Not exactly sure how a mortgage works? Don’t feel bad—the average home buyer doesn’t either. The whole process is filled with head-scratching questions, from how big a down payment has to be to why your interest rate isn’t as great as you’d hoped. To help clear up some of your confusion, here are some of the most common questions home buyers ask about mortgages.
How do I choose the best loan program for me?
Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you.
- Do you expect your finances to change over the next few years?
- Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount?
- Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement?
Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs. The remainder of this article will outline for you why these questions – and the answers you provide to them – are a crucial part of your loan search.
How large of a down payment do I need?
There are mortgages now available that only require a down payment of 5% or less. But, generally speaking, the larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow, and the more equity you’ll have. Mortgages with less than a 20% down payment generally require a private mortgage insurance policy (PMI), which can be expensive.
Nevertheless, PMI is a fact of life for many homeowners. Even if you begin your mortgage with PMI, with time and appreciation, you often can reach 20 percent equity – at which time you can have the PMI removed. Often, removing PMI is just a matter of asking the lender, paying for an appraisal, paying a fee to the lender (approximately $300 – $500) and providing the necessary paperwork.
What does the interest rate really mean to me?
A lower interest rate allows you to borrow more money than a high rate with the same monthly payment. Interest rates fluctuate from day-to-day, so ask lenders if they offer a rate “lock-in,” which guarantees a specific interest rate for a certain period of time.
Remember that a lender must disclose to you the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which shows the cost of a mortgage in terms of an annual interest rate. Because it includes the cost of points, mortgage insurance and other fees, the APR generally will be higher. It will provide you with a good estimate of the actual cost of the loan.
What happens if interest rates drop after I finalize my fixed-rate loan?
If rates drop more than two percentage points or so and you plan to be in your home for the next 18 months, you may want to consider refinancing. However, since refinancing may require you to pay many of the same fees paid at the original closing, plus origination and application fees, you should make this decision carefully.
What are discount points?
Discount points (or just plain “points,” as they are frequently called) allow you to lower your interest rate by paying prepaid interest up front. Each point equals 1% of the loan amount, and generally, each point paid on a 30-year mortgage will reduce the interest rate by 1/8 (or.125) of a percentage point. Sometimes lenders will provide you with the opportunity for a “buy down” – which literally offers you a chance to buy down the cost of the loan by paying more points up front.
When you shop for a loan, ask lenders for an interest rate with no points. Then, ask them how much the rate decreases with each point paid. Discount points are smart if you plan to stay in a home for some time since they can lower your monthly loan payment. Points are tax deductible when you purchase a home and you may be able to negotiate for the seller to pay some of them.
What’s considered a reasonable loan fee?
In most cases, loan fees should not exceed 5 percent of the loan amount, unless you are paying for a lower interest rate. However, there may be exceptions. I can help you evaluate loan fees and to understand exactly how much the entire loan will cost. It’s important to know all your loan costs up front.