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Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding to Refinance Your Mortgage

Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding to Refinance Your MortgageIf you’re looking to reduce your interest payments or get more favorable loan terms, there are lots of ways you can change your mortgage. But one of the most effective ways to take advantage of low interest rates is with a mortgage refinance. That said, refinancing typically comes with a variety of costs and may not be a good solution or all homeowners.

So how can you tell whether it’s a good idea to refinance your home? Here are three questions you need to ask yourself if you want to find out.

How Much Equity Do I Have?

If you have less than 20 percent equity in your home, your lender can require you to get private mortgage insurance. While refinancing could get you a lower interest rate and better terms, extra PMI costs will usually devour any savings you may have had. Before you decide to refinance your mortgage, determine how much equity you have in your home and how close you are to the 20 percent mark – if you can pay down enough of the balance to drop your PMI, refinancing may be a viable option.

How Long Do I Plan To Live Here?

When you refinance your home, you’ll pay administrative costs ranging from 3 to 6 percent of the loan’s value. You’ll need to do some calculations to determine your break-even point – the point in time when the money you save from a lower interest rate is equal to the amount of money you paid in administrative costs. If you’re close to paying off your entire mortgage or if you plan to move before you hit the break-even point, a refinance will only cost you money.

Is It A Good Time To Refinance?

Refinancing creates a new loan based on your home’s current value – and if your home has increased in value since you bought it, you can cash out your equity. However, refinancing may also lose you money. For example, if you have $300,000 worth of equity in a $750,000 home, refinancing allows you to cash out your $300,000.

But if your property value has decreased in recent years – for instance, if it’s dropped to $500,000 – then a refinance can change your equity status. Equity is your home’s current value minus your remaining loan balance. If you owe $450,000 and your property value drops to $500,000, then your equity is only $50,000 instead of the $300,000 you had before.

The key lesson? Always check market conditions before refinancing a home.

Refinancing is a complex issue with a variety of nuances. That’s why it pays to consult your local mortgage professional to learn whether a refinance is right for you.

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Budgeting for a New Home?: 3 Unlikely Costs to Consider in Your Overall Budget

Budgeting for a New Home? 3 Unlikely Costs to Consider in Your Overall BudgetIf you’re planning to buy a new home in the near future, you’re probably working hard to prepare a budget and determine how much you can afford before you start viewing homes. While it’s good to have an idea of what you can pay for a new house, many buyers routinely miss several key home buying costs that can later cause a variety of problems. Before you start looking for your new home, make sure you add these three commonly forgotten costs to your budget.

Title Insurance: Critical Protection Against Title Claims

Title insurance is something that most buyers forget about until closing, but it’s a necessary form of protection for every soon-to-be homeowner. Title insurance provides you with protection against financial losses in the event that you later discover title defects. For example, title insurance can protect you from losses in situations where the seller doesn’t actually own the home, where there is a lien on the property, or where a previous owner accidentally omitted or deliberately falsified critical property records.

In a standard real estate contract the seller will pay for the buyer’s title insurance, but in most states, the buyer is also required to buy title insurance to protect the mortgage lender. Title insurance for lenders usually costs, on average, $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Unexpected Renovations: Home Inspectors Aren’t Perfect

Typically, your home inspector will alert you to any issues requiring renovation or repair before you buy your new home. But if your home inspector is negligent and misses a critical problem with the home, you may need to find money for surprise renovations – and fast.

While you can file an insurance claim or sue the inspector for negligence in order to recoup damages, court cases and insurance claims take time – time that you may not have if you’re facing an urgent home problem. Most real estate agents suggest budgeting 1% of your home’s budget each year for maintenance costs.

Initial Interest: Your First Month Comes Due Before You Know It

Your mortgage starts accruing interest on the day you close the home sale, not on the day you move in. So in order to make sure that you have a consistent payment, the lender collects the first partial month of interest at the closing table.  It’s called “prepaid interest” and is included in your overall closing costs.  That means if you sign the contract on March 15, you’ll need to make an interest payment for the period of time lasting from March 15 to March 31 at closing. Your payment will then come due on May 1 – so be sure to include your first interest payment in planning for your closing costs.

Buying a home isn’t cheap. But when you clearly understand the various costs involved, it’s easier to plan your home purchase and budget for expenses, both expected and not. Contact your local mortgage professional to learn more about home buying costs.

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Rookie Mistakes: Don’t Make These 4 First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes

Rookie Mistakes: Don't Make These 4 First-time Home-buyer MistakesBuying your first home is exciting. Many young people view homeownership as the definitive mark of adulthood, the final milestone on a decades-long journey. And while becoming a homeowner is cause for celebration, you’ll want to ensure you keep your enthusiasm in check just a little while longer.

Keep a level head and you’ll easily avoid these common mistakes first-time buyers make.

Don’t View Your Home As An Investment

First-time buyers commonly think that they can invest everything they’ve saved into a home, fix it up, and then sell it for a large profit in a few years. However, a home is a fixed asset that can be hard to sell off quickly. Economics professor Art Carden says “for people looking to start an investment, a stock or bond is a better option than a house, as I’ve never had to call a plumber because a mutual fund started leaking.”

Don’t Skip The Home Inspection

The American Society of Home Inspectors says 10 percent of home purchases happen without an inspection. Quite simply, buyers decide it’s better to save the fee for the down payment – but often, issues arise later that can result in multi-thousand-dollar repair bills. Foundation problems can be especially nasty, sometimes requiring a teardown.

Before signing a contract, make sure you have a licensed home inspector view the property.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet

While it’s good to start researching neighborhoods, mortgage terms, and home valuations online, keep in mind that online estimates are just that – estimates. Not all mortgages are created equal, and the many differences between loans can result in significant changes in the overall cost. For example, just because a lender is giving you a mortgage without an origination fee, that doesn’t make it a good deal – you could be paying a lot more in interest rates.

Always make sure you thoroughly check and understand loan terms before signing anything.

Don’t Go For The Most Expensive House You Can Afford

When you qualify for a mortgage, your lender will tell you the maximum home purchase price they’ll fund, based on your annual income as well as your debt-to-income ratio. However, just because you can afford a $500,000 two-story townhouse, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea to buy said townhouse. You’ll want to give yourself a cushion in the event that you lose your job, have children, need to pay medical expenses, or go back to school.

First-time buyers often make a variety of mistakes when buying a home, but a mortgage advisor can help you to make the right decisions – decisions that set you on the best possible path toward homeownership. Contact your local mortgage professional today to learn more.

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How the Truth in Lending Act Protects You When You Take Out a Mortgage

How the Truth in Lending Act Protects You When You Take Out a MortgageIf you’re planning to get a mortgage, it’s critical that you know your rights under the law. The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) is a piece of federal legislation that governs how mortgage lenders can and cannot operate their businesses.

So how does the Truth in Lending Act protect you, and what are your rights under this legislation? Here’s what you need to know.

Your Lender Must Give You A Timely Loan Estimate

A Loan Estimate (previously known as a Good Faith Estimate) is a document your lender provides you that details information about what kind of a mortgage you’ve applied for. Your Loan Estimate includes terms such as your estimated monthly payment, your estimated interest rate, and whether or not your mortgage balance is able to rise even if you make payments.

Under the Truth in Lending Act, your lender is obligated to give you a good-faith Loan Estimate within three days of when you apply for your mortgage. If your lender fails to provide your Loan Estimate within three days or fails to fix reported errors within 60 days, you can sue for damages and report the lender to the federal government.

Your Lender Must Notify You Of Rate Changes

The Truth in Lending Act states that your mortgage lender is required to give you an annual percentage rate estimate within 1/8 of one percent of government guidelines. Your lender must use the government-approved mathematical formula to provide your rate estimate.

If your estimated rate may be subject to change, your lender is obligated to disclose the first possible change you’ll see to your interest rate, and the maximum degree to which it may change. Your lender is also required to disclose the maximum possible changes for subsequent rate adjustments.

There Are Strict Rules About How And When Lenders Can Charge Late Fees

If your lender typically administers fees for late payments, TILA will specify that your lender must notify you – in advance – the date on which a late fee will be imposed and how much the late fee will be. TILA states that no late fee can exceed 4 percent of the amount past due, and a payment is only considered late if it is 15 or more days past due (or 30 or more days past due if you prepaid your interest). Your lender also cannot charge you a late fee on top of a late fee.

TILA is a powerful consumer protection law that gives would-be homeowners a great deal of power. By knowing your rights under TILA, you’ll be able to confidently negotiate with lenders and avoid any unnecessary problems. Contact your local mortgage professional to learn more.

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5 Steps Towards a Better Credit Score You Can Take Today

5 Steps Towards a Better Credit Score You Can Take TodayWhen it comes to finding the best mortgage, your credit score is a major determinant as to the kinds of rates and conditions you can get. Lenders quite understandably want to manage their risk. But for a number of potential homeowners, these practices and policies can be a barrier to home ownership.

The good news? If your credit score isn’t great, you can easily improve it and get better lending terms. Here are five steps you can take right now to give your credit a boost.

Get Your Annual Credit Report And Dispute Errors

Simply disputing errors on your credit report is one of the easiest ways to give your score a boost. The FTC says that 1 in every 5 Americans has errors on their credit report that have an impact on their score. By simply disputing errors on your credit report, you can give your score a small boost almost overnight.

Miss A Few Payments? Talk To Your Lender

If you’ve missed a payment and it’s more than 30 days past due, chances are your lender has already reported the missed payment. Once a missed payment is on your credit report, the fastest way to remove it is to talk to your lender. Get a written and signed agreement that if you pay the overdue balance, they’ll report the account as “paid in full.”

Ask For A Credit Increase

Your credit utilization ratio – the amount of credit you’ve used compared to the total amount available to you – makes up 30% of your FICO score. In general, experts say that using more than 30% of your available credit can harm your score. If you can’t immediately pay down your debt below that 30% threshold, one great way to improve your credit utilization ratio is to ask for a credit limit increase.

Get A Co-Signer To Help

Having someone with good credit co-sign your lending agreement is a great way to improve your credit. When you get a co-signer for your credit card or car loan, the better quality credit line may help boost your score. Just make sure you stay on top of payments – otherwise both you and the co-signer will see your credit scores fall.

Keep Good Debts On Your Report

While it is important to review your credit report and have any negative items removed, you’ll want to ensure that any positive entries – debts you’ve paid in full – stay on the report. When your credit report shows debts as paid in full, your score increases because it shows that you’re a responsible borrower.

Improving your credit score doesn’t have to take years. These five strategies can help you to boost your credit and qualify for better mortgage loan terms. Contact your local mortgage professional to learn more.

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3 Tips and Tricks to Make Mortgage Pre-Qualification Easy

3 Tips and Tricks to Make Mortgage Pre-qualification EasyIf you’re planning to buy a home, you should know that the mortgage pre-qualification process is the first in a series of steps that eventually lead to home ownership. A pre-qualification is different from a pre-approval – the pre-qualification meeting is simply you and your lender hashing out how much you can afford to spend on a property. But once you’ve been pre-qualified, it makes the mortgage process easier.

So how can you make the pre-qualification quick and painless so you can get on with your house hunt? Here’s what you need to know.

Get Your Debts In Order

One of the major questions during the pre-qualification meeting will be your credit history and debt payments. Your lender will use your social security number to look up your credit history and determine how your income and current monthly debt payments stack up. If you have a high amount of debt, you may want to do everything you can to pay it down to qualify for your dream home. However, it’s important to go over the details with a trusted mortgage professional for specific guidance here.

Chart Your Income And PITI

Your lender will use a specific ratio (the PITI to income ratio) to determine how much it’s willing to lend you in order to buy a home – and that’s why, if you calculate this ratio beforehand, you’ll know what to expect going into the meeting. PITI stands for “Principal and Interest, including Taxes and Insurance”.  It refers to the four components of a standard mortgage payment. Your PITI ratio, often referred to as the “front end ratio” then, shows how much of your income goes toward your monthly mortgage payment.

To calculate your front end ratio, simply divide your gross monthly income by your monthly mortgage payment (your PITI amounts plus your mortgage insurance). Most lenders will want to see a PITI to income ratio that is under 28%.

Build Up Your Savings Account

It’s important that you have some savings over time that can be used for a down payment, closing costs and reserves.  Although there are some very low down payment options, having a decent balance in your savings account always helps you qualify easier for a mortgage.  

Closing costs are the fees associated with getting a mortgage loan.  These can also be negotiated to be paid by the seller if you choose.  But once again, they aren’t required to make that concession, so it would be wise to move toward saving for those expenses. 

Reserves are the amounts that will need to be collected to cover your taxes, insurance and mortgage insurance on the property.  These will fund the “reserve” in your escrow account so you’ll always have enough to cover those expenses as they come due throughout the year.  Your mortgage company keeps this money for you and pays the expenses on time as well.

Pre-qualifying for a mortgage can seem like a daunting process, but it’s actually quite simple. Your mortgage advisor can help you to understand what goes into a pre-qualification. Contact us today to learn more about how pre-qualifications work and how you can get started.

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It Isn’t Always a Clear Road after Pre-approval: 4 Reasons Why Your Mortgage May Be Denied

It Isn't Always a Clear Road after Pre-approval: 4 Reasons Why Your Mortgage May Be DeniedSo you’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage – great! You’ve taken the first step toward becoming a homeowner. But before you start picking out china patterns, you’ll want to keep in mind that a pre-approval isn’t the same thing as a mortgage agreement. There’s still no guarantee that you’ll actually get a mortgage.

But why would a lender deny a mortgage after pre-approving a borrower? Here’s what you need to know.

Sudden Changes In Income Or Employment History

A number of mortgages will require borrowers to have consistent employment for a certain length of time. If you apply for an FHA mortgage, for instance, you’ll be obligated to have an employment history dating back at least two years. Any gaps in your employment history will require a written explanation that your underwriter will need to approve.

If you switch career fields while in the process of buying a home and it has a significant impact on your income, your lender may deny your mortgage.

Credit Mismanagement After Pre-Approval

Lenders like to see consistency – so if your credit score suddenly drops after you’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage, it sends up a red flag. Even something as minor as a late payment on a cell phone bill could affect your credit score just enough to cause your lender to deny you. Pay extra attention to your bills throughout the home buying process, and make sure nothing slips past you.

Taking On More Debt In The Interim

A number of buyers will take on more debt after they’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage. Although it may be tempting to get a new car to go with your new house, getting a car loan will change your debt-to-income ratio and cause your lender to think twice about how responsible you are. If you’re in the process of buying a home, hold off on any other major purchases until after the deal has closed.

An Unsatisfactory Bank Appraisal

Sometimes, your mortgage can be denied for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Some lenders will only issue a mortgage if the property value of the house in question is appraised above a certain level. Others will deny a mortgage if the home requires roof repairs, electrical work, or a new heating system.

You’ll want to check with your lender to see what home conditions could be cause for denying your mortgage application.

Getting approved for a mortgage is a convoluted process at best, but a mortgage advisor can help you to navigate the approval process with ease. Contact your local mortgage professional for more tips on how to ensure you get approved.

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Video: What Is “Prime”?

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What Is “Prime”?

The Prime Lending Rate – sometimes just called “Prime”  – is the interest rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans. Some consumer rates – like ARMs – are set in relation to Prime.

In the US, Prime is affected by the Federal Reserve lending rate to banks; historically, Prime is about 3 percent above the Fed rate.

The video shows  an example.

  • The Federal Reserve loans to Bank A at 1%
  • Bank A loans to Bank B at 4%
  • Both banks – A & B – will recalculate variable-rate loans like ARMs on that 4% Prime figure.

ARM rates are frequently defined as “% above Prime” – that gap is usually called the “margin” or “spread.” Just remember those 3 layers in Prime: Federal Reserve Bank A Bank B And finally, YOUR rate.

What Is Prime

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Who Is Exempt From The VA Funding Fee?

Who is NOT required to pay the VA funding fee?

This video could save some veterans thousands. VA loan applicants pay a funding fee – as of 2014, 2.15% of the total loan amount – which can be thousands of dollars. Some veterans and spouses are eligible for exemption.

Broadly speaking, veterans who received disability benefits – current or former and who are NOT currently in debt to the government may be exempt from the funding fee. Some spouses may qualify as well.

The key thing to understand is, exemption from the funding fee is NOT automatic! Borrowers must certify their veteran status, government debt, benefits and active service state on VA Form 26-8937.

It’s important to tell your mortgage company that they need to submit this form EARLY in your home-buying process – if they just look up your records without submitting the form the VA will not begin the review and approval process and your home purchase could be delayed by weeks. Who Is Exempt From The VA Funding Fee

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Video: What Steps Need To Be Taken To Secure A Loan

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What Steps Need To Be Taken To Secure A Loan

You’ll see some pictures in this video to help you remember later, but the first step in securing a loan is to complete a loan application.

To do so, you’ll need the following information.

  • Pay stubs for the past 2-3 months.
  • W-2 forms for the past 2 years.
  • Information on long-term debts.
  • Recent bank statements tax returns for the past 2 years.
  • Proof of any other income.
  • Address and description of the property you wish to buy.
  • A sales contract on the home you want to buy.

During the application process, the lender will order a report on your credit history and a professional appraisal of the property you want to purchase. The application process typically takes between 1-6 weeks.

What Steps Need To Be Taken To Secure A Loan