Beyond rates: What the banks won’t tell you about choosing the best mortgage

Choosing the best mortgage from all the available lenders out there can be complicated. There are so many terms, features, restrictions and potential penalties to keep in mind. But at least mortgage rates are easy to compare—all you have to do is choose the lowest one, right?

Think again! Choosing the lowest rate is only straightforward if all the rates are stated the same way and include the same things. Fortunately, lenders are required to use the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) as their posted rate. So on lender websites, ads and window posters, the rate that’s quoted should be APR.

The Annual Percentage Rate is a compound rate, so it’s applied to original principal plus accumulated interest. This gives you a more accurate picture of the actual cost of the loan. To make the APR even more realistic, it not only includes all the interest costs of your loan, it also includes non-interest costs that lenders charge. Depending on the lender, this can include appraisal fees, closing costs, loan fees, loan origination fees, mortgage default insurance, creditor life insurance, legal fees and more. It’s that “depending on the lender” part you have to watch. The only way to accurately compare APRs is to look into each lender’s fine print and see what’s included in the rate it’s quoting.

Or, you could take the easier, faster, less frustrating route, and simply call me! As a Licensed NYS MLO, I have access to more lenders than you could possibly find on your own, and I fully understand all their products, terms and rates. I don’t usually advertise myself on blog posts, but I’d be happy to do a no-charge analysis of your needs, and then discuss which options work best for you. And I’ll make sure you don’t get fooled by a really low mortgage rate that could actually cost you more in the long run because of all the restrictions and penalties it includes.

Anatomy of a Mortgage

In exchange for getting this very large loan, the person then agrees to put the house up as collateral against the loan

Introduction

Mortgages were the original home loan agreement. In many ways, the mortgage changed the real estate market completely and turned it on its head in a very good way. Before the advent of the mortgage, the only way for people to go out and get what they wanted in terms of property was to pay for it outright. Since very few people possessed the means back then to pay for property outright, the ownership rights were only there for pretty much the upper middle class. From the middle class downwards, most were excluded from home ownership. Mortgages changed all of that, and to understand how profound a mortgage is, it is important to take a close look at exactly what a mortgage entails.

Agreement

The agreement for a mortgage is one that is the main point of everything else that follows. Under the agreement of a typical mortgage, the person has the ability to borrow money from a lender in order to pay for a house or a property. The amount of money they can borrow varies, but for a Conventional Mortgage, the maximum you can borrow is 80% of the lower of the appraised value or purchase price of the house. Options for mortgages above 80% are available by paying mortgage insurance, which I will discuss in another blog. In exchange for getting this very large loan, the person then agrees to put the house up as collateral against the loan, so that the bank has some way to save itself in the event that the person is unable to pay the loan back.

Interest Rates

Whenever people think about loans, very likely the first thing that they think about is interest rates. There are a number of different interest rates involved in different loans, but when you compare the vast majority of them to what is available under a mortgage, what you find is that the vast majority of those interest rates don’t really match up. The average mortgage has an interest rate attached to it of between 4% and 5% (depending on the loan to value and credit score) and the vast majority of loans that are available on the marketplace today, even if they happen to be secured loans, really can’t match up.

Repayment Terms

Just like with interest rates, the repayment terms for a number of different mortgages are very impressive when compared to a number of other conventional loans. When you’re talking about unsecured loans (i.e. credit cards), then obviously there’s going to be no comparison, but for the most part you will find that mortgage repayment terms are significantly easier to deal with than with most other loans. This is because (a) the collateral being used is extremely strong and (b) the term lengths are longer, so naturally that makes the monthly payments smaller.

Fees

There are some fees for mortgage payments relating to things like late payments and underpayments, but you will find for the most part that fees are not really that important in the grand scheme of the agreement itself. It is important to be aware of what the fees are, and to make sure to pay your mortgage back on time every month.

Closing Costs

Closing costs for a home mortgage can be significant. With the advent of the new disclosure laws that have taken effect in 2015, all fees must be disclosed by your lender at the beginning of the loan process. These fees include appraisal costs, title fees, recording and lender fees. Make sure you receive a lender disclosure at the very beginning of the process.

 

Understanding the Risks of Negative Amortization Home Loans

While these loans can be a good deal when short-term interest rates are low, they are not necessarily the right choice when short term loans have a higher interest rate.

Negative amortization or “neg am” occurs when the minimum payment on a mortgage covers less than the monthly interest charged, causing the balance of the loan to increase instead of decrease. Interest Only Loans generally don’t increase the balance due on a home although they don’t diminish the amount due. However, deferred interest loans will increase your loan amount. This can happen with negative amortizations loans, like a Payment Option ARM, where payment choices can be calculated based on certain indexes used for these loans, giving you a variety of choices in payments. They are also known as “Pick a Payment Loans.” While these loans can be a good deal when short-term interest rates are low, they are not necessarily the right choice when short term loans have a higher interest rate.

If you are looking to eventually cash out home equity, you should look for a purchase loan that involves paying some of the principal. Not only is it possible you may not build equity in your home with neg am loans, you also may have a loss of equity through an increased mortgage balance. If you suddenly need to sell your home, you may not be able to get a purchase price high enough to cover your loan. You will also have more difficulty getting a second mortgage behind negative ARM loans.

On a deferred mortgage, the mortgage balance can increase as much as $350 per month for every $100,000 that’s borrowed. The neg am on a $500,000 loan for example, can be as much as $1,750 per month. While there are not many circumstances where I would recommend an Option ARM, there are a few instances where deferred interest or negative amortization loans may make sense.

Neg am loans are good for investment properties when you may be paying a double mortgage. They are also good for self-employed individuals with cash flow issues. If you plan on normally paying some of the principal, but don’t know what your cash flow will be like from month to month, it may be helpful to have the option of a minimum payment.

Do your homework before deciding on a deferred interest mortgage. Although your payments will be lower, there are inherent risks involved and you may be better off with a fixed-rate mortgage.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage Loans – Understanding the Basics

While an ARM has many benefits, there are other considerations to look at.

Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), developed when mortgage interest rates were high. It was and in some cases still is, a way to help you finance the purchase of a home with low interest rates. It is an ideal choice for those who expect their income to rise or plan to move in a couple of years. An ARM also increases your risk for higher payments. Fortunately, lenders also offer safeguards to limit some of your risk to excessively high interest rates.

ARM Features

An ARM starts with a low interest rate, up to 3% lower than a fixed rate mortgage. With lower rates, you usually qualify to borrow more than with a fixed rate home loan.

ARMs usually start with a fixed rate period and end with fluctuating yearly interest rates, increasing or decreasing your monthly payment. So a 3/1 ARM means 3 years of fixed rates, with interest rates changing every year after that. Interest rates are based on an index, usually the rate on the T-bill or LIBOR, and the margin the lender adds to the index.

ARM Safeguards

In order to protect borrowers from sky-rocketing monthly payments, mortgage lenders put in place safeguards. For example, a point cap limits how much interest rates can rise monthly and over the life of the loan. There are also floor limits on how low rates can go, protecting the lender.

Many lenders also allow you to convert your ARM to a fixed rate mortgage after a predetermined period.

ARM Considerations

While an ARM has many benefits, there are other considerations to look at. For example, interest rates can rise 5% or more over the course of your home loan. If you plan to stay in your home for several years, a fixed rate may offer lower interest costs in the long term. ARMs are also unpredictable, which makes planning long term financing goals difficult.

Before you apply for an ARM, make sure you are comfortable with the level of risk involved. However, if you expect your income to rise in the future or to move in the next few years, then you may be saving yourself a lot of money in interest payments with an ARM.

Basic Mortgage Terms You Should Know When Buying a House

Understanding these terms will allow you to avoid many of the pitfalls that exist in the real estate market

Educating yourself on the various mortgage terms you will run into will help you make better decisions when deciding which home you want to purchase. When you sign a mortgage contract, your home is used for collateral and it is your responsibility to make sure your payments are made on time each month.

The first term you should know is principal. The principal is basically defined as the amount of money you borrow for your home. Before the principal is provided you will need to make a down payment. A down payment is the percentage you will put towards the principal. The amount of the down payment will often depend on the cost of the home. Once you pay off the principal, the home is yours.

The next term you will need to know is interest. Interest is a percentage that you are charged to borrow a certain amount of money. Along with the interest rate, lenders may also charge you points. A point is a portion of the total funds financed. The principal and interest makes up the majority of your monthly payments, and this is a method that is called amortization. Amortization is the method by which your loan is reduced over a given period of time. Your payments for the first few years will cover the interest, while payments made later will be applied towards the principal.

A portion of your mortgage payments can be placed in an escrow account in order to go towards insurance, taxes, or other expenses. The next term you will hear a lot is taxes. Taxes are the amount of money that you have to pay to your state or government. When it comes to your home, these are known as property taxes. These taxes are used to build roads, schools, and other public projects. All homeowners must pay property taxes.

Insurance is another important term that you will hear in the real estate community. You will not be allowed to close on your mortgage if you don’t have insurance for your home. Home insurance covers your home against floods, fire, theft, or other problems. Unless you can afford to repair your home if it is damaged, it is usually a good idea to get insurance for your home. If your home is located within a zone that is known for having floods, federal laws may require you to have flood insurance.

If the down payment you put towards your home is less than 20% of the total value, you will often be charged additional premiums on your insurance by the lender. This is done to protect you in the event that you default on your loans and fail to make payments. Without this, many people would not be able to afford a house.

These are the basic terms you will need to know before your purchase a home. Understanding these terms will allow you to avoid many of the pitfalls that exist in the real estate market. You want an interest rate that is low, and you should always try to get a fixed interest rate if possible. This will allow you to focus your income on making payments towards the principal, and this will help you pay off the loan faster. A mortgage is an important part of your financial picture, and you want to make sure you pick a home that you can afford. If you fail to make your payments, you may lose your house.

7 Tips for Establishing Credit for Home Equity & Mortgage Loans

Your credit score will always be a key ingredient for low interest rates when qualifying for a mortgage or home equity loan.

According to Experian, a credit score is a number lenders use to help them decide: “If I give this person a loan or credit card, how likely is it I will get paid back on time?” The information from your credit reports is used to create your credit score. Your credit score will always be a key ingredient for low interest rates when qualifying for a mortgage or home equity loan.

Before applying for a mortgage or home equity loan, get your free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. Under federal law, you are entitled to one every year. Order online at annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228. Check to make sure someone else’s information isn’t mixed into your report. If so, contact the CRA immediately and have them delete it.

Then, follow these tips to help you establish credit and build your credit score:

1. Establish checking and savings accounts and maintain them responsibly.

2. Piggyback on someone else’s good credit by being added to a credit card as an “authorized” (joint) user.

3. Get someone to co-sign a loan for you (e.g., financing a car, or other secured loan) and make your payments on time.

3. Apply for student loans and make your payments on time.

4. Apply for a credit card or a secured card. Make sure the issuer reports to all three CRAs, otherwise the card won’t help you build your credit.

6. Apply for one gas card and one department store card to add to your credit mix.

7. Use your credit cards regularly, but wisely. Make all payments on time because the two most important factors in your score are whether you pay your bills on time and how much of your available credit you actually use.

Establishing and maintaining good credit will make buying a home a lot easier for you. You’ll be able to get a good fixed rate loan instead of having to settle for a variable rate subprime loan. It will also help for times you may need a home equity line of credit for home improvements or a home equity loan for debt consolidation, including paying off student loans.

Choosing a Mortgage That Fits Your Lifestyle

Choosing the right kind of mortgage based on your life style could not only make it easier for you to repay the loan but also save you thousands of dollars.

There are many different types of mortgages with a plethora of features and fees. Choosing the right kind of mortgage based on your life style could not only make it easier for you to repay the loan but also save you thousands of dollars.

First, make an honest assessment of your financial position. Do you have a stable job? If you are in business, does it yield you a regular profit? Calculate your gross income. If you have a very low income that deters you from saving anything then you would do well to opt for a low down payment mortgage. If your income is good enough to have allowed saving for the down payment it’s better that you make a 20% or more down payment. The less you owe the better.

Are you sure that you can repay your loan after a sudden loss of employment? On the other hand, if you as a couple are repaying together, what if your spouse loses their job, can you still manage it? A longer amortization period (30 years) would mean that you pay a smaller amount monthly, which would be lighter on your monthly budget. Also, remember that you pay a higher interest and a larger amount overall with mortgages that are spread over longer periods. A shorter (15 year) amortization period would mean that you pay a larger monthly installment, but a lower interest rate and therefore, a smaller price for the house.

Choosing between a fixed rate loan and one with an adjustable rate is always a gamble. If the fixed rates are low now, it’s better to go for that option. The choice between an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and a Fixed Rate Mortgage (FRM) is based on the wider economic outlook, whereas the choice of mortgage is more dependent on your financial situation.

Mobility is another factor that has to be actively considered when deciding about your mortgage. Will your job require you to move away from your current place of residence to another? Do you see yourself out of a house in 4-5 years? Alternatively, you do not intend to move out of the town/city where you live, for the rest of your life.

A short stay may not work in favor of buying a house altogether, unless rent prices in the area where you live are higher and real estate prices are appreciating faster. If you plan to sell the house in 5 years and move out, then opt for mortgages where the interest rate is lower in the first few years of the mortgage. ARM mortgage loans are also suitable for short home owning periods. The rate with ARMs is very low during the first few years. Definitely, the monthly payment will be less than the rent you would have paid. Those considering a move to a larger house after a few years can also consider these mortgages.

Assuming that you have thought well about the kind of property you have decided to buy, make sure that you are entering into a debt with complete understanding of all the pros and cons. And lots of luck on your move!

A Mortgage Secret for First-Time Buyers: It Can Pay To Buy More

…many first-time buyers can benefit from an interesting quirk in the mortgage system.

It’s not easy to buy a first home, so here’s a suggestion that may be surprising: Instead of buying one residence, buy several. What I’m suggesting has nothing to do with late night infomercials or books that promise fast and easy wealth from real estate. Instead, many first-time buyers can benefit from an interesting quirk in the mortgage system.

When you hear people talk about “real estate financing” they generally divide mortgages into two categories; loans for owner-occupants and more expensive and tougher loans for investors.

“Investment financing” is for buyers who do not physically reside at a property. “Owner-occupant” loans are for homes, the place where we stay at night, the phone rings and the car is parked.

But there’s a wrinkle:

Owner-occupant financing with little down and low rates is typically available for the purchase of more than a single-family house. Normally you can get owner-occupant financing for properties with one-to-four units as long as you use one as your prime residence.

In other words, your status as an owner-occupant allows you to buy more than just a house or condo. You can actually buy property that produces rent and increases your tax deductions.

When you buy properties with two-to-four units the world of real estate financing changes. Lenders will apply most of the rent to your income for qualification purposes. This means you can borrow more — and also that you can offset loan costs with the rents such properties produce.

Suppose you buy a property with four units. You’ll live in one and rent the others. Each of the three rental units has a fair market rental of $1,000.

In this situation you’re likely to get two benefits. First, the lender will count some portion of the rent — usually three-quarters — as income for you when determining your qualification standards. In other words, $2,250 a month will be added to your income. ($1,000 x 3 units = $3,000. $3,000 x 75% = $2,250)

Why $2,250 and not the whole $3,000? Because the lender assumes you’ll have vacancies, repairs, insurance, taxes and other costs for the rental units.

The lender also assumes something else: For tax purposes, three-quarters of the property in this example will be “investment” real estate. When reporting your income taxes you’ll list your rents and costs for these units. One of these “costs” will be depreciation, an accounting device that will lower your taxes but take nothing in cash from your pocket.

When lenders see depreciation they “add back” that cost when looking at your monthly income. The result is that your effective monthly income for loan qualification purposes will increase even more than $2,250 in this example.

Buying two-, three- and four-unit properties can make great sense, especially for first-time buyers. You’ll have “help” meeting monthly mortgage payments, especially in the first few years of ownership — the time that’s often the most difficult. Later on, if you elect to move you can sell the property or you might choose to keep it and just rent out the unit that had been your residence.

As with all investments, neither annual income nor rising property values can be guaranteed. Some owners may feel uncomfortable having tenants so close and there’s always the potential for insufficient rents, excess vacancies and big repairs.

Also, beware of going too far. While up to four units is okay, five units automatically classifies the property as “investment” real estate under the guidelines for most loan programs, a title which means you cannot use owner-occupant financing even if you live on the property.

The good news, though, it that as an owner/occupant and also as a landlord you’ll learn a lot about the practicalities of real estate investing.

Real estate ownership requires ongoing maintenance and oversight. As an owner-occupant with a few units, you’ll learn “on the job” about making repairs, dealing with tenants, hiring contractors and maintaining property. These are valuable lessons which can provide income and wealth over a lifetime. In fact, many people who’ve become successful in real estate often started with just one small property, owner-occupant financing with little down — and two to four units.

For details, speak with appropriate professionals. Lenders can tell you about available financing; real estate brokers can provide information regarding local rental patterns plus you’ll want a pro to explain the tax benefits of multi-unit ownership.