When you begin looking for your dream home, it’s fun to fantasize about buying one of the largest and most extravagant properties in your city. In Nashville, that means drooling in front of the gated mansions of country music’s biggest stars. But in reality, your budget is probably closer to that country star’s assistant. Or possibly even their assistant’s assistant.
Also, you probably don’t have the funds to throw down and purchase a home without some type of financing. Unless you’re an investor, or have some wealthy and generous relatives, it’s unlikely you’re shopping with cash.
Do you know what keeps loan officers awake at night? It’s not your credit score.
It may surprise prospective homebuyers that debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is actually the most important factor in getting approved for a mortgage. Why? The ability to both afford and pay back a loan is critical. A FICO score may shed light on your past reliability, but it doesn’t indicate whether or not your present budget can handle a loan. However, a DTI ratio can help lenders measure your ability to afford a monthly mortgage payment.
A debt-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing total recurring monthly debt by gross monthly income. For example, if your monthly debts equal $1,000 and your gross monthly income is $4,000, your DTI ratio is $1,000 / $4,000 = .25 or 25%.
Lenders prefer for borrowers to have a debt-to-income ratio of less than 36%, with no more than 28% of that debt being paid toward the mortgage. Generally, it’s difficult for a borrower with a DTI ratio greater than 43% to be qualified for a loan.
If your debt-to-income ratio is more than 43%, you may want to consider working on reducing it before applying for a loan. The two main ways to achieve this are by reducing your monthly recurring debt, increasing your gross monthly income, or a combination of the two.
If you think your DTI is acceptable, you should shop around for the lowest interest rate. We recommend starting the mortgage shopping process with LendingTree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney. With one online form, over 400 mortgage lenders will compete for your business. Different lenders have different approaches, so only by shopping will you be able to determine if you can qualify.
The effects of the financial crisis and The Great Recession have led to increased government regulation throughout the housing market. Lenders are now required to closely scrutinize potential borrowers to make sure they can afford the loans they’ve applied for. This includes verifying income and a complete picture of their finances.
Some lenders are stricter than others. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government agencies with relatively standard income requirements (which we will outline below). However, if you don’t fit the box of a standard 9-5 worker with a W2, you might want to consider a lender like SoFi, which even offers loans up to 90% LTV with no PMI requirements.
You should receive a list of what’s needed from the lender and these items may include:
A purchase contract.
Individual taxpayer identification and/or Social Security number.
Your current home addresses and any previous residences from past two years.
Names, account numbers, and current balances of checking, savings, retirement, and credit card accounts.
Your bank’s address.
The past three months’ checking and savings account statements.
Income verification statements (pay stubs, W-2s, or other proof of employment).
The past two years’ Federal income-tax returns.
Documentation to prove any additional income you received.
Balance sheets and tax returns if you are self-employed.
Cancelled checks to show payment history for rent and utility bills.
Documentation of any additional consumer debts.
Gift letters. If family members or organizations are helping you cover the cost, you must have a gift letter stating the money is a gift and will not need to be repaid.
The mortgage underwriting process can take months, so it’s imperative to provide the lender with all paperwork they’ve requested as quickly as you can. They may reach out with questions and ask for further documentation, if needed.
Once you’ve handed over the mountains of required paperwork, you’ll want to make sure you have a complete understanding of the full cost of the loan.
Would you blindly agree to the financing for a new car or a new television? Of course not. And you shouldn’t for a mortgage, either. Expenses for credit reports, processing fees, appraisal fees, attorney’s fees, surveying, inspection fees, and title fees can add up quickly. In fact, closing costs can amount to 2-5% of the home’s sale price! The only way to know the true cost of a loan is through a Good Faith Estimate (GFE).
Lenders are required to provide you with a Good Faith Estimate within three days of receiving your mortgage application. Although a GFE can help you understand the full costs of the loan and monthly mortgage payments, legally it can change up to 10%. Be sure to closely compare your GFE with the HUD-1 settlement statement you receive the day before closing. Don’t be afraid to review each item, line-by-line, and ask questions if anything doesn’t look right.
How Much House Can I Really Afford?
Most prospective buyers want to know how much home they can afford. The exact payment for a property depends on the monthly debt payments and the current interest rate. Standard ratios from online calculators can give you a general idea, but ultimately, you’ll need to decide how much you can comfortably add to your budget.
Remember, your monthly mortgage payment can change based on your type of loan, interest rate, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes. Have you planned for future increases?
It’s also important to consider the cost of home maintenance and repairs. Will a down payment, closing costs, and your new monthly mortgage payments leave you with a comfortable emergency fund?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, will taking on a monthly mortgage payment prevent you from saving for future goals like your child’s college education or retirement?
Don’t Go Into the Home Buying Process Blind
Buying a home is the largest purchase many of us will make, and diving into the process blind can make the entire process even more nerve-wracking. Avoid surprises by arming yourself with knowledge before approaching a lender for a pre-approval. That means knowing your credit score, how much you can afford, and what information you’ll be asked for to prove it.
If you’re getting ready to buy a home, you might hear the term “PITI” from your real estate professional. You might also come across it in emails with your lender or read it in your mortgage paperwork.
So what is PITI? Simply put, it’s an acronym that describes the four key components of your monthly housing costs as a homeowner.
Specifically, PITI stands for: principal, interest, taxes and insurance.
Many people make the mistake of comparing the cost of their monthly rent and utilities with a monthly mortgage and interest payment. In this kind of flawed comparison, owning a home can often seem like the better deal.
However, as evidenced by PITI, there is more to owning a home than paying a mortgage plus interest. Not even addressing utilities, you also have to factor in property taxes and insurance, which can definitely increase your monthly payments.
That’s why it’s important to use a PITI loan calculator, like this one from our parent company LendingTree, and speak to your lender to find out what your actual PITI payments will be. Only then will you have a comprehensive idea of the true cost of homeownership.
To help you get there, we’ll go into more detail below about each of these four components of a mortgage and what to consider before you buy a home.
Your home’s principal is the base amount of money you borrowed to buy it. So, if you financed $200,000 for a home, you have $200,000 of principal left to pay off.
It’s very important to note that your entire mortgage payment will not be applied to your principal balance. Only a portion of it will. The rest of your mortgage payment will go toward interest, taxes and insurance. If you want to pay down your mortgage faster, you’ll have to send in extra payments and instruct your mortgage company to apply that cash to the principal, not toward future interest.
Interest is the cost you pay for taking out a loan. The bank charges you for lending you money in the form of interest. After all, if it lends you X dollars, that’s X dollars it can’t use itself. So there is a cost associated with lending. You’ll normally see interest in percentage form. (The interest rate on this loan is 4 percent.)
Still, it can be difficult to understand how to calculate your interest rate and how that affects your mortgage payment. Here are some of the ways to determine your interest costs:
There is also a difference between your mortgage interest rate and your APR. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your APR (annual percentage rate) includes your mortgage interest and other charges like fees. So be sure to ask your lender to see your APR so you can get a sense of the total cost of your mortgage. Knowing APR is also a good tool to use to properly compare lenders, because some lenders charge higher fees than others even if they’re offering the same loan amount.
Lastly, your interest payment will not be the same every month. This is called amortization, the gradual reduction of a debt by regular scheduled payments of interest and principal. Many first-time homeowners are surprised at how much of their mortgage payment goes toward interest and not principal. In order to plan ahead, ask your lender for a sample amortization schedule so you can get an idea of how much of your monthly payments will go toward interest and how much will apply to principal over time. As you pay down your interest costs, you’ll start to see the principal balance reduce more and more.
As a homeowner, you pay property taxes on your home. These funds are used to fund your local communities, including your local public schools, fire departments, police forces, libraries and more.
Here is some information on property taxes and how your city determines them:
A local tax assessor will determine your local property tax, but has no control over your state tax rate. You can also look up how to calculate property taxes to find out more information about your own home.
There are many factors that impact your property tax rate. Some of these factors include improvements to your property, the price of similar homes in your area, and even things not related to your home, like state and local budget cuts.
The amount of insurance you pay as a homeowner really depends on where you live, how much of a down payment you gave your lender, and what type of coverage you want or need. Below are three examples of common types of insurance that homeowners carry:
Homeowners insurance: Homeowners insurance typically protects your home against damage caused by things like a house fire. Most homebuyers put their insurance payments in an escrow account ahead of time. Then, your bank uses the funds you put in the account to pay the insurance on your behalf.
Flood insurance: Not all homeowners buy flood insurance. This will really depend on where your home is, and whether there’s a risk of flooding from hurricanes or being in a low-lying area. It’s important to do your research and get a flood certificate to find out if the property is located on a floodplain.
Private mortgage insurance: If you can’t put 20 percent down on your house, some banks (but not all) will require you to pay for private mortgage insurance, also known as PMI. Some types of mortgages, like FHA loans, require such insurance.
What is not included in PITI payments?
Although PITI is comprehensive when considering how much it will cost you to own and operate your home, there are some other costs that aren’t factored in.
Below are some examples.
Utilities: Your utilities might include electricity, natural gas, water, trash collection and the like.
Recurring subscriptions: Have you factored in things like cable, phone, internet, Netflix, etc.
Homeowners association fees: If you live in a condo or in a neighborhood that shares the costs associated with common spaces or services, you might have to pay an HOA fee on top of your PITI costs.
Home improvements: If you want to upgrade some part of your home, this will be an added cost.
Home maintenance costs: You can predict basic home maintenance costs, like cutting the grass or fixing a leaky faucet. You can’t predict some of the larger expenses, like those arising from termite damage or a broken hot water heater.This is why it’s important to have an emergency fund before buying a home. Ryan Inman, a Las Vegas based financial adviser, often works with young families and potential homeowners. He says it’s important to pay attention to the non-PITI costs mentioned above. “My best advice to first-time homebuyers is to compare the amount of rent and utilities you are paying now with how much PITI, HOA fees and utilities will be on a home,” he tells MagnifyMoney.
“Save the difference for three to six months, and see how your lifestyle is affected.
The key to Inman’s strategy is figuring out if you can maintain a comfortable lifestyle (no dramatic changes or sacrifices) on your mock homeowner’s budget. If it’s no problem, then you might be ready for homeownership.
“Also, factor in that you will now be responsible for maintaining the home,” he adds. “There is no rule for how much this can be,” since it really depends on the age and quality of the home, “but it could be costly.”
Now that you understand more about what PITI stands for and represents, it’s time to do your research. Remember, you can calculate your total mortgage PITI payment by using a PITI payment calculator.
When you get your results using the PITI payment calculator, don’t forget to add in the uncounted items mentioned above, like home maintenance costs and utilities.
It’s also important to have a cash buffer for unexpected emergencies so you don’t go into debt fixing a flooded basement or addressing significant damage from a storm.
If you do all of this, you’ll have an excellent idea of what your cost of homeownership will be. If you feel comfortable with this cost and are convinced you’re set to handle anything unexpected that might pop up, then you’re well on your way to becoming an owner.
Getting a mortgage with bad credit isn’t easy. Banks and credit unions became ultraconservative with mortgage lending following the 2008 housing market crash. However, these days, tighter lending standards don’t have to force you out of the mortgage market. If you have a stable income, you may qualify for a mortgage, even with bad credit. We’ll explain the best home loans for people with bad credit, offer tips for cleaning up your credit histories and point out scams to avoid.
If you’re just starting to shop for home mortgages, it pays to know if banks think you have bad credit or not. Here’s how FICO, the main credit score provider in the U.S., breaks down credit scores:
740-799: Very good
579 and lower: Poor
A credit score above 740 is optimal for finding the best mortgages, but you can often secure a mortgage with a much lower score. You might find an FHA mortgage with a credit score as low as 500 (albeit with a 10 percent down payment rather than 3.5 percent rate for scores above 580), but a credit score of around 650 gives you a decent chance of qualifying for a home mortgage. Getting a mortgage with a truly bad credit score will be difficult, and improving your credit to “fair” status could make it much easier.
Where can you check your credit score? Banks and credit unions use the FICO Scores 2, 4 and 5. These are not the same scores you will find through a free credit scoring site. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a free option for checking your FICO Scores 2, 4 and 5. The best option for checking these is checking them on MyFICO, which costs $59.85.
If you don’t want to pay for a credit score, consider using a free scoring site. But don’t put too much stock in the number it offers. It may overestimate your credit score (for mortgage shopping), especially if you’ve paid off debt in collections recently, and some free scores don’t use the 300-850 scale FICO often uses. Instead, focus on the information about what’s helping and hurting your credit score, if the tool offers those insights, and use that knowledge to make improvements where you can.
Mortgage insurance premiums are paid for the life of the loan,
except when putting 10 percent or more down. If your down payment is
less than 20 percent but 10 percent or more, you must have
mortgage insurance for 11 years.
If you have bad credit, an FHA loan offers a more accessible mortgage. While credit standards vary by lender, you may qualify for the FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500. With a credit score above the 580 threshold, you may qualify for the 3.5 percent down payment.
Unfortunately, an FHA loan can be expensive because of mortgage insurance fees. In addition to paying ongoing mortgage premiums for the life of the loan, you’ll have to pay a 1.75 percent upfront financing fee.
3.5 percent down payments (for those above the 580 credit-score mark)
Credit scores as low a 500
Can buy up to four units
1.75 percent upfront mortgage premium
Ongoing mortgage insurance
Smaller loan limits
Where to get an FHA loan
You can use the comparison tool on LendingTree or Zillow to find offers from FHA-approved lenders in your area willing to work with people with bad credit. If an online search doesn’t yield the results you want, you may need to work directly with a mortgage broker who specializes in finding mortgages for people with bad credit. You can use a site like Find A Mortgage Broker or Angie’s List to find brokers in your community.
Be sure to check the National Multistate Lending System (NMLS) to see if your broker has had any regulatory action filed against them. Regulatory actions against the broker are red flags that indicate you may want to take your business elsewhere.
Fannie Mae HomeReady Mortgage
HomeReady Mortgage Details
Credit score required
A minimum requirement of 620 generally applies
to Fannie Mae products.
Down payment required
3 percent for credit scores above 680
(for single family homes). 25 percent for credit scores
between 620-680 (for single family homes).
If you’ve got a fair credit score but a big down payment, the Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgage is the best conventional mortgage for you. With a 620 credit score and a 25 percent down payment, you meet HomeReady eligibility requirements, and you’ll pay no mortgage insurance. Fannie Mae offers a 3 percent down payment option, but you need a credit score of at least 680.
HomeReady mortgages also allow for cosigners who won’t live at the address with you. That means a parent or grandparent with a high credit score could help you purchase the property by co-signing. If you can find a cosigner, you may qualify for the 3 percent down payment even if your credit score falls below 680.
Can qualify with credit score as low as 620
A low 3 percent down payment if you have a 680 credit score
Down payment doesn’t have to come from personal funds
Mortgage insurance premiums are cancellable
Non-occupant cosigners are permitted
Up to 25 percent down payment required in some instances
Not all lenders offer Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgages, so you might struggle to find a bank with this offering.
Where to get a Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgage
Fannie Mae doesn’t publish a list of lenders who offer the HomeReady mortgage, so you will need to work with your lender specifically to see if they offer it. Most major banks and credit unions will be approved to underwrite Fannie Mae mortgages, but the specific product offering will vary by bank.
Consider using an online mortgage comparison engine including LendingTree or Zillow to compare offers in your area. However, once you find lenders that will work with you, you’ll have to ask them about the HomeReady mortgage, especially if you want to use the 3 percent down or co-signing feature.
For people with a military background, the VA loan is a top mortgage option. The upfront financing fee can be hefty, but it’s a good deal if you plan to live in the house for several years. That said, not all VA lenders work with buyers with bad credit, so you may struggle to find a reputable lender in your area.
No down payment required
No mortgage insurance
No firm credit minimums
Can buy up to four unit multi-family property.
Upfront funding fee
Not all lenders issue VA loans to borrowers with bad credit
Must buy home with the intent to occupy for at least 12 months
If you’re planning to buy in a rural area (and you may be surprised what qualifies, so check), a USDA loan offers a low cost, low money down loan. Technically, the absolute minimum credit score for this loan is 580, but most lenders won’t issue USDA loans to borrowers with scores below 640. USDA loans tend to be a better deal than FHA loans, but they may have higher costs compared to VA or conventional loans. If you’ve got fair credit, but you don’t have a big down payment, the USDA loan makes sense for you.
No down payment
Only 1 percent upfront mortgage fee
Ongoing financing fee cannot be canceled
Finding lenders who work with bad credit borrowers can be difficult
Must meet location and income criteria
Where to find USDA loans
If you meet the USDA eligibility requirements, you can start shopping for USDA loans through LendingTree, but you may not find many offers if you have a credit score below 640. If you can’t easily find a lender, you’ll want to work with an independent mortgage broker who will have insider access to multiple lenders in your city. You can find reputable brokers online through Find A Broker, Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau (search for mortgage brokers, your city). Before committing to a broker, check that your broker has no regulatory action filed against them.
Manufactured home loans for bad credit
Manufactured homes are houses constructed off-site, transported and anchored to a permanent foundation at a new home site. On average, manufactured homes cost 80 percent less than site-built single family homes, but taking out a mortgage for a manufactured home can be expensive, even if you have good credit. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, almost 68 percent of all loans for manufactured home purchases were considered higher priced mortgages. On top of already high rates, bad credit will drive your interest rate even higher. However, thanks to the lower upfront price, people with bad credit may have an easier time finding home financing for manufactured homes than for site-built homes.
FHA Title I loans (Chattel loans)
FHA Title I Loan Details
Credit score required
No credit score minimums, but
must meet ability to pay criteria
Down payment required
5 percent down for credit scores above 500,
otherwise 10 percent down
Upfront financing fee
Up to 2.25 percent
Up to 1 percent
Home only: $69,678
Lot only: $23,226
Home and lot: $92,904
Mortgage term limits
20 years for home only
20 years for single-section home and lot
15 years for lot only
25 years for a multi-section home and lot
Manufactured homes can be titled as personal property.
Manufactured homes must be situated on a lot that meets
FHA property standards (such as hookups for water and electricity,
and foundation anchors) that is owned or leased by the primary
mortgage holder. Manufactured home must be at least 400 square feet.
The FHA Title I loan is an obvious choice for people with bad credit looking to buy a manufactured home, but you need to do your research before you commit to this loan. According to the CFPB, Chattel loans had 1.5 percent higher APRs than standard mortgages. These loans also come with expensive mortgage insurance fees that can be passed on to you.
However the Chattel loan makes sense if you’re buying a used manufactured home or if you plan to rent the lot where your home sits.
Manufactured homes must be titled as real
property and you must own the lot.
All manufactured homes must meet standards set by the
FHA including foundation anchors, water and electrical hookups and more.
A standard FHA loan makes sense if you’re planning to buy a manufactured home and land. While credit standards vary by lender, you may be able to qualify for the FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500. If you can raise your credit score to 580, you may even qualify for the 3.5 percent down payment.
This loan isn’t as easy to get as the Chattel loan, but some people with bad credit may qualify. If you want to use an FHA loan for a manufactured home, work with your loan officer closely, so your financing is in place before your home is completed.
If you’re purchasing a new manufactured home in a rural area, the USDA loan may make sense for you. The manufactured home must be new, and you have to own the site where the home is located. However, with the lowest acceptable credit score being at the 580 threshold, USDA loans aren’t suited for bad-credit borrowers. Improving your credit to “fair” could be the difference between rejection and approval..
The VA loan offers a down payment of 0 percent (even for manufactured homes) as long as you own (or will buy) the lot where the home is located. The drawback to the VA loan is that most lenders set their credit score standards in the 600-range, which means that people with bad credit might not qualify. On top of that, not every VA lender offers loans for manufactured homes. Those two factors mean the you may struggle to find a lender in your area who will work with you.
If you find the lender, the VA loan is a great choice, but if you can’t, consider an FHA loan instead.
No down payment required
No mortgage insurance
No firm credit minimums
Upfront funding fee
Not all lenders offer VA loans for manufactured housing
Must buy home with the intent to occupy for at least 12 months
Must own lot
Where to get a VA loan
To take out a VA loan, you must get a certificate of eligibility (COE) through the Veterans Administration eBenefits platform. Once you get this, find an independent mortgage broker who specializes in VA loans for manufactured homes or VA loans for people with bad credit. These brokers work with multiple banks and can help you find better deals than you might find on your own. Before committing to a particular broker, check for regulatory action filed against them. You don’t want to work with a broker who fails to meet the standards set by your state.
Conventional Mortgage Details for Manufactured Homes
Credit score required
Down payment required
5 percent (10 percent for people with insufficient
credit for traditional scoring)
Upfront financing fee
0.5 percent annually
Must own land, and home must
be titled as real property.
You’ll have to pay mortgage insurance until your
home reaches at least an 80 percent loan-to-value ratio.
If you’ve got a 20 percent down payment and at least a 620 credit score, and your home meets underwriting standards, the conventional mortgage is the best choice for you. This loan has competitive interest rates and no mortgage insurance for people with a loan-to-value ratio of at least 80 percent. Your home must be at least 600 square feet and meet HUD standards for manufactured homes, and you must own your lot. However, you can use this loan to purchase an existing manufactured home (built after 1976) if it is permanently affixed to an approved foundation.
Another advantage to this loan is that they do accept borrowers with thin credit files, provided they don’t have derogatory marks on their credit file.
Aside from those mortgages, manufactured home buyers with bad credit might consider two other options. First, you might consider a retail installment contract. A retail installment contract is issued by the manufacturer (or installer) or your home. If you’re working directly with the manufacturer to take out a loan, you should take the time to understand upfront and ongoing fees, APR and what happens if you miss a payment. The Manufactured Housing Institute provides detailed information on buying and living in manufactured houses and on how to find manufacturers and lenders who can help you finance a manufactured home.
Borrowers with bad credit might also consider owner-held financing option. Owner-held financing is a readily available form of credit, but it is risky. Before signing a lease to own agreement, find a real estate lawyer who can help you uncover title issues and explain the loan. To learn more, you can either find a lawyer through your employer (who may offer legal benefits), the American Bar Association or by contacting HUD office of housing counseling in your state.
Clean up your credit before mortgage shopping
In 2016, the average new home cost $372,500, but that’s before paying interest. According to Informa Market Research, the average interest rate for a person with a credit score between 620 and 639 is 5.115 percent, but a person with a score of at least 760 gets a 3.527 percent rate. Does just a point and a half translate to much cost difference? Absolutely. If both people finance $298,000 on a new home, then the person with great credit will pay $1,343 per month. The person with lesser credit will pay $278 more, $1,621 per month. That translates to more than $100,000 more over the life of the loan.
Tips to improve your credit score
To repair your credit before taking out a mortgage, and qualify for better terms and more options, start with these three simple steps:
Pay all your current debt accounts on time, each month.
Disputing errors on your credit report may prevent a bank from issuing you a mortgage, so start disputes at least 90 days in advance of applying for a mortgage. While the credit bureaus should clean up the errors within 30 days, the process sometimes takes longer
Getting a mortgage after bankruptcy or foreclosure
Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to seven or 10 years, depending on the type, and foreclosures stay on your credit report for up to seven years, but you don’t have to wait that long to take out a mortgage. If you take steps to improve your credit, you can qualify for some mortgages one to four years after your bankruptcy is dismissed, or two to four years following foreclosure.
Four years from discharge or dismissal (except in extenuating circumstances)
Two years (or one year in extenuating circumstances)
Generally, two years (though it is not a disqualifying standard)
Generally, three years
Four years from discharge or dismissal (except in extenuating circumstances)
Must meet credit standards
Generally, two years
Must meet credit standards
Two years after discharge or four years after dismissal
Two years (or one year in extenuating circumstances)
One year of payments
Generally, one year
Seven years, except if foreclosure was discharged in bankruptcy (then use bankruptcy limits)
Three years except in extenuating circumstances
Generally two years
Generally, three years
Even if you can get a new mortgage just a year or two after bankruptcy or foreclosure, it makes sense to wait longer in most cases. By waiting around three or four years, the damage of the bankruptcy and foreclosure fades, and you’ll have that extra time to revive your credit score.
To get your credit in shape after bankruptcy or foreclosure, you’ll want to continue to make bankruptcy payments as agreed and consider opening a secured credit card to rehabilitate your damaged credit. Use the credit card for daily expenses, and pay it off in full each month.
Improve your shot at approval even if you have bad credit
If you’ve got bad or fair credit, and you don’t have a lot of time to improve it, you can still take out a mortgage in some cases. These are a few things that can help you get approved with a low credit score.
Choose a house well within your budget. If you’ve got a strong income and a low monthly payment, the bank may be more likely to approve your loan.
Come up with a larger down payment. While the median down payment is just 5 percent, a person with bad credit may need quite a bit more (up to 25 percent) to get a loan.
Work with your loan officer: Give them paperwork in a timely manner, and follow their instructions regarding credit repair, collection repayments and debt repayments. If you’re close to gaining approval, the loan officer can help you take the last few steps to meet the bank or government’s underwriting criteria. Loan officers may take advantage of manual underwriting provisions for FHA, VA, USDA and conventional loans, but that requires more information and participation from you.
Ask for rapid rescoring if you’re disputing errors on your credit report, or paying down credit card debt.
A rapid rescore is a method for “re-checking” your credit score on an accelerated time scale. Banks usually only check your credit score once when they’re considering your for a loan, but they may pay a fee to see a new score if you’ve paid down debt or removed negative information from your report, according to Experian. The bank will use the new information to recalculate your credit score to see if you qualify for a loan.
Should I keep renting?
A bad credit score by itself shouldn’t stop you from buying a home. You’ll pay more in interest costs over the life of the loan, but you’ll also start building equity sooner. Plus, a few years of paying on a mortgage will help you raise your credit score, so you can refinance later on.
However, a bad credit score can be a symptom of a bad financial situation. If you’re struggling to pay your bills on time, buying a house isn’t usually a good idea. During financial stress, a new mortgage bill is more likely to be a curse than a blessing.
Watch out for these scams targeting people with poor credit
Financial scammers are always on the prowl for desperate people who might become their next victims. These are a few pitfalls that all homebuyers need to avoid as they shop for homes and mortgages.
Mortgage closing scams
Mortgage closing scams are pernicious schemes that involve falsifying wiring instructions, the FTC warns. In a mortgage closing scam, a hacker poses as a title closing agent. He or she may email you fraudulent information about where to wire the money, or claim that there’s been a last-minute change to the details.
Closing for a home is an incredibly busy time, especially if you’ve struggled to qualify for the mortgage in the first place. To prevent mortgage closing scams, ask your title agent to send the wire information in an encrypted email. You can also request a call with the details.
Anyone who has been a victim of a mortgage closing scam should report it to the FBI immediately, and log a complaint in the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Complex lease-to-own deals
Owner financing isn’t necessarily a scam, but it can be complex. Many owner financing deals don’t put the title into your name until you’ve paid off the entire loan, and some deals require balloon payments after a few years, the FTC warns. If you can’t cover the balloon payment, you lose every cent of equity you’ve paid.
Even worse than difficult loan terms are situations when the owner can’t legally issue a first-lien loan. If the owner has used the house to secure any other loan, then the bank has a first-lien position on the loan.
Don’t sign an owner financing agreement until a lawyer explain the details of the loan to you. You must take steps to protect yourself from owner fraud if you want to own the house in the end.
Hard money loan scams
Hard money loans are real estate loans for investors interested in flipping a property. Hard money loans come with high interest rates, hefty down payments and short payback periods. Most of the time, hard money lenders evaluate project quality rather than investor credit when issuing loans.
If you’re considering a hard money loan at all, you should have plans to flip a property for a profit. If you can’t earn a profit on the house, then a hard money loan doesn’t make sense.
If you are considering a hard money loan because you can’t find traditional financing, be careful. There’s little oversight of hard money loans, so it’s important you know what you’re getting into with these products. You can check out this guide to hard money loans if you want to learn more.
Anyone struggling to find a mortgage should consider working with a licensed mortgage broker in his/her county. Mortgage brokers work with multiple local banks and credit unions, and they can often help if a banker cannot.
The best credit score to get a mortgage is any score above a 740, but most people with credit scores above 620 will qualify for some mortgages. And yes, it’s possible to qualify for a mortgage if you have a score of 500-620.
Yes. If you took out a loan when you had bad credit, you may qualify for a much better rate by improving your credit after just one to two years of on-time payments on all your lines of credit, according to research from VantageScore Solutions. However, if your bad credit score is the result of foreclosure or bankruptcy, your credit score may not fully recover for seven to ten years, so don’t count on a massive rate drop right away if those are the reasons for your bad credit score.
VA loans don’t require a down payment, and they have no firm credit minimums, but you’ll still need to meet a bank’s underwriting standards (which could be as high as a 640 credit score). If you have a credit score of 580-640 and you meet other qualifying standards, you may qualify for a no-money-down USDA home loan..
Outside these options, the only no-money-down mortgages for people with bad credit include owner-held mortgages or rent-to-own deals. Do your homework.
Not all mortgages allow cosigners, but a cosigner could help you qualify. Asking someone to cosign essentially means asking that person to pay your mortgage if you’re ever unwilling or unable to pay the bill. We generally don’t recommend becoming a cosigner unless you plan to live in the house.
An adjustable-rate mortgage makes a lot of sense if you have bad credit and you are confident you can improve your credit score within seven years before your interest rate adjusts (in the case of a 7/1 ARM). If your credit improves, you may be able refinance at a lower, fixed rate before the interest rate adjustment takes place. However, this option is risky. You may be stuck with higher interest rates if your credit doesn’t improve or if interest rates rise by the time you need to refinance.
If you’re approaching retirement, you’re probably already aware that taking Social Security at age 62 results in getting a much smaller benefit than someone who waits until full retirement age. For most retirees today, full retirement age is 66 or 67, but you can earn an even larger pay out if you can wait till age 70 to start tapping in to your benefits.
Living off your existing savings while you wait the extra eight years to start receiving Social Security benefits can be challenging. For that reason, an increasing number of financial experts are encouraging retirees to use a reverse mortgage as a source of additional income while they wait to start drawing on their Social Security benefits.
Using a reverse mortgage for extra income in retirement can be risky — so risky, in fact, that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently spoke out against it.
“A reverse mortgage loan can help some older homeowners meet financial needs, but can also jeopardize their retirement if not used carefully,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “For consumers whose main asset is their home, taking out a reverse mortgage to delay Social Security claiming may risk their financial security because the cost of the loan will likely be more than the benefit they gain.”
Still, retirees with significant equity built up in their homes might be tempted to tap into that equity to bridge the gap between when they retire and when they can maximize their Social Security benefit.
A quick recap of what a reverse mortgage is and how it works:
A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that allows homeowners age 62 and over to withdraw a portion of the equity they have in the home. Instead of paying interest and fees each month that amount is added to your overall loan balance. When you no longer live in the home, the total loan must be paid back and you will pay no more than the value of the house. With a reverse mortgage you are no longer responsible for the regular monthly payments on your mortgage loan but you are required to keep the home in good condition, as well as paying the property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.
Most reverse mortgages are federally insured by the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, which requires a strict set of rules and regulations that must be met in order to qualify. Some of those requirements include: occupying the property as your principal residence, continuing to live in the home and not being delinquent on any federal debt. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a full list of requirements here.
The pros of using a reverse mortgage
Using a reverse mortgage can provide some additional, predictable income during retirement. Whereas relying solely on your investments could result in unstable returns depending on your portfolio. But a reverse mortgage loan isn’t a bottomless source of cash.
The amount of money you can receive from a reverse mortgage first depends on your principal limit. That’s the amount a lender will be willing to loan you based on a several factors, like your age, the value of the home and the interest rate on your loan. This is where older borrowers have an advantage. According to the CFPB, “loans with older borrowers, higher-priced homes, and lower interest rates will have higher principal limits than loans with younger borrowers, lower-priced homes, and higher interest rates.”
Another big advantage of reverse mortgages are that the proceeds are generally tax free and will not affect Medicare payments.
The risks of a reverse mortgage
It reduces the amount of equity you have in the home, which can complicate a future sale. The equity in your home is generally defined as the amount of ownership you have in a property less any remaining debt. With a regular mortgage you borrow money from the bank and pay down the balance over time. With each payment the loan balance goes down and your equity increases.
You’ll lose home equity. Since a reverse mortgage allows you to borrow from the equity you have in the home, your debt on the home increases and the equity is lowered. A reverse mortgage may limit the options for someone looking to sell their home in retirement, because the loan must be paid upon the sale and there may not be enough equity left to purchase a new home.
It increases your overall debt. As seen in the images above, a reverse mortgage reduces the amount that you own in your home and adds that amount back into your loan balance. This increases your overall debt.
The cost of a reverse mortgage can outweigh the benefits of increasing your Social Security payments. Though you are borrowing from the money you’ve paid into your home, a reverse mortgage isn’t free. Just like your regular initial mortgage you will have to pay interest and fees. Reverse mortgages are very similar and usually include costs such as: mortgage insurance premiums (MIP), interest, upfront origination fees, closing costs and monthly servicing fees.
In the figure above, the CFPB estimates a reverse mortgage will cost $21,600 for someone who uses the option from age 62 to age 67; but the lifetime gain in Social Security from 62 to 67 is $29,640.
Monetarily, in this scenario a reverse mortgage makes sense. However most borrowers use a reverse mortgage for seven years not five as in the previous example. This would bring the cost to $31,900, approximately $3,900 which is more than the lifetime benefit of waiting until 67 for Social Security.
You’re putting your home at risk. You could also lose your home if you no longer meet the loan requirements. This includes not living in the home for the majority of the year for non-medical reasons or living outside of the home for 12 consecutive months for healthcare reasons.
You’re putting your heirs at risk. When you pass away your heirs will have to pay back the loan, usually by selling home. If there is money left over after the sale, they can keep the difference. However, if the loan balance is more than the value of the home and they want to keep the home they will need to pay the full loan balance or 95% of the appraised value, whichever is less according to the CFPB.
When does it make sense to use a reverse mortgage for income in retirement?
In general, Chartered Financial Analyst Joseph Hough says reverse mortgages are best for retirees who are in good health and expect to live long after retirement. Also, it can be one of the few options retirees have when their retirement income is simply not high enough to cover their basic needs.
Speak with a financial advisor who can help you weigh the particular pros and cons with your specific situation. Every person is different, and there is no one size fits all answer.
When does it not make sense?
A reverse mortgage may not be a good fit for those in bad health due to the risk of losing the home. If you’re planning on selling your home, having a reverse mortgage can complicate the issue because it reduces the amount of equity you have. You could be left in a scenario where the proceeds of the sale do not cover a purchase of a new home because of the cost and fees associated with reverse mortgages.
What are some other ways I can maximize my SS benefit?
Working beyond 62 may be the best option to maximize your Social Security benefit. Doing so allows more time to save for retirement and pay off any debt. You could potentially increase your overall Social Security benefits if your latest year of earnings is one of your highest. Also, if you’re married, consider coordinating your Social Security decisions with your spouse. Other alternatives to a reverse mortgage include selling your home and downsizing to a less expensive place or selling your home to your adult children on the condition you get to live rent-free, says Houge.
Homeownership rates in America are at all-time lows. The housing crisis of 2006-2009 made banks skittish to issue new mortgages. Despite programs designed to lower down payment requirements, mortgage originations haven’t recovered to pre-crisis levels, and many Americans cannot afford to buy homes.
Will a new generation of Americans have access to home financing that drove the wealth of previous generations? We’ve gathered the latest data on mortgage debt statistics to explain who gets home financing, how mortgages are structured, and how Americans are managing our debt.
% of Mortgages Originated by Non-Depository Lenders: 47.1%9
The median borrower in America puts 5% down on their home purchase. This leads to a median loan-to-value ratio of 95%. A decade ago, the median borrower put down 20%.10
Credit score requirements are starting to ease somewhat The median mortgage borrower had a credit score of 754 from a high of 781 in the first quarter of 20126
1.24% of all mortgages are in delinquency. In 2009, mortgage delinquency reached as high as 8.35%.11
Home Ownership and Equity Levels
In the second quarter of 2017, real estate values in the United States surpassed their pre- housing crisis levels. The total value of real estate owned by individuals in the United States is $24 trillion, and total mortgages clock in at $9.9 trillion. This means that Americans have $13.9 trillion in homeowners equity.12 This is the highest value of home equity Americans have ever seen.
However, real estate wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated as overall homeownership rates fall. In 2004, 69% of all Americans owned homes. Today, that number is down to 63.4%.4 While home affordability remains a question for many Americans, the downward trend in homeownership corresponds to banks’ tighter credit standards following the Great Recession.
New Mortgage Originations
Mortgage origination levels show signs of recovery from their housing crisis lows. In 2008, financial institutions issued just $1.4 trillion of new mortgages. In 2016, new first lien mortgages topped $2 trillion for the first time since the end of the housing crisis, but mortgage originations were still 25 percent lower than their pre-recession average.8So far, 2017 has proved to be a lackluster year for mortgage originations. Through the second quarter of 2017, banks originated just $840 billion in new mortgages.
As recently as 2010, three banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase) originated 56 percent of all mortgages.13 In 2016, all banks put together originated just 44 percent of all loans.9
In a growing trend toward “non-bank” lending, both credit unions and nondepository lenders cut into banks’ share of the mortgage market. In 2016, credit unions issued 9 percent of all mortgages. Additionally, 47% of all mortgages in 2016 came from non-depository lending institutions like Quicken Loans and PennyMac. Behind Wells Fargo ($249 billion) and Chase ($117 billion), Quicken ($96 billion) was the third largest issuer of mortgages in 2016. In the fourth quarter of 2016, PennyMac issued $22 billion in loans and was the fourth largest lender overall.9
Government vs. Private Securitization
Banks tend to be more willing to issue new mortgages if a third party will buy the mortgage in the secondary market. This is a process called loan securitization. Consumers can’t directly influence who buys their mortgage, but mortgage securitization influences who gets mortgages and their rates. Over the last five years government securitization enterprises, FHA and VA loans, and portfolio loan securitization have risen. However, private loan securitization which constituted over 40% of securitization in 2005 and 2006 is almost extinct today.
Government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) have traditionally played an important role in ensuring that banks will issue new mortgages. Through the second quarter of 2017, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac purchased 46% of all newly issued mortgages. However, in absolute terms, Fannie and Freddie are purchasing less than in past years. In 2016, GSEs purchased 20% fewer loans than they did in the years leading up to 2006.8
Through the second quarter of 2017, a tiny fraction (0.7%) of all loans were purchased by private securitization companies.8 Prior to 2007, private securitization companies held $1.6 trillion in subprime and Alt-A (near prime) mortgages. In 2005 alone, private securitization companies purchased $1.1 trillion worth of mortgages. Today private securitization companies hold just $490 billion in total assets, including $420 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans.14
As private securitization firms exited the mortgage landscape, programs from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have filled in some of the gap. The FHA and VA are designed to help borrowers get loans despite having smaller down payments or lower incomes. FHA and VA loans accounted for 23 percent of all loans issued in 2016, and 25 percent in the first half of 2017. These loan programs are the only mortgages that grew in absolute terms from the pre-mortgage crisis. Prior to 2006, FHA and VA loans only accounted for $155 billion in loans per year. In 2016, FHA and VA loans accounted for $470 billion in loans issued.8
Portfolio loans, mortgages held by banks, accounted for $639 billion in new mortgages in 2016. Despite tripling in volume from their 2009 low, portfolio loans remain down 24% from their pre-crisis average.8
Mortgage Credit Characteristics
Since banks are issuing 21% fewer mortgages compared to pre-crisis averages, borrowers need higher incomes and better credit to get a mortgage.
The median FICO score for an originated mortgage rose from 707 in late 2006 to 754 today. The scores on the bottom decile of mortgage borrowers rose even more dramatically from 578 to 648.6
Despite the dramatic credit requirement increases from 2006 to today, banks are starting to relax lending standards somewhat. In the first quarter of 2012, the median borrower had a credit score of 781, a full 27 points higher than the median borrower today.
In 2016, 23% of all first lien mortgages were financed through FHA or VA programs. First-time FHA borrowers had an average credit score of 677. This puts the average first-time FHA borrower in the bottom quartile of all mortgage borrowers.8
Prior to 2009, an average of 20% of all volumes originated went to people with subprime credit scores (<660). In the second quarter of 2017, just 9% of all mortgages were issued to borrowers with subprime credit scores. Who replaced subprime borrowers? The share of mortgages issued to borrowers people with excellent credit (scores above 760) doubled. Between 2003 and 2008 just 27% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit. In the second quarter of 2017, 54% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit.6
Banks have also tightened lending standards related to maximum debt-to-income ratios for their mortgages. In 2007, conventional mortgages had an average debt-to-income ratio of 38.6%; today the average ratio is 34.3%.15 The lower debt-to-income ratio is in line with pre-crisis levels.
LTV and Delinquency Trends
Banks continue to screen customers on the basis of credit score and income, but customers who take on mortgages are taking on bigger mortgages than ever before. Today a new mortgage has an average unpaid balance of $244,000, according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.3
The primary drivers behind larger loans are higher home prices, but lower down payments also play a role. Prior to the housing crisis, more than half of all borrowers put down at least 20%. The average loan-to-value ratio at loan origination was 82%.10
Today, half of all borrowers put down 5% or less. More than 10% of borrowers put 0% down. As a result, the average loan-to-value ratio at origination has climbed to 87%.10
Despite a growing trend toward smaller down payments, growing home prices mean that overall loan-to-value ratios in the broader market show healthy trends. Today, the average loan-to-value ratio across all homes in the United States is an estimated 42%. The average LTV on mortgaged homes is 68%.16
This is substantially higher than the pre-recession LTV ratio of approximately 60%. However, homeowners saw very healthy improvements in loan-to-value ratios of 94% in early 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 more than a quarter of all mortgaged homes had negative equity. Today, just 5.4% of homes have negative equity.17
Although the current LTV on mortgaged homes remains above historical averages, Americans continue to manage mortgage debt well. Current homeowners have mortgage payments that make up an average of just 16.5% of their annual household income.18
Mortgage delinquency rates stayed constant at their all-time low (1.24%). This low delinquency rate came following 30 straight quarters of falling delinquency, and are well below the 2009 high of 8.35% delinquency.11
Today, delinquency rates have fully returned to their pre-crisis lows, and can be expected to stay low until the next economic recession.
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS September 28, 2017.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Homeownership Rate for the United States [USHOWN], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USHOWN, September 28, 2017. (Calculated as percent of all housing units occupied by an owner occupant.)
Calculated metric: Value of U.S. Real Estatea – Mortgage Debt Held by Individualsb
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
“Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017” Size of the US Residential Mortgage Market, Page 6 and Private Label Securities by Product Type, Page 7, from the Urban Institute Private Label Securities by Product Type, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
All Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / Value of All U.S. Homesd
Mortgages Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / (Value of All Homesd – Value of Homes with No Mortgagee)
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
As the leaves start to fall and the air gets autumn-crisp, the housing market cools down. But if you’re ready to buy your first home, there may be no hotter time to start the search.
Trulia, an online real estate resource for homebuyers and renters, recently released a report concluding that October is the best month for starter-level home-hunting. The organization found that starter-home supply peaks in October and rises 7 percent in the fall months, compared with the spring. That results in home prices that are 4.8 percent and 3.1 percent lower
in the winter and spring, respectively, than in the summer, the busiest home-buying season.
The Trulia report aligns with an analysis released recently by ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate database. ATTOM reported that home buyers get the best deals in February, when the median home price is 6.1 percent less than the rest of the year, on average. These findings were based on public home-selling data from 2000 to 2016.
Buying a home could be a long process. If you are going to seal the deal in February, you need to be making offers in December or January, which means you should start looking as early as October or November, said Daren Blomquist, ATTOM’s senior vice president.
How the fall housing market aids first-time buyers
The fall house-hunting guidance holds particularly true for first-time buyers, many of whom tend to be young professionals without children, experts say.
“They are not as tied to the school calendar,” said George Ratiu, managing director of quantitative and commercial research of the National Association of Realtors. Conventional wisdom says the fall season is the best time for first-time buyers to look for houses because home prices are likely to drop as more houses come on the market and families with children have either moved or stopped looking.
People searching for starter homes also enjoy more flexibility than existing homeowners looking to move.
“The catch-22 is that if it’s a good time to buy in the fall, it’s a bad time to sell,” Blomquist said. “So it’s kind of a wash for move-up buyers. Whereas first-time home buyers don’t have to worry about the selling of the equation.”
New buyers still face many obstacles
However, it can still be a challenging market for first-time home buyers, and it’s getting tougher, experts say.
Supply and demand
Nationally, housing supply has been shrinking over the past few years. It has tightened even more in 2017 than in previous years. Existing homes available for sale at the end of August fell 2.1 percent to 1.88 million and were down 6.5 percent from last August, according to the NAR.
It would take 4.2 months for the houses on the market to be sold at the current pace, down from 4.5 months a year ago. (Six months is considered a balanced buyer-seller market.)
But the demand for housing has been growing as a result of an improving economy and increasing job opportunities.
“Prices had nowhere to go but up,” Ratiu said. Homebuyers “have more money, but there are not enough homes on the market, and the price of homes has outpaced their income, which makes it hard for them buy.”
Nationally, the August median sales price of existing homes, which starter buyers tend to purchase, was $253,500, 5.6 higher percent than last August, according to the Realtors’ association. Meanwhile, wage growth remained fairly stagnant, at around 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
The NAR on Tuesday reported that Pending Home Sales, a future-looking indicator, fell 2.6 percent in August compared with last year — its lowest reading since January 2016.
“When I see pending sales declining, it’s likely sales for the next month will be down,” Ratiu said.
Ratiu said that much of the declining sales was the result of the housing shortage, which indicates that people looking to buy may not be able to find a house. But if they can buy, fall months are still a good time to snag a suitable home, Ritiu said, because the slow sales season gives starter home buyers that edge in a tough seller’s market.
“If first-time homebuyers are competing with buyers who have bigger down payments, which typically you would have with a move-up buyer, they are going to lose out more often than not in that situation,” Blomquist said. “So if they are willing to buy when other buyers are dormant or in hibernation, then they could get an edge and face less competition.”
Tougher lending standards
Tougher lending standards since the financial crisis have have hit hard among first-time buyers, who made up 31 percent of all homebuyers in August, the NAR reported. The median down payment percentage in the second quarter of 2017 rose to its highest in nearly three years, at 7.3 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from last year’s 5.9 percent, according to ATTOM.
This means if you buy a home for $200,000, you would have to put down $14,600 today versus last year’s $11,800.
To put that in perspective, at the peak of the last housing boom in 2006, before the financial crisis, the median down payment percentage for houses sold nationwide was 2.1 percent, Blomquist said.
Buying a new home before you can sell your old one can present quite the financial conundrum. This is mostly because you have to come up with the cash for a new property when you don’t have access to the home equity you have already built up in your existing property. That’s where a bridge loan comes in.
Bridge loans promise to fill the gap or “provide a bridge” between your old residence and the one you hope to buy. They accomplish this by providing temporary financial assistance through short-term lending.
Unfortunately, bridge loans come with pitfalls, some of which can be costly or have long-term financial consequences. This guide will explain the good and the bad about bridge loans, how they work, and some alternative strategies.
How does a bridge loan work?
While bridge loans can come in different amounts and last for varying lengths of time, they are meant to be short-term tools. Generally speaking, bridge loans are temporary financing options intended to help real estate buyers secure initial funding that helps them transition from one property to the next.
Let’s say you found your dream home and need to buy it quickly, yet you haven’t had the time to prepare your current residence for sale, let alone sell it. A bridge loan would provide the short-term funding required to purchase the new home quickly, buying you time to get your current home ready for sale. Ideally, you would move into your new home, sell your old property, then pay off the loan.
Here are some additional details to consider with bridge loans:
Your current residence is used as collateral for the loan.
These loans may only be set up to last for a period of six to 12 months.
You need equity in your current home to qualify, usually at least 20 percent.
Also keep in mind that there are several ways to repay a bridge loan. You may be required to start making payments right away, or you may be able to wait several months. Make sure to read the terms and conditions of your loan so you know where your financial obligations begin and end.
Risks of taking out a bridge loan
Taking out a temporary loan so you can purchase a new home may sound ideal, but as with most financial products, the devil is in the details. While these loans can help in a pinch if you aren’t able to purchase a property through other means, there are notable disadvantages.
They can cost more than alternatives
David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and the academic program director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, says the biggest downside of these loans is the price tag. Because bridge loans are meant to work for the short term, lenders have a much shorter timeline for turning a profit. As a result, “they typically charge a few percentage points higher than what you would pay with home equity loans,” says Reiss. Not only that, but they come with closing costs that may be expensive, and can vary from loan to loan.
So, even if the loan is short-term, it will likely cost you more than borrowing the money through a traditional mortgage by selling your existing home first, or through other means.
You’re taking on more debt
Another inherent risk with bridge loans: You’re simply borrowing more money. “The loan is secured by your home, so you have another mortgage,” Reiss says. “If you don’t make payments, then you could face late fees and financial turmoil.”
You can’t predict when you’ll sell your home
And if you’re unable to sell your home and your new or old monthly mortgage payments are taking a big chunk of your income, you could have trouble meeting all your financial obligations.
Reiss offers one other scenario in which a bridge loan could spell financial trouble: if the real estate market sours.
“You might assume you’ll sell your home easily, but that isn’t always the case,” says Reiss. “Unexpected events can screw up your plans to sell your home, so if you end up carrying multiple mortgages, you could potentially end up in trouble.”
According to Reiss, taking out a bridge loan could easily leave you with three home loans — your old mortgage, your loan, and your new mortgage — if the housing market slumps inexplicably and you can’t sell.
“This may not be a problem temporarily, but it can cause financial havoc in the long run,” he says. “You’ll be stuck with the unexpected expense of carrying all these mortgages.”
Falling behind on payments can lead to foreclosure on your old home, your new property, or both.
Advantages of a bridge loan
Applicants who are well aware of the risks of this financial product may still benefit from choosing this option. There are notable advantages, Reiss says, especially for certain types of buyers.
They can give you an edge in competitive markets
Bridge loans are “the kind of loan you get when you need to move forward and you can’t do it any other way,” says Reiss. If you are absolutely dead-set on purchasing a property and struggling to make the financials work, then a bridge loan could truly save the day.
This is especially true in housing markets where homes are moving quickly, Reiss notes, since a bridge loan allows you to buy a new home without a sales contingency in the new contract. What this means is, you’re able to write an offer on a new property without requiring the sale of your old home before you can buy.
This can be quite advantageous “in a hot market where sellers are getting lots of offers and you’re competing against other buyers who are paying in cash or making offers without a contingency,” Reiss says.
Bridge loans may be more convenient than the alternatives
Reiss also says that, while there are other loan options to consider for buying a new home, they aren’t always feasible in the heat of the moment. If you wanted to purchase a new home before selling your old home and needed cash, you could consider borrowing against your 401(k) or taking out a home equity loan, for example.
Yes, these options may be cheaper than getting a bridge loan, Reiss acknowledges. The problem is, they both take time. Borrowing money from your 401(k) may take several weeks and plenty of back and forth with your employer or human resources department, and home equity loans can take months. Not only that, but it might be difficult to qualify for a home equity loan if your home is for sale, Reiss says.
“A home equity lender who catches wind of your intent to sell your home may not even loan you the money since it’s fairly likely you’ll pay off the home equity loan quickly, meaning they won’t turn a profit,” he says.
Bridge loans, on the other hand, could be more convenient and timely because you may be able to get one through your new mortgage lender.
Four good reasons to take out a bridge loan
With the listed advantages and disadvantages above in mind, there are plenty of reasons buyers will take on the risk of a bridge loan and use it to transition into a new home. Reasons consumers commonly take out bridge loans include:
1. You want to make an offer on a new home without a sales contingency to improve your chances of securing a deal.
The most important reason to get a bridge loan is if you want to buy a property so much that you don’t mind the added costs or risk. These loans let you make an offer without promising to sell your old home first.
2. You need cash for a down payment without accessing your home equity right away.
A bridge loan can help you borrow the money you need for a down payment. Once you sell your old home, you can use the equity and profit from the sale to pay off your loan.
3. You want to avoid PMI, or private mortgage insurance.
If most of your cash is locked up as equity in your current home, you may not have enough money to put down 20 percent on your new home and avoid PMI, or private mortgage insurance. A bridge loan may help you put down 20 percent and avoid the need for this costly insurance product.
“But you would need to net out the costs of the bridge loan against the PMI savings to see if it is worth it,” says Reiss. “And remember, once you have sold the first home, you could use the equity from that home to pay down the mortgage on your new home and get out of paying PMI.”
“So, we might be talking about six to 12 months of avoided PMI payments if you were planning on using the equity from your old home to pay down the mortgage on your new home,” says Reiss.
4. You’re building a new home.
A bridge loan can help you pay the upfront costs of building a new home when you aren’t yet prepared to sell your old one because you still need a place to live.
How to qualify for a bridge mortgage loan
Because bridge loans are offered through mortgage lenders, typically in conjunction with a new mortgage, the requirements to qualify are similar to getting a new home loan.
While requirements can vary from lender to lender, you commonly need to meet the following criteria for a bridge loan:
A low debt-to-income ratio
Significant home equity of 20 percent or more
Typically, lenders will approve bridge loans at the value of 80 percent of both the borrower’s current mortgage and the proposed mortgage they are aiming to attain. Let’s say you’re selling a home worth $300,000 with the goal of buying a new property worth $500,000. In this example, across both loans, you could only borrow 80 percent of the combined property values, or $640,000.
If you don’t have enough equity or cash to meet these requirements — or if your credit isn’t good enough — you may not qualify for a bridge loan, even if you want one.
Fees and other fine print
Before you take out a bridge loan, it’s important to understand all the costs involved. Here are some fees and fine print you should look for and understand:
Since bridge loans vary widely from lender to lender, the fees involved — and the costs of those fees — can vary significantly as well. Common fees to look for include an origination fee that can be equal to 1 percent or more of your loan value. You will also likely be on the hook for closing costs for your loan, although the amount of those costs can be all over the map based on the terms and conditions included in your loan’s fine print. As example, Third Federal Savings and Loan out of Cleveland, Ohio, offers a bridge loan product with no prepayment penalties or appraisal fees, but with a $595 fee for closing costs. Borrowers may also be on the hook for documentary stamp taxes or state taxes, if applicable. Make sure to check your loan’s terms and conditions.
While it’s unlikely your loan will include any prepayment penalties, you should read the terms and conditions to make sure.
Payoff terms and conditions
Because all bridge loans work differently, you need to be sure when your loan comes due, or when you need to start making payments. You may need to make payments right away, or you might have a few months of wiggle room. Because there are no set guidelines, these terms can vary dramatically among different lenders.
Tips to sell your home quickly and avoid a bridge loan
If you’re on the fence about getting a bridge loan because you’re worried about short-term costs or the added layer of risk, try to sell your home quickly instead. If you’re able to sell, you may be able to access your home’s equity and avoid a bridge loan altogether, while also eliminating the possibility of getting “stuck” with more than one home.
We spoke to several real estate professionals to get their tips for selling your home quickly. Here are their best tips for getting your home ready to sell in a short amount of time:
Tip #1: Do some quick outdoor cleanup and landscaping work, then try to make your home as neutral as possible.
“To get people inside, they need to like the outside of your house,” says Nancy Brook, a Realtor who sells properties with RE/MAX of Billings, Mont. “Trim trees and shrubs, treat weeds, and mow and trim lawns.”
You should also make sure that there’s no chipped or peeling paint, she recommends. “And if your home is anything but a neutral color, you should seriously consider painting it.”
Tip #2: Get rid of half your stuff (or more).
As Brooks notes, most real estate agents suggest that sellers pack up most of their personal items and remove them from the house when they’re trying to sell. This helps people declutter while also making their property more appealing to people who might be turned off by someone else’s personal photos and items.
“Pack up or get rid of rid of paperwork, knick-knacks, personal photos and collections,” says Brooks. “Any furniture that obstructs a walkway should be eliminated. Get rid of any unnecessary dishes, pots, pans and small appliances in your kitchen. All the excess gives a junky appearance.”
Tip #3: Deep-clean from top to bottom.
While cleaning seems like an obvious first step, it is often neglected, notes Trina Larson, RE/MAX Realtor and selling specialist from Potomac, Md.
“You would never purchase a dirty car or a dirty new jacket,” she says. “Get everything as clean as possible, and try to make your house look brand-new.”
Items on your to-clean list should include corners, edges of baseboards, light fixtures, windows inside and out, your home’s siding and anything that isn’t in pristine condition.
Tip #4: Get rid of off-putting smells.
If you want to sell quickly, your house should smell clean and inviting, Larson suggests. “Your first step is to remove every offensive odor,” she says.
Go through each room and take inventory of what you smell. “Pet urine is especially heinous, and there is only way to remove it,” she says. “You have to go in and replace the carpet where the accident happened. Although it might seem like an expensive task, it is worth every penny. No cooking or animal odors.”
Basic cleaning can also help remove smells. The cleaner your home, the fresher it will seem to potential buyers.
Bottom line: Is a bridge loan worth considering?
If you want to buy a home quickly and don’t have time to sell your home, a bridge loan could help. Likewise, bridge loans can be a good option for people who are moving or building a new home and need the capital to make the sale go through regardless of cost.
On the other hand, such loans may not be the best choice for consumers who don’t want to risk getting stuck with two homes and multiple payments. They’re also a poor choice for buyers who don’t want to pay any additional closing costs or interest payments to get in the home they want.
In the end, only you can decide if the risk of getting a bridge loan for your new home is an acceptable one.
A home mortgage refinance doesn’t come cheaply, as homebuyers typically must pay thousands of dollars in closing costs and fees to finalize a loan. These expenses can seem endless as you get bills for everything from attorney fees to an appraisal to a loan origination fee. Closing costs vary by lender, loan amount and location, but in the end, they’re usually up to 3 percent of the home’s purchase price. For a $200,000 loan, that means closing costs of roughly $6,000.
For many homebuyers, these upfront costs put refinancing out of reach.
What is a no closing cost refinance?
A no closing cost refinance means that you refinance your home mortgage without paying thousands of dollars in upfront closing costs and fees to close the loan. But that “no” in the name can be confusing, because you’re not really avoiding that expense. While this process can save homebuyers money upfront, lenders work in closing costs elsewhere either by slightly raising interest rates or adding the closing costs to the balance of the loan.
How do I get one?
You can refinance your mortgage with no closing costs at banks, credit unions or other lenders. Standard qualifications for refinancing will apply, including a property value that exceeds the amount of the refinance and a credit score that is greater than lender minimums (usually more than 620). Lenders also typically expect your refinance payment and other debt payments to total less than 43 percent of your gross income.
Savings analysis: No closing cost refinance vs. regular refinance
No closing cost refinance doesn’t always result in savings. Homeowners who have a good idea how long they will stay in the house will be in the best position to decide whether refinancing without closing costs is a good idea.
Here is a comparison between a standard refinance and a no closing cost refinance where the lender slightly raises the interest rate to compensate for the lost closing costs. Loan officers will raise your interest rate based on daily market rates.
No closing cost refinance
None at loan closing
Refinance interest rate
Total cost of mortgage*
In this example, a homeowner who stays in his home for at least 30 years will save $68 per monthly payment and more than $24,500 over the life of the loan with a lower interest rate. The additional interest that comes with the no closing cost refinance loan far exceeds the $4,800 of closing costs with a regular refinance.
Another common way lenders will refinance a mortgage with no closing costs is to roll the costs into the balance of the loan. Here’s the same mortgage using this option.
No closing cost refinance
None at loan closing
Refinance interest rate
Total cost of mortgage*
The no closing cost refinance costs an extra $22 per month. If you stay in your home for the duration of the loan, the no closing cost refinance would add an additional $2,960 to your mortgage expenses (after accounting for the $4,800 you’d pay upfront for the regular refinance).
For homeowners who only plan to stay in their homes five years or fewer, however, refinancing with no closing costs could help them break even or come out ahead on closing costs. Here’s a breakdown.
No closing cost refinance
None at loan closing
Refinance interest rate
Remaining balance after five years
With a no closing cost refinance, you would pay about $1,790 more on a $200,000 mortgage if you got a regular refinance; however, you would have paid the $4,800 in closing costs upfront, meaning you’d save money in the long run with a no closing cost refinance (assuming you sell the house after five years).
Is a no closing cost refinance a good idea?
The biggest advantage of a no closing cost refinance is you do not have to come up with several thousand dollars in cash to close on your refinanced mortgage. Closing costs can add up quickly as you factor in an appraisal, loan origination fee, and other charges, and many buyers simply can’t afford them. A no-cost refinance doesn’t eliminate those costs, but it does spread them out into monthly payments, allowing you to pay for them over time.
Over the life of a loan, a refinance with no upfront closing costs can add up to a significantly more expensive choice than a traditional refinance. You can use a refinance calculator to help you figure out whether a no-cost refinance is worth it.
Is a no closing cost refinance right for you?
As you are thinking through whether a refinance with no closing costs is right for you, here are some questions to consider.
Will you qualify to refinance your mortgage?
Before applying, make sure your credit score is high enough to be approved for a refinance loan. You’ll also need to have sufficient equity in your home and a debt-to-income ratio of less than 43 percent, in most cases.
Will refinancing lower your monthly payment?
If your goal is to get a lower monthly mortgage payment through refinancing, a traditional refinance will likely be your best bet. A no closing cost refinance could also lower your monthly payment, though. Don’t forget to calculate in either the higher balance or higher interest rate you’ll have after the lender factors in closing costs. Before you agree to the refinance terms, be sure they will lower your monthly payment enough to be worthwhile.
How long do you plan to stay in your house?
If you are planning on selling your house in less than five years, a refinance with no closing costs almost always will save you money. You may have a higher monthly payment than a regular refinance, but if you get out of the mortgage after a few years, you likely will have spent less than if you had taken out a traditional refinance and paid closing costs.
If you plan to stay in your house indefinitely or longer than several years, a no closing cost refinance may be much more costly in the long run.
How to shop for mortgage refinance loans
To compare no closing cost refinance offers, visit financial institutions and talk with loan officers. They will look at current interest rates and your financial information to help you determine whether refinancing with no closing costs will work for you.
One advantage of no closing cost refinances is that they eliminate the closing costs and fees that can make loan-offer comparisons complicated. With quotes for no closing cost refinance mortgages in hand, you can easily compare interest rates. This allows mortgage shoppers to more effectively shop around and find the best deal.
What to look out for
As you should before agreeing to any loan terms, make sure you understand all costs involved. While a lender may not be charging closing costs when the loan is signed, there may be other fees and expenses that aren’t waived. Ask about fees and what they include. These could be:
Government transfer taxes
Some no closing cost refinance loans come with prepayment penalties to steer borrowers away from refinancing the loan quickly for a lower interest rate. Check the rules of the loan to make sure there are no prepayment penalties.
Where to shop for no closing cost loans
Traditional lenders, such as banks and credit unions, as well as other private lenders, may offer a refinance mortgage with no closing costs. You can compare current refinance rates with the online comparison tool by LendingTree, our parent company, but you’ll need to talk to a mortgage loan officer to determine what your refinance with no closing costs would look like.
If you have kept up with your mortgage payments but have little or no equity in your home to qualify for refinancing your mortgage, the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) can help. If you qualify, you could refinance with a low interest rate and favorable terms. HARP also does not require a minimum credit score and will roll closing costs into the new loan.
Beware of closing cost scams
While refinancing your mortgage, you may receive emails that appear to be from your lender asking you to wire them closing costs. Do not respond, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns, as this is a phishing scam trying to get your personal information and empty your bank account. This scam begins when hackers break into homebuyers’ or real estate professionals’ email accounts and steal information about real estate transactions they are working on.
You should never send financial information by email, the FTC warns.
How to save on closing costs
If you’re worried upfront closing costs will make refinancing your mortgage too expensive, shop around. Closing costs can vary widely by lender and location, and remember that they’re negotiable. The more options you research, the better you will be able to choose the deal that allows you to pay the least for closing costs.
Saving up for a big down payment on a home could be the kind of financial obstacle that prevents first-time homebuyers with little savings from ever becoming homeowners. Fortunately, government-backed Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans can help potential homebuyers who want a home but struggle to pull together a large down payment.
This guide will cover the pros and cons of using an FHA loan to purchase a home and how homebuyers can begin the process of shopping and getting approved for these loans.
FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which means that the federal government makes a guarantee to the bank that the government will repay the borrower’s loan if the borrower stops making payments. This guarantee means banks are willing to provide funding to borrowers who may not otherwise be able to qualify for a home loan.
FHA loans are not funded or underwritten directly by the FHA, but rather by FHA-approved lenders. These lenders can be found using the Lender Search tool. Interest rates and fees vary by lender, even for the same type of loan, so it’s important to shop around.
Benefits of FHA loans
FHA loans are designed to promote homeownership and make it easier for people to qualify for mortgages. For that reason, they typically have more flexible lending requirements than conventional loans, including:
Lower minimum credit scores
Many loan programs require a credit score of at least 620 or 640, but FHA loans are available to borrowers with scores as low as 500.
Lower down payments
Borrowers can get FHA loans with as little as 3.5 percent down. However, borrowers with credit scores between 500 and 579 will need at least 10 percent down.
Not just for first-time homebuyers
Although their flexible terms and low down payments make FHA loans appealing to first-time homebuyers, they’re also available to repeat buyers as long as the proceeds are used to purchase a primary residence.
Seller assistance with closing costs
Yael Ishakis, the vice president of FM Home Loans in Brooklyn, N.Y., says another benefit of FHA loans is that they allow sellers to assist with up to 6 percent of sales price for closing costs, including origination fees, points and other closing costs. This helps borrowers struggling to come up with a down payment cover some of the additional costs involved in closing on a home loan. Sellers may not be willing to pay closing costs in a hot housing market, but in a down market, helping with closing costs can mean a faster sale. For conventional loans, the seller can contribute no more than 3 percent toward closing costs unless the buyer has a down payment greater than 10 percent.
Drawbacks of FHA loans
FHA loans are appealing to many borrowers, but they’re not always the best choice. Here are a few reasons you may want to look into alternatives.
FHA loans require mortgage insurance, a policy that protects the lender against losses from defaults on home mortgages. FHA loans require both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance from all borrowers, regardless of the amount of the down payment.
On a 30-year mortgage with a base loan amount of less than $625,500, the annual mortgage insurance premium would be 0.85 percent of the base loan amount, and the upfront mortgage insurance premium would be 1.75 percent of the base loan amount as of this writing.
With a conventional loan, the borrower can avoid mortgage insurance by putting at least 20 percent down. They can also request to have their mortgage insurance premiums removed from their monthly payment once the loan is at 78 percent of the home’s current value, as long as the borrower has been making on-time payments for at least one year. With an FHA loan, mortgage insurance is required for the life of the loan.
Ishakis says this aspect of FHA loans causes her to hesitate before offering FHA loan options to buyers. If an FHA borrower’s home goes up in value, the only way to have the mortgage insurance removed is to refinance to a conventional loan. The refi would require more paperwork, closing costs, and a potential increase to their interest rate if rates have increased. With a conventional loan, getting mortgage insurance removed simply requires sending a written request to the lender once you’ve met the requirements.
Most recent two months of bank statements
Most recent 30 days of pay stubs
Most recent two years of W-2s
Two years of tax returns
Gift letter (if using gifted funds for the down payment or closing costs)
If you have been divorced in the past, declared bankruptcy, are self-employed, or earn income based on commissions, you may be required to provide even more documentation.
Minimum credit score
assisted closing costs
3% with down payments
less than 10%
6% with down payments
between 10% and 25%
9% with down payments
greater than 25%
Varies based on credit score
and loan-to-value ratio
Borrowers who are able to qualify for a conventional loan may be better off choosing a conventional loan rather than an FHA loan. Conventional loans can require a slightly lower down payment and do not require any upfront mortgage insurance, and borrowers can request to have their monthly mortgage insurance payments removed once they have at least 20 percent equity in the home and have made on-time payments for one year. That can all add up to significant savings over the life of the loan.
Part II: FHA Loan Requirements
With their flexible requirements and low barriers to approval, FHA loans are some of the easiest loans to qualify for. Here’s a look at FHA loan requirements.
Minimum credit score requirements
The minimum credit score for an FHA loan with a 3.5 percent down payment is typically 580. If your credit score is between 500 and 579, you may be approved for an FHA loan, but you will need to put at least 10 percent down.
These are FHA guidelines, but individual lenders may have their own requirements, referred to as lender overlays. A particular lender may require a minimum credit score of 640 or higher, so if you are turned down for an FHA loan by one bank, it’s a good idea to try others.
The FHA does not have minimum or maximum income requirements. However, borrowers must have sufficient income to be able to afford the mortgage payments and their other obligations. Part of the approval process involves verifying your employment and income, but the amount you earn is not as important as the amount of income you have left over after paying your other monthly bills.
Debt-to-income ratio requirements
Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is another key metric FHA-approved lenders consider when determining whether you can afford a mortgage. DTI measures the amount of debt you have compared to your income, and it is expressed as a percentage.
Lenders look at two debt-to-income ratios when determining your eligibility:
Housing ratio or front-end ratio. What percentage of your income would it take to cover your total monthly mortgage payment? According to Kevin Miller, Director of Growth at Open Listings, lenders like to see a front-end ratio below 31 percent of your gross income, although approval with a percentage up to 40 percent is possible depending on the circumstance.
Total debt or back-end ratio. Shows how much of your income is needed to pay for your total monthly debts. Miller says lenders prefer a back-end ratio of less than 43 percent of your gross income, although approval with a percentage of up to 50 percent is possible.
Down payment requirements
FHA loans require a down payment of at least 3.5 percent of the purchase price, or 10 percent if your credit score is below 580. In addition to the down payment, the borrower may have to pay other upfront costs including appraisal and inspection fees, upfront mortgage insurance, real estate taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association dues, and more.
However, the FHA allows sellers to cover up to 6 percent of closing costs and allows closing costs to be gifted from friends or family members.
Clear CAIVRS report
Any federal debt that hasn’t been repaid and has entered default status can prevent you from getting an FHA loan. The government keeps track of people who default on all types of federal debts, like government-backed mortgage loans, SBA loans, and even federal student loans.
The system they use to track defaults is called the Credit Alert Verification Reporting System (CAIVRS). Borrowers do not have access to CAIVRS, so you’ll have to consult an FHA-approved lender to learn whether you are in the system.
If the delinquency was for a prior FHA-backed loan, you’ll have to wait three years from the time that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) paid the mortgage lender’s insurance claim.
FHA loan limits
The FHA puts a cap on the size of a mortgage that it will insure. These loan limits are calculated and updated annually and announced by HUD near the end of each calendar year.
Because the cost of living can vary widely throughout the country, FHA loan limits differ from one county to the next. The national maximum for an FHA loan is currently $636,150, but in low-cost areas, the maximum can go as low as $275,665 for a single-family home. You can look up the limit in your area using HUD’s FHA Mortgage Limits lookup tool.
FHA mortgage limits are calculated based on 115 percent of the median home price in the county, as determined by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
FHA loans are only available when the borrower intends to use the property as a primary residence — investment properties are not eligible.
In addition, the property you intend to purchase must meet certain requirements to qualify for an FHA mortgage. Every FHA loan requires the property to be appraised and inspected by a HUD-approved home appraiser to verify the current market value of the property and ensure it meets HUD’s minimum property standards.
The appraiser will look at the roof, foundation, lot grade, ventilation, mechanical systems, heating, electricity, and crawl space in the home. Their standards are outlined in great detail in HUD’s Single Family Housing Policy Handbook, but essentially the property must not be hazardous or threaten the health and safety of the buyer who will live in the home.
Safety hazards noted during the appraisal will not automatically disqualify the property from an FHA loan. If the issue can be corrected before final inspection — such as the seller repairing a leaking roof — the loan can move forward.
Part III: Types of FHA Loans
There are several types of FHA loans to meet the needs of different homeowners. Here’s a look at the options available.
Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common type of FHA loans. The borrower chooses a loan term between 10 and 30 years, and the interest rate will not change over the life of the loan.
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) also have terms between 10 and 30 years, but as the name implies, the interest rate can change periodically, so the payments can go up or down. The initial interest rate on an ARM is lower than that of a fixed-rate mortgage, so this can be a good option for a borrower who plans to own their home for only a few years.
Many ARMs are hybrids, meaning there is an initial period during which the rate is fixed. After that, the rate changes at regular intervals. Most ARMs have caps that limit how much the rate can change at any one time and throughout the life of the loan.
FHA loans offer the following interest rate cap structures for ARMs:
One- and three-year ARMs may increase by 1% annually after the initial fixed-rate period and 5% points over the life of the loan
Five-year ARMs may either allow for increases of 1% points annually and 5% points over the life of the loan, or increases of 2% points annually and 6% points over the life of the loan
Seven- and 10-year ARMs may only increase by 2% annually after the initial fixed-interest rate period, and 6% over the life of the loan
FHA reverse mortgages
Seniors with a paid-off mortgage or significant equity in their home may be able to access a portion of their home’s equity with an FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly referred to as a reverse mortgage.
The loan is called a reverse mortgage because instead of the borrower making monthly payments to the lender, as with a traditional mortgage, the lender makes payments to the borrower. The borrower is not required to pay back the loan unless the home is sold or otherwise vacated.
Many seniors use reverse mortgages to supplement Social Security income, meet unexpected medical expenses, make home improvements, and more.
Energy Efficient Mortgages
The FHA’s Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) program is designed to help homeowners save on utility bills by financing energy-efficient improvements with an FHA loan. The program is available as part of a home purchase or by refinancing the current mortgage.
To qualify for an EEM, the borrower must first get a Home Energy Rating Systems Report performed by a professional rater. The rater inspects everything in the home, from insulation to appliances and windows. Once the property’s current energy efficiency is calculated, the inspector makes recommendations for energy-efficient upgrades.
EEMs are available for $4,000 or 5 percent of the property value up to $8,000. If the EEM is included in the initial home purchase, you do not need to come up with a larger down payment.
FHA 203(k) loans
Homebuyers looking to buy a fixer-upper may be interested in an FHA 203(k) mortgage. This program allows homeowners and homebuyers to finance up to $35,000 into their mortgage for repairs and improvements.
These loans often make it possible for buyers to purchase and rehabilitate properties that other lenders won’t touch because the property is in such bad shape. The loan includes money to purchase the property, enough to make necessary improvements, and, in certain cases, enough to cover rent or the borrower’s existing mortgage for up to six months so the buyer has another place to live while the home is being renovated.
Part IV: Shopping for FHA Loans
As mentioned previously, FHA loans are notorious for requiring a lot of documentation. Here’s a list to get you started:
Address of your place of residence
Social Security number(s)
Names and locations of your employer(s)
Gross monthly salary at your current job(s)
Two years of completed tax returns (three if you are self-employed)
Two years of W-2s, 1099s, or other income statements
Most recent month of pay stubs
Recent statements for all open loans (such as student loans or car loans)
A year-to-date profit-and-loss statement for self-employed individuals
Most recent three months of bank, retirement, stocks, and/or mutual fund statements
Contact information for your landlord or current mortgage lender
Bankruptcy and discharge papers (if applicable)
Copies of driver’s license(s)
Social Security card(s)
Copy of divorce decree (if applicable)
Letters of explanation for any past credit issues, bankruptcies, or foreclosures (if applicable)
Gift letter if your down payment or closing funds are a gift from friends or family members
If you are refinancing or you own another property, you will also need:
Note and deed from current loan
Property tax bill
Homeowners insurance policy
Your lender will also have you sign multiple documents, including authorization to pull your credit report, verify your employment, and obtain a transcript of your tax return from the Internal Revenue Service.
As you get closer to your closing date, you may need to update many of these documents. For instance, if you provided a January bank statement and pay stubs when you started your loan process and your loan doesn’t close until March, your loan officer will likely need a copy of your February bank statement and pay stubs to finalize your loan.
Where can you compare FHA loan rates?
As mentioned above, FHA loans are not provided directly by the FHA, but by FHA-approved lenders, so rates can vary depending on which bank you work with. For that reason, it’s a good idea to shop around for the best rate.
Fortunately, some resources allow you to do a lot of your initial mortgage rate shopping online.
Check out LendingTree’s FHA loan rates here. By filling out an online form with questions about the type of property you’re purchasing, city, state, and a few other details, you can compare personalized rates from several lenders. Note: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.
Part V: The FHA Closing Process
The HUD Handbook 4155.2 explains the FHA loan process in detail, from identifying a lender to the lender’s responsibilities after the loan is closed. The time it takes to close on an FHA loan is pretty comparable to other types of loans. According to a recent Origination Insight Report from Ellie Mae, in August of 2017, FHA loans for new purchases took an average of 44 days to close, compared to 42 days for conventional loans.
Here are the steps that apply to borrowers:
Lender identification. Contact a HUD-approved lender to find out if you are eligible for an FHA loan. All of the major banks and many smaller, regional lenders participate in the FHA loan program.
Loan application. The lender will help you complete a loan application and request a variety of financial documents.
Case number assigned. Every FHA mortgage is assigned a case number that identifies the individual loan and borrower.
Property appraisal. The lender will order a property appraisal from a HUD-approved appraiser to verify the market value of the home and that it meets all of HUD’s property requirements.
Mortgage underwriting. The underwriter reviews your file in accordance with HUD’s guidelines to determine whether you have the ability to repay the loan. They’ll take a close look at your credit history, employment situation, income stability, debt-to-income ratio, and other factors.
Underwriting decision. If your application is approved, you are “clear to close” and will move on to the closing process. If your file is rejected for some reason, the lender will notify you of the underwriter’s decision and will likely tell you why the underwriter came to that decision.
Closing process. The lender “closes” the loan by having all documents signed and ensuring that all money is distributed to the appropriate parties. Borrowers should review all loan documents carefully to ensure accuracy. This is also the time when you’ll need to present a cashier’s check or wire funds from your bank to cover closing costs.
Before you sign
The closing process can be a ceremonious event. It may take place in your lender’s or realtor’s office. You’ll be handed a pen and a big stack of documents that require your signature. A notary will likely be present to witness your signature. But don’t let the pomp and circumstances distract you from the task at hand: making one of the largest financial transactions of your life.
Before you get to closing, you should receive a loan estimate that lays out the important information about your loan, including the loan amount, projected interest rate, estimated monthly payment, and estimated funds required to close. Your interest may be locked in. This means your rate won’t change between the offer and closing date, as long as there are no changes to your application and you close within the specified time frame.
At least three business days before closing, you should receive a Closing Disclosure form listing all final terms of the loan you’ve selected and final closing costs. When you sit down to sign the loan documents at closing, double-check the details to ensure your final documents agree with the Closing Disclosure. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an excellent interactive tool explaining all of the parts of your Closing Disclosure and the details you should review.
Your lender or realtor should give you a list of items to bring with you to the closing. This will likely include a cashier’s check or proof of wire transfer for the funds you need to close and your driver’s license.
Ask questions to ensure you feel comfortable with everything you’re signing and make sure you know when and where to send your first mortgage payment and when it will be due.
Closing costs to consider
Your Closing Disclosure will show all of the closing costs required to finalize your loan. Some of them may be financed into your loan, some may be paid by the seller, and some are your responsibility. Closing costs vary based on where you live and the property you buy. Here’s a list of some common ones:
Application fee. Covers the cost of the lender to process your application.
Appraisal. Paid to the appraisal company to confirm the value of your home.
Attorney fee. Paid to an attorney to review the closing documents on behalf of the buyer or lender.
Escrow fee. Paid to the title company or escrow company that oversees the closing of your home purchase.
Credit report. The cost of pulling your credit report and credit score.
Escrow deposits. You may be required to put down two months or more of property taxes and mortgage insurance payments at closing.
Upfront mortgage insurance premium. FHA loans require an upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount.
Homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance covers possible damage to your home. The lender may require that you pay the first year’s premium at closing.
Origination fee. Covers the lender’s administrative costs.
Prepaid interest. The lender may require you to prepay any interest that will accrue between your closing date and the date your first mortgage payment is due.
Recording fees. Charges by your local city or county for recording public records.
Title company search. A fee paid to the title company for doing a thorough search of the property’s records to ensure that no one else has a legal claim to the property.
Closing costs typically run 3 to 5 percent of the loan amount.
Still wondering whether an FHA loan is right for you? The following are some frequently asked questions about FHA loans that may help you decide.
Yes! FHA guidelines require borrowers to wait two years from the discharge of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or one year from the discharge of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy before applying for an FHA loan. In addition to meeting the waiting period, borrowers with bankruptcies should be able to demonstrate that they’ve worked to re-establish good credit or chosen not to incur any new debts since the bankruptcy. Borrowers will also have to submit a letter of explanation detailing the circumstances that lead to the bankruptcy with their loan application.
Yes. Having a co-signer may improve your chances of getting approved for the loan, especially if it’s a high debt-to-income ratio holding you back from getting approved. The co-signer must also submit to an underwriter review of their income and credit as they will be liable for repayment of the loan if the borrower fails to meet their obligation.
Yes. You can refinance an existing mortgage to a new FHA loan in a streamline refinance as long as you’ve made at least six monthly payments on your current mortgage and it’s been at least 210 days since the closing of that loan. You cannot have any payments overdue by more than 30 days and no late payments in the past 90 days. If you qualify, the streamline refinance does not require an appraisal, credit qualification, or employment verification.
You can also refinance an FHA loan into a conventional loan. This is often a good option for borrowers whose home has increased in value substantially. Since some FHA loans require mortgage insurance be paid during the entire life of the loan, refinancing to a conventional loan can eliminate mortgage insurance.
No. While FHA loans are popular among first-time homebuyers due to their low down payments and flexible requirements, they are available to repeat buyers as long as the loan is being used to purchase a primary residence.
No. FHA loans are only available for purchasing a buyer’s primary residence. However, you can use an FHA loan to buy a property with up to four units, as long as you will live in one unit while renting out the others.
Recently, you hopped online to make your mortgage payment. On the front page of your financial institution’s website, you saw refinancing advertised at a much lower interest rate than the one you currently carry.
Your gut instinct may be to fill out an application for a refi. Who doesn’t want a lower interest rate on their mortgage?
But before you jump at the offer to refinance with your current lender, you should shop around. There may be better deals out there.
Pros And Cons Of Refinancing A Mortgage With Your Current Lender
They have all of your personal information on hand, which may help the approval process go marginally faster.
You may be able to use your continued patronage as a bargaining chip for lowering closing costs and other fees.
If you like your current financial institution, there’s nothing wrong with staying with them out of brand loyalty — as long as it’s not costing you money.
You will still have to provide documentation such as bank statements and W-2s, and your lender will still have to pull your credit report.
They may not have the best rates on the market. You’ll need to shop around to find out.
They may have more or higher fees than their competitors.
If you’re a customer service nightmare, your current institution may offer you higher rates
How to shop for a refi loan
That advertised rate you saw may not be the best option on the market. Even if it is, there’s no guarantee you’ll qualify for it.
Step 1: Compare rates from multiple lenders
Before you fall in love with the benefits of refinancing with your current lender, check to see what you can find elsewhere. A great way to do this is to use a site like LendingTree, which is MagnifyMoney’s parent company and one of the biggest online marketplaces for loans.
Without performing a hard credit pull (which saves you from dinging your score), LendingTree will ask you some basic underwriting questions via an online form. They can then match you with potential lenders who participate in its marketplace. The lenders will contact you via email or phone with quotes, which you can compare.
Of course, you can always work directly with lenders in your area as well.
Armed with this information, you can go back to your current lender to see if they can meet or beat the lowest rate you’ve been offered.
Step 2: Get all quotes the same day
“It is important to get all the quotes at the same time on the same day,” says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage,” “because at that moment, everyone is looking at the same data, and their wholesale cost for that loan is identical.”
That’s because of the way mortgage lenders set their rates. When you take out a mortgage, your financial institution actually owns it for a very short period of time. But not for long. Eventually, they will bundle your loan together with a bunch of other loans and sell it to investors, and they continue to service your loan for a small fee.
They offer standard, wholesale interest rates to investors daily. Your financial institution needs to charge you more than that wholesale interest rate if they want to make a profit on the sale. You should apply to all financial institutions on the same day to ensure they’re all basing your quotes off of the same wholesale rate.
Step 3: Go to your lender to negotiate
When you find the best offer, use it as leverage with another lender. If they’re eager for your business, they may be willing to outdo their competitor. Remember that you’re not just negotiating interest rates but also origination fees, closing costs and appraisal report costs.
After you are offered a quote you are happy with, the lender locks it for a specified period of time before it is rescinded. Better rates merit shorter lock periods, the shortest being 15 days.
What if I find a better deal and they won’t match it?
If your current lender won’t match the outside quote, it likely makes sense to go with the outside lender. You’ll have a limited window in which to lock in your new refi rate, called a rate lock period. Be sure you know how long your rate lock period lasts so you can decide before you lose your rate.
A great rate isn’t all you should look at when comparing the costs of remaining with your lender versus choosing a new lender. Ask about origination fees, balloon payments and prepayment penalties — all of which could potentially make it more expensive to refinance.
After you have applied for the loan, you will be issued a Loan Estimate form, which outlines the proposed terms. At this point, a home appraisal will be performed to determine the value of your home.
Once final approval is issued, you will receive a Closing Disclosure form, which will tell you exactly how much you will need for closing costs. At this point you are still able to walk away from the table. After three days have passed, you’re finally allowed to sign the documentation agreeing to the loan.
How do I know it’s time to refinance my mortgage?
Whether you decide to refinance with your current lender or not, before taking the plunge you want to figure out if doing so will actually save you money.
Fleming says, to make a fair judgment, you need to look at interest and other costs over the same holding period.
“Very few people hold their mortgage until it’s paid off,” he explains. “Comparing the two for a period longer than [a few years] makes no sense, since your savings on the proposed loan will stop once you sell the house or refinance.”
For example, let’s say you currently have a mortgage with a balance of $284,020 with a 5% interest rate. You are considering refinancing to a 4% interest rate. In order to refinance you’d have to pay $4,100 in fees, including closing costs and origination fees.
Let’s look at how each of these options would pan out over an 84-month holding period:
Your current mortgage
Fees and closing costs: N/A
Fees and closing costs: $4,100
Total interest charges over 7 years: $92,385
Total interest charges over 7 years: $77,207
Total savings: $15,178
The refinance will, indeed, save you money even with the closing costs and fees. It’s time to refinance.
How to negotiate a refinance with your current lender
Like we mentioned before, when financial institutions issue a mortgage or refinance, they don’t typically keep it. They usually sell it off, and then continue servicing your loan for a kickback from the buyer. And they know that in order to keep getting paid that servicing fee, they’ll have to keep servicing your loan. That gives you a bit of leverage.
If you have other offers on the table, your current lender may be willing to meet or beat them.
“Call [your lender], and one of your options will be to speak with a loan officer, or mortgage adviser, or mortgage planner,” says Fleming. He notes that all of these titles are indicative of the same job description. “Tell them that you believe you can get a better rate, and that you have begun shopping and wanted to give them a shot at keeping you as a customer.”
This will only work if you can actually get a better rate elsewhere. While you can refinance with your current lender, the lender will be able to tell if you’re bluffing as they’ll have to pull your credit report and look at recent bank statements and W-2s.
“If [you] love the service of [your] existing lender, by all means ask them for a quote,” says Fleming, “but the market is very competitive today so shopping will almost certainly save you money.”