Shopping for a mortgage can be intimidating. It’s natural to feel anxious about doing something new for the first time, and getting your first mortgage is no exception.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to make sure you’re being well-prepared before you start looking for your first home loan. Here are five tips to help first-time mortgage borrowers.:
1. Lock Your Interest Rate. Interest rates on mortgages can increase or decrease from day to day or even hour to hour. Discuss the interest rate outlook with your loan officer and try to learn as much as you can about how ups and downs in interest rate quotes might affect your mortgage payment and your ability to qualify for that loan. To protect yourself from interest rate rises, ask about a rate lock, which can reserve a specific interest rate for you for a set time period. If you decide to lock your rate, make sure your lock period won’t expire before your closing date. (Read more about locking your interest rate.)
2. Consider FHA. If you’re a first-time home buyer, you might want to shop for an “FHA loan,” which is a mortgage that’s insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans offer competitive interest rates, allow smaller down payments and have easier qualification guidelines compared with other types of loans. The minimum down payment for an FHA loan is just 3.5 percent of the purchase price of the home, although FHA loans do require that you pay mortgage insurance.
3. Take the Tax Credit. If you haven’t owned a home in the past three years, you may be able to qualify for the federal First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit, which is worth up to $8,000. The credit is refundable, which means you’ll even get a rebate of sorts from the federal government if the income tax that you owe is less than the full amount of the credit. The credit is subject to income limitations and you’ll have to act fast since it’s set to expire after Nov. 30, 2009. Some lenders may allow you to use the credit as a down payment, to pay settlement fees or other closing costs or to pay discount points to reduce the interest rate on your loan.
4. Educate Yourself. A plain-vanilla 30-year or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is fairly easy to understand. But other types of loans can be more complicated. If you want to consider an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) or other less common type of loan product, do your homework and make sure you fully understand how your loan works before you sign the loan documents.
5. Shop Around. Interest rates, loan products and loan terms vary among lenders. That means all borrowers, whether novice or not, should shop around for loan offers. Ask about the benefits and risks of each loan and be sure to compare the quoted points and estimated closing costs as well as the interest rates on different loans before you decide which would best fit your personal situation.