15-year mortgage usually comes with a better interest rate than a 30-year version. Not only will you pay off the house quicker, but you can save a tremendous amount of interest. On the other hand, a 30-year mortgage will cost less per month, allowing you to afford a bigger or nicer house, or one in a better location.
Your lender may ask for many different items, but in general, be prepared to show all of the following: Income verification (Last two years' tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, and your last few pay stubs), Drivers' license, and Social Security card (or alternative ID), Bank statements, Proof of funds to close (and an explanation of where they came from if it's not obvious), If some or all of your down payment is coming from a gift, you will need a gift letter from the source of the funds that confirm they are a gift, not a loan.
A pre-qualification is a basic review of your finances to determine if you would qualify for a mortgage. In general, a pre-qualification is based on unverified information you provide and does not include a credit check or any documentation, and is therefore not a firm guarantee of a loan.
Unlike a pre-qualification, a pre-approval can be a highly useful tool in the homebuying process. It's essentially the same thing as applying for a mortgage, just without a specific home attached to it. As part of a pre-approval, a lender will check your credit, verify your income and employment, and commit to lending a certain amount of money. A pre-approval can show sellers that you're serious about buying a home, and that you're likely to be able to follow through on a bid, and close on their property.