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Life Events, Mortgage

Open Credit Report Disputes Can Sabotage Your Chance For a Mortgage

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Purchase agreement for house

After months of searching through listings, you’ve finally found your dream home. Your offer has been accepted and you’ve started daydreaming about future dinner parties, contemporary light fixtures, and planting a backyard herb garden. Just one problem — the financing hasn’t been approved.

The mortgage underwriting process can seemingly last a lifetime when it’s standing between you and your dream home. However, the timeline hasn’t always been such a nail-biter for prospective homebuyers.

The housing bubble leading up to The Great Recession created a hunger from investors for mortgage-backed securities. As a result, borrowing costs were lowered, lending standards were loosened, and many homebuyers were approved for loans they couldn’t afford. When the housing market collapsed, many Americans were in trouble. These predatory lending practices contributed to both the financial crisis and The Great Recession.

A direct response to The Great Recession, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act or “Dodd-Frank” was signed into law in 2010. This financial reform legislation included the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who established the Ability to Repay and Qualified Mortgage Standards Under the Truth in Lending Act.

These new standards include a much more comprehensive financial verification process for mortgages including a closer look at an applicant’s credit history.

Why Do Credit Scores Matter?

Before you begin the home buying process, it’s smart to review your credit report and have a copy of your FICO score handy. Your FICO score is assigned by the credit reporting agencies based on the information within your credit report. A FICO score also factors into your Ability to Repay qualifications.

Tip: You can request a free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Credit scores aren’t the only thing mortgage loan officers worry about, but a FICO score can heavily influence the interest rate you are able to secure. The highest scores qualify consumers for the best possible mortgage rates.

It’s critical to arm yourself with this information in advance. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies you’ve discovered and clean up your report.

What is a Credit Report Dispute?

Credit report inaccuracies are relatively common. Inaccurate information can happen for a variety of reasons — a clerical error, a shared name, or even identity theft. And inaccurate information in your credit report can harm your score. That’s why it’s important to regularly keep track of what’s happening.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers have the right to dispute inaccurate information. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to file a dispute with all three credit reporting agencies online.

The problem is, many disputes can go unresolved for long periods of time. An unresolved dispute can be particularly troublesome for consumers applying for a mortgage. Many applicants don’t realize an open credit report dispute can raise a red flag to lenders, and may even prevent mortgage approval.

[Learn more about Fannie Mae’s Frequently Asked Underwriting Questions here.]

How Open Credit Report Disputes Hurt a Mortgage Application

If open credit report disputes are relatively common, how can they hurt a mortgage application?

When a dispute is filed, credit reporting agencies are required to label the item as “in dispute.” An item being actively disputed can not harm your FICO score. In fact, your score will be temporarily inflated while harmful items are being investigated.

Lenders know credit reports with disputed items are not the most accurate picture of a consumer’s history and many require for this status to be removed before approving a mortgage application. This leaves some consumers with a difficult decision to make — accept costly credit report errors or delay applying for a loan until disputes have been resolved.

Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac

Fannie Mae’s automated underwriting system, Desktop Underwriter (DU), automatically issues the warning message “consumer disputed” when a credit report reveals a 30-day or more delinquency reported within 2 years of the inquiry. The lender must confirm the accuracy and completeness of the borrower’s credit report by obtaining a new report without the dispute or manually underwrite the loan.

Loan Prospector, Freddie Mac’s automated underwriting system, follows a similar process. Gaining access to a new credit report with updated information is not an option for the borrower if the creditor won’t correct the information. And when a consumer files a complaint with the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian), the agencies will often defer to the creditor.

Last fall, the National Consumer Law Center wrote a letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, urging reform for the treatment of consumers with credit report disputes. They believe lenders who reject applicants because they don’t want to manually underwrite the loan are in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

FHA Approved Mortgages

FHA approved mortgages will approve an application with a disputed credit report, however, the process may still be time consuming.

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decided to look more closely at open disputes and provided new instructions for lenders in a Mortgagee Letter (ML). This ML addresses both derogatory and non-derogatory disputes and requires lenders to more carefully evaluate the risk associated with a consumer.

What To Do if You’re Still Struggling

Dealing with an unresolved credit report dispute can turn into a consumer nightmare. Even if you’ve followed best practices, like submitting credit report disputes both in writing and online, you may still be unhappy with the results.

Fortunately, you can still submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will forward your complaint directly to the company in dispute and work to get a response from them. Another option is to seek guidance from a consumer advocate or an attorney. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling may be a helpful place to start.

Because a credit report and FICO score have such a strong influence on lifelong financial health, the best defense is to be proactive. Regularly monitoring your credit report and working to fix inaccuracies before applying for a mortgage is the best way to prevent major problems.

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

Kate Dore is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at kate@magnifymoney.com

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Condo, House or Townhouse: Which Is Best for You?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The decision to buy a home can be complicated whether you are a first-time homebuyer or are looking for a second home, especially if you are shopping for property in an urban area. What kind of residence can you afford? Should you buy a house in a suburb or a historic downtown? What about a condo within walking distance of a train station? Or a townhouse in a new urban infill community?

Choosing between a townhouse, condominium or house involves questions of location, maintenance, lifestyle and price. These housing styles also have a lot of overlap, so choosing one over the others may involve less sacrifice than you might expect.

What is a condominium?

A condominium, called a “condo” for short, is actually a kind of ownership, while the terms “townhouse” and “house” (a standalone structure most people would think of as a traditional single-family home) refer to physical structure styles.

As such, condos can come in a variety of shapes in sizes, though they are often similar in size and appearance to an apartment. At the same time, some condos can be quite expansive. Condos typically are private residences that are part of a building or multiple-unit communities, although some detached condominiums are available. They are privately owned and occupied by an individual or a family.

Condos comes in many configurations beyond apartment-style buildings, said Mark Swets, executive director of the Association of Condominium, Townhouse, and Homeowners Associations. “Condos have less restrictions,” he said. “They can be converted from old office buildings or loft space.”

Regardless of their location or size, condo owners all share in the ownership of common areas and facilities that are maintained by a board that is comprised of members elected from the condo community. The board collects dues from the community’s condo owners and uses the money to maintain and operate common areas and amenities such a community pool, gym, and landscaping.

Condos often are found in urban areas where land for construction is scarce.

What is a townhouse?

A townhouse typically is a vertical, single-family structure that has at least two floors and shares at least one ground-to-roof wall with a residence next door.

Townhouses, which are individually owned, can be lined up on a row or arranged in a different configuration. Owners buy both the structure, including its interior and exterior, and the piece of land that the townhome is built on, which may include a small yard.

“A townhome is not a kind of ownership, but refers more to the physical structure,” Swets said, referring to the vertical design. “From an ownership perspective, some townhomes are classified as condos while others aren’t. It all depends upon what’s listed in the declaration and bylaws for each association.”

Should I buy a house, townhouse or condo?

Here are some factors to consider when deciding what kind of residence to buy:

Maintenance

Are you good at home repairs, or do you prefer to have a handyman on speed dial? While a single-family house gives you freedom to fix up or renovate as you please, you also are responsible for all repairs and maintenance. The monthly fee you pay to a board or association if you own a condo may take care of maintenance such as mowing, exterior repairs and snow shoveling. Townhouse homeowners association fees may care of maintenance of the community’s common areas, such as a shared backyard or playground, but it’s not guaranteed.

“If I were to look at a condo, it would be because I didn’t want to worry about the maintenance outside,” said Lori Doerfler, the 2018 president of the Arizona Association of Realtors. “If I wanted to have a piece of land but not a lot of yard, a townhome would be a good choice.”

Location and lifestyle

Condos, townhomes and standalone houses can offer a wide range of lifestyles and locations. Homebuyers should think through whether they’re interested in an urban, walkable lifestyle, a suburban neighborhood, or something in between. Where you live also will determine your commute to work and proximity to family and friends.

Restrictions on ownership

While condos can offer convenience and amenities, they also come with monthly dues, occasional assessment fees for special community projects and property rules, which can be strict. Single-family homes, especially those in neighborhoods without a homeowners association, have few or no restrictions.

Buyers should always check the community’s bylaws to understand the rules.

“I always want to get the covenants, conditions and restrictions to the buyer,” Doerfler said. “They describe the requirements and limitations of what you can do with your home as well as the grounds.”

Monthly fees

Any type of dwelling may come with a monthly fee to help pay for upkeep of the community’s amenities. Owners of a standalone single-family house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association will pay monthly or annual HOA fees, and condo and townhouse owners will pay fees every month to the community board or association.

When factoring your monthly mortgage payment, be sure to add in the HOA or condo association fees to determine how much you’ll pay to live in the dwelling. Fees could significantly increase your cost, putting a seemingly affordable dwelling out of reach.

Lending and price

Where you live will determine the price that you’ll pay for your home. Homes in desirable areas, such as downtowns and good school districts, can cost significantly more that homes with a long commute to a city.

Interest rates also vary by state and by lender, so it’s important to research loan terms from several lenders before making a decision.

Condo vs. townhouse

Benefits: Again, condos and townhouses aren’t mutually exclusive, but their potentially different physical attributes and homeownership structures make them worth comparing in some ways. Both offer less maintenance than a house, the opportunity to get to know neighbors and build a strong community, and walkable amenities such as a pool or community gathering space. Condos may offer a variety of amenities, and with new developments providing over-the-top extras such as rooftop bars, doormen and catering kitchens.

Risks: Condo and HOA fees can be expensive, and you are trusting the HOA or condo association to provide satisfactory upkeep to the property. Condo fees tend to be higher than townhouse HOA fees because condo associations typically provide more maintenance and amenities, and condo associations can enact special assessments to pay for one-time facilities expenses.

House vs. condo

Benefits: While condos offer a range of amenities and maintenance for exterior property, owning a single-family home provides owners with freedom from the rules and restrictions of condominium ownership. Buyers looking for privacy, a rural or suburban lifestyle or a larger property also will have more options with a single-family house.

Risks: Owning a single-family home means that the homeowner must pay for damage and upkeep to the interior and exterior property that isn’t covered by insurance. Condo associations are liable for exterior property and, if stated in the bylaws, “common elements” such as the roof and windows.

Townhouse vs. house

Benefits: Single-family house and townhouse owners both own their entire units, giving them freedom to renovate and change them as they see fit within any guidelines for exterior changes set by HOAs.

Risks: Single-family homeowners assume responsibility for the entirety of their property, which townhome owners may not be liable for repairs, upkeep, or incidents that occur outside of their unit and the land it sits on, depending on their homeowner’s association.

Which is best for you?

Your decision in buying a home vs. a condo vs. a townhouse should depend on what you can afford, how much maintenance you want to do, where you want to live and the type of community you want to live in. Young families, for example, may want a yard and a house near a good school, while a single professional may be more interested in a downtown condo that is within walking distance to nightlife and the office.

As you consider what kind of dwelling to buy, be sure to include the costs of condo or HOA fees into your budget to be sure that your new home fits your lifestyle and your budget.

Marty Minchin
Marty Minchin |

Marty Minchin is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marty here

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How Much Does It Cost to Build a House?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Factors that dictate cost

While the average costs to build a house can give you a general idea of how much you’ll pay for a new build, it’s important to note that the costs of building any home can vary dramatically. Where you live, for example, can play a huge role in not only the costs of land but the price of the permits and fees you’ll need to cover.

Of course, there are other factors that will dictate how much you pay, from the type of home you select to what you choose to do inside. Other factors that can dictate the costs of your home include:

  • Your lot: The NAHB reports that the average price for a lot of land worked out to $4.20 per square foot in 2015 (the most recent data available), bringing the total for an average size lot (20,129 square feet) to $84,541.80. However, this cost can vary depending on the lot you buy, the size of the lot and the local real estate market where you buy.
  • Home size: The larger the home, the more construction costs you’ll encounter, says Frank Nieuwkoop, sales and marketing director of new-home builder Valecraft Homes Ltd. Larger homes also require more materials (more flooring, more lighting, more fixtures, etc.), he says, which can lead to higher costs in a hurry.
  • Upgrades: If you opt for fancy upgrades, you’ll pay more for a new home, says Nieuwkoop. Granite or marble, upgraded fixtures, and custom woodwork can make any home considerably more expensive. This is one area where you can also save on the costs of building, however. Where laminate countertops may cost just $10 per square foot installed, you’ll pay more like $60 to $120 per square foot for concrete or recycled glass, according to Consumer Reports. If you multiply those savings across all the rooms that need counters in your home (kitchen and baths), it’s easy to see how you could pay more or less depending on what you choose.
  • Home design: The design of the home can also play a factor in cost, says Nieuwkoop. If you build a home that is standard in design, you may pay less than if you build a custom home with unique design or special features. If you design a truly custom home, you may also need to hire an architect to draft a design. Hiring an architect can add another 15 or even 20 percent of costs to your total project.
  • Siding: What you choose to cover the exterior of your home can play a big role in your total price. If you choose a custom stone exterior, you may pay more than you would if you choose vinyl siding instead.
  • Landscaping: Will you opt for an elaborate outdoor landscaping scheme or some simple greenery? Your landscaping choices will play a role in the costs of your home as well as ongoing outdoor maintenance. You’ll also pay more for a fenced yard.

Building vs. buying

Building a home comes with pros and cons that are entirely different from the factors that lead people to purchase an existing home. Before you choose to build or shop among homes already in your area, make sure to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both scenarios.

Pros of building your own home

  • Less competition: According to the National Association of Realtors, existing homes stayed on the market for an average of 34 days nationwide before being sold in October 2017. In “hot areas” of the country such as San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, and San Jose, however, houses — especially those in an affordable price range — tend to go under contract in less than a week, it notes. By selecting your own lot and building a home, you can avoid stiff competition for existing properties and still get the home you want.
  • Everything is new: “Many people love the idea that everything in their house will be brand new when they build,” says Nieuwkoop. Having new fixtures, a new roof, new appliances and a new HVAC system may also mean you’ll have fewer repair bills during the first few years of homeownership.
  • Choose the location of your home: Building a new home on a lot you choose puts you in the unique position of selecting exactly where you’ll live. This can be advantageous if you hope to live near work or near public transportation, or if you want a lot with a certain type of view. “Do you want to back up to a lake or woods?” asks Nieuwkoop. “When you build, you get to decide.”
  • Select your own floor plan and finishes: Whether you build a custom home or select a floor plan through a builder, you get to choose how your new home is set up — including your floor plan. You may even be able to select your own finishes including your paint color, countertops, flooring and cabinets.

Cons of building your own house

  • Moving delays: Building a home often means longer delays when it comes to moving, says Nieuwkoop. “Building a home can take as little as two months all the way up to a year,” he says. If you want to move quickly, this can be a deal-breaker.
  • Building surprises: Especially if you design a custom home, you may not know exactly how the floor plan flows until your home is already built, notes the expert. “With a custom home especially, you may end up with something different than you envisioned.” Fortunately, this isn’t typically a problem with larger builders and developers since they often have model homes you can walk through, he says.
  • Pricing surprises: With custom homes especially, pricing can easily surge — especially if you make changes as the plan moves along, says Nieuwkoop. Plus, there are added costs that come with building that many people forget. Adding window blinds and treatments can add up, as can new décor, shelving and other interior fixtures that don’t come in the home price. Builders rarely put a fence in the yard, so that’s another expense to consider if you want one.
  • Less negotiation power: You may be able to negotiate the price on an existing home if a buyer is motivated to sell, but there may be less wiggle room on the price of a new home.
  • Construction traffic: If you’re building in a new neighborhood, you may deal with ongoing construction traffic for months or even years.

Pros of buying an existing home

  • Save money with existing features: Existing homes tend to have a lot of additions and upgrades made already, says Nieuwkoop. You may already have mini blinds, a privacy fence and appliances, for example, which can help you save money.
  • Move in quicker: “Although it can take a few months to close on an existing home and be able to move in, the timeline until move day is still faster with an existing home,” says Nieuwkoop. If you need to move quickly, you can typically do so faster if you buy instead of build.
  • Property maturity: Existing homes tend to have more mature trees and landscaping, which could be advantageous if you don’t like the idea of growing new grass on your own.
  • No construction zone: If you’re buying a home in a mature neighborhood, you may not have to deal with ongoing construction issues like you would with a new build in a new neighborhood.

Cons of buying an existing home

  • Lack of customization: You don’t get to pick out the floor plan or fixtures when you buy an existing home. You get exactly what is there already, which may or may not be what you want.
  • Costs to upgrade: If you buy an existing home that is out-of-date, you may need to spend considerable sums of money to make important updates or replace out-of-date fixtures.
  • Hidden problems: Existing homes may have problems you don’t see, says Nieuwkoop, adding that home inspectors don’t always find every issue. “If there was a water leak in the home and the seller replaced the drywall without actually fixing the issue, you may not find out you need costly repairs until after you move in.”

Who it’s best for

According to Nieuwkoop, building is best for individuals and couples who are very detailed and know exactly what they want. Building is also ideal for people who don’t care as much about cost as long as they get a brand-new home and the ability to pick and choose every finish and feature.

“Building is also best for buyers who are patient and willing to endure some bumps along the road,” says the builder. “If you’re high stress and don’t want to deal with any issues, you may be better off buying a newer existing home.”

5 steps to building a house

While the process of building a house can vary slightly depending on whether you design your own custom home or work with a developer, the main steps to completing the process are the same. Fortunately, Nieuwkoop helped us outline the five steps to building a house from beginning to end.

Step 1: Create a budget.

Before you decide to build or buy a home, it’s crucial to know how much you can afford to spend. The best way to come up with a housing budget is to see a mortgage broker or apply for a mortgage online, to see how much you can afford to borrow. You should also get pre-approved for a mortgage, says Nieuwkoop. That way, you’ll be ready to work with a builder when you decide what you want. You can compare mortgage offers online with LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

Step 2: Purchase land or select a lot.

Once you know what you can afford (house and land included), it’s time to find a lot in an existing community or buy land you plan to build on. Keep in mind that the price of the land you buy will need to be included in your mortgage amount unless you plan to buy the land in cash separately. If you’re choosing a piece of land that hasn’t been developed, you should also ask your builder about the costs of adding utilities to the property, cutting down trees, or leveling the land.

If you’re buying from a developer or builder who is overseeing the construction of a new neighborhood, it’s possible the price of your chosen lot will be built into the price of the floor plan and home you select, says Nieuwkoop. Either way, now is the time to talk through land costs with a builder and decide where you want your new home to be.

Step 3: Develop floor plans and designs.

If you’re working with a builder, chances are good they’ll offer a range of floor plans and new home designs you can choose from. If you’re building a custom home, on the other hand, you’ll likely need to hire an architect to create a realistic housing design that encompasses all the features you want.

Either way, you need to nail down your ideal floor plan and design at this stage. Decide how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want, along with the general layout of your home. From there, you can select or design a housing plan that fits your budget and style.

Step 4: Select finishes, features, and appliances.

Once you’ve chosen the layout of your home, you still need to choose what goes inside. Work with your builder to decide on the interior finishes in your home, from the cabinets in your kitchen to your light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, flooring, and paint colors.

Step 5: Watch your home being built.

Once your home is commissioned and ready to be built, you can watch as the process takes place over the weeks and months. Nieuwkoop says that, ideally, your builder will let you walk through the home during various stages of the process. By walking through, you may be able to discover and point out issues that need to be fixed, such as incorrect fixtures or design problems.

How to finance the build

According to mortgage advisor Jeremy Schachter of Pinnacle Capital Mortgage, the process for financing a new build is similar to the process of buying an existing home.

When you build a home, it’s crucial to get pre-qualified with a bank or lender. During this process, the lender will take a look at your credit score, income, assets and debts, then use those factors to determine how much you can borrow.

The biggest difference with a new build, says Schachter, is that you’ll likely need to get pre-approved for a mortgage once and then start a portion of the process over again. “You’ll need to submit financial statements, a credit report, and pay stubs to get approved to build a house, but you’ll likely need to resubmit all this information again if the process takes several months,” he says. Schachter was clear that the final home closing doesn’t take place until the house is completed, and that this is when you’ll start making mortgage payments.

Fortunately, Schachter says, many lenders will let you lock in the interest rate on your home loan for up to a year when you’re building a home. But you should always check and ask about your APR to make sure you’re not stuck with a higher interest rate if your new build takes several months and rates surge during that time, he says.

What type of home loans can you use?

Schachter notes that consumers can use any type of home loan to build a property that they could use to buy a traditional home. For example:

  • VA loans: To qualify for a VA loan, you must have satisfactory credit, sufficient income, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) based on your level of service. You must also plan to live in the home full-time.
  • FHA loans: You can apply for an FHA construction loan to finance a new build. To qualify for an FHA loan, you’ll need at least 3.5 percent as a down payment, a credit score of 580 or higher, and proof of income. You may qualify for an FHA loan with a credit score lower than 580, but you’ll need to make a larger down payment. Lenders will also look at your debt-to-income ratio — a figure determined by taking all your debt payments and dividing them by your gross monthly income. If you have $3,000 in bills each month and your gross monthly income is $5,000, your debt-to-income ratio is 60 percent. Generally speaking, lenders want you to keep your debt-to-income ratio under 43 percent, including all housing payments.
  • Conventional home loan: Requirements for a conventional mortgage can vary, although you typically need a good credit score (FICO score of about 740 or higher) to qualify for a loan with the best APR. Lenders also look at your employment history, income and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Construction loans: Schachter notes that individuals building a custom home may need to get a special “construction loan from a lender or bank.” These loans cover the initial costs of building a house, including the lot, building materials and architect fees. Schachter notes that construction loans are typically short-term loans with variable interest rates that are good for less than a year. Ultimately, construction loans are converted to permanent home loans once the construction process is complete.
Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson |

Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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What it’s Really Like to Get a Mortgage Completely Online

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

getting a mortgage online

Drew and April Olanoff had great jobs in Silicon Valley, but even they were discouraged by the house hunting process in the San Francisco Bay Area: all-cash offers, bidding wars, two-bedroom condos listed for $1.5 million. They quickly decided to move their search to Drew’s hometown of Philadelphia — and they conducted the whole process online, from settling on a home to nailing down a mortgage.

The Olanoffs are just two of a growing number of homeowners who obtain a mortgage completely online, uploading documents and e-signing forms with no in-person meetings required. Online direct lenders — that means companies like SoFi, Better Mortgage and Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans — typically eschew costs like origination and applications fees. And they focus on speedier processes, which can lead to quicker closing times compared with more traditional mortgages. (Disclosure: MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers homebuyers an online tool they can use to compare quotes from mortgage lenders.)

These upstart players are pushing the mortgage industry to innovate and become more transparent, experts say. But, they add, a fully online experience isn’t for everyone — and online lenders may not necessarily offer a homeowner a better rate than a traditional lender would.

“I can’t even imagine going into an office, dropping off paperwork, seeing people, and not getting the house at the end of the day,”

In the Olanoffs’ case, they even selected their home unconventionally, at a distance. From the West Coast, they directed a ReMax real estate agent to visit about 10 homes, shoot video and upload the footage to YouTube. They chose their 1916-built South Philadelphia home based on these videos.

Then their agent directed them to GuaranteedRate, one of the largest mortgage lenders in the U.S., which offered them a fully online experience, with the ability to upload and digitally sign documents. The Olanoffs were approved for an Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan for about $260,000 in July 2016, and closed on the home that September.

“It was way less stressful doing it online,” says Drew, 38, vice president of communications at venture equity firm Scaleworks.

“I can’t even imagine going into an office, dropping off paperwork, seeing people, and not getting the house at the end of the day,” he adds. “The process leading up to and bidding on a home is so stressful, it’s almost like we were automatically removed from the intensity of it by doing it online. And we knew if we got outbid, all of our paperwork would still be there ready to go, which is genius.”

That ease and transparency is attractive not only to smartphone-loving millennials, but to homebuyers of all ages who are tired of complex and confusing mortgage-application processes, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of the independent consumer-loan site HSH.com.

“The push to online has been underway for years, and it’s finally coming to the forefront with consumers’ widespread adoption of technology,” Gumbinger says.
“The market has now grown into it, too. You don’t think about it as a homebuyer, but there are lots of backend processes and entities involved in a mortgage. The industry has worked to come up with standards and it’s finally gotten there.”

Here’s a look at three of the major online mortgage players, all of which are direct lenders and can complete 100 percent of the process online.

SoFi

SoFi’s mission and advantages: “SoFi’s target market is high-earner, not-rich-yet,” says Helen Huang, its senior director of product marketing. That reflects SoFi’s unique applicant-assessment philosophy: The company looks beyond the traditional factors like credit report and savings, taking into account the borrower’s earning potential.

SoFi gives a lot of weight to job history and career prospects. So a high-demand software engineer who has restricted stock units at Facebook and her choice of Silicon Valley jobs might be more attractive to SoFi, compared with the person with good money saved for a down payment. (It’s no surprise, then, that Huang says a “significant” portion of SoFi customers work in the technology industry.)

SoFi has another edge over traditional lenders: The company requires only a 10 percent down payment with no private mortgage insurance requirement. Most lenders require 20 percent down to skip over PMI. SoFi issues mortgages up to $3 million, and the company has originated $2.2 billion in mortgages since 2014.

SoFi is short for Social Finance — the company offers lots of other services, like student loan refinancing and wealth management — and it lives up to its name with its SoFi Members Facebook page. The group is extremely active, with SoFi customers frequently posting to solicit advice and tips from fellow borrowers or SoFi’s customer service team.

Potential cons: SoFi won’t originate loans below $100,000, so it’s not a good choice for customers in areas where real estate is relatively inexpensive. Borrowers must put down a minimum of 10 percent for new loans. And it takes 72 hours to receive a decision from SoFi, which — while quick — isn’t as speedy as some competitors.

SoFi mortgages also aren’t available nationwide. The company only originates mortgages in 29 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

SoFi’s mortgage application, step by step

getting a sofi mortgage
Screenshot of SoFi mortgage application.

Get started: First, you’ll set up a SoFi account by entering your name, state of residence, email and a password. Next comes the “Basic Info” screen: your mailing address, phone number, date of birth, citizenship and current living situation.

Next is School Info, where you’ll fill out information about post-high-school degrees. (SoFi notes on the screen that a “college degree is not required to qualify for a mortgage. While education is not used in mortgage underwriting, this info helps SoFi better understand our members.”) Then it’s time to add Employment Info: your employer name, job title, start date and annual income. For now, you’ll do this just for your current employer, and at the bottom of the page, select your total years of professional work experience.

Mortgage eligibility: Here you’ll complete several questions about what you’re looking for: Do you need a mortgage for a new property, a refinance, a student loan cash-out refinance or a cash-out refinance? You’ll also enter information about where you are in the buying process, and information about your desired area or specific property. You can also add information on this screen about your marital status and whether you have a co-applicant. Check the box to grant SoFi the right to do a soft credit pull to preapprove you for a mortgage. Remember: A soft pull won’t harm your credit score.

Get your rate: Hopefully, the next screen will announce: “Congratulations! You’ve pre-qualified for a SoFi mortgage.” If so, you can calculate your loan amount by entering the home’s price and your down payment. Then you can choose loan terms: 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed, or adjustable rate. To move forward, click “continue with pre-approval.”

Next you’ll fill out employment information for any previous jobs you may have held in the past two years, and if you currently hold two or more jobs you’ll add that information too. Then itemize any non job-related income, like Social Security or rental properties, and finally add any assets you want SoFi to consider in your application (checking, savings, brokerage or retirement accounts; second homes; etc.) and click “continue.”

Get approved: Finish up by answering a series of yes-or-no “declarations,” like whether or not you’re involved in a lawsuit. Finally, add your Social Security number and consent to SoFi’s credit disclosure. The final screen will confirm that SoFi is reviewing your application, and it will ask you to upload income validation documents (two most recent years’ W-2s or the last two years’ year-end paystubs), as well as your two most recent paystubs. You’re done; SoFi says applicants can expect to receive their application decision within 72 hours.

Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans

Rocket’s mission and advantages: As the online lender arm of Quicken Loans, Rocket is like a startup backed by a long-established, well-known parent. The company is named for its speed (its 2016 Super Bowl ad used the now-defunct, controversial tagline “Push button, get mortgage”).

One of the reasons for that speed is a unique, refreshing lack of paperwork. Rocket pulls from private and public sources to automatically fill in information like employment history and income, as well as financial statements (from the “vast majority” of institutions) — drastically cutting down on the need for uploaded documents or line-by-line typing of information. It’s somewhat similar to how budgeting apps like Mint pull your financial data from several institutions at once.

“Whether it’s car rides or takeout, these days we expect everything to happen immediately with the push of a button,” says Regis Hadiaris, Rocket’s product lead. “The mortgage industry has to catch up to that.”

On average, 60 percent of people using Rocket are doing so on a mobile device, Hadiaris says. Rocket originated $7 billion in loans in its first year, and the company now has nearly two million user accounts. Unlike many of its competitors, Rocket originates loans in all 50 states.

Potential cons: While mortgage consultants are available to help, including via phone or online chat, Rocket is clearly designed more for customers who want a fully digitized experience.

Rocket’s application process isn’t quite as streamlined as some of its competitors. Once you move past the preapproval process, you’ll be directed to Quicken Loans’ MyQL site to complete any needed tasks to purchase the loan, and to download your approval letter. On the plus side, Rocket says that starting in mid to late December 2017, users will be able to complete all possible digital steps within the same application.

Rocket Mortgage application, step by step

getting mortgage with rocket mortgage by quicken
Screenshot of Rocket Mortgage application.

Start by creating an account with your name, username and password. Then you’ll answer questions about your current situation: where you live now, when you started living there, and how much you pay in rent or mortgage. Next, provide information about the home you want to buy, or your desired location. Add information for anyone else who will be a co-signer on the loan, if applicable.

The next section is where Rocket’s automatic filling of information comes in. The system asks for assets and income, which you can choose to type in manually – or you can click “Find My Account” to add the data automatically. Quicken/Rocket connects with the majority of financial institutions, but double check to make sure everything is complete and accurate.

Below that, it’s a similar process for employment data and income: Either add it manually, or let Rocket fill it automatically. The company’s primary source for this employment information is third-party verifier The Work Number, and Hadiaris says it covers just over half of Americans – so again, this is one you’ll want to double check.

Finish up by answering government questions like whether you’re a U.S. citizen, and authorize a soft credit check by entering your birth date, Social Security number and phone number. A countdown clock pops up (“T-Minus 00:06 Seconds”) and then you’ll be sent to a screen with your mortgage options.

Mess around with loan terms and down payment percentages to get different choices, and Rocket will categorize them by lowers monthly payment, lowest upfront costs and balanced costs and payments. You’ll be directed to MyQL.com to complete any needed tasks to purchase the loan, and to download your approval letter.

Better Mortgage

Better’s mission and advantages: Better’s tagline is “The status quo is broken.” The mortgage industry operates as if the Internet doesn’t exist, the company argues, with opaque and overly lengthy practices. So Better’s goal is to provide transparency during every step of the loan process — from crystal-clear FAQs and online resources to a streamlined application and speedy approval.

“We don’t want to just disintermediate for the sake of it,” says Taylor Salditch, Better’s vice president of marketing. “We really are trying to tackle the whole process and rebuild it in a holistic way.”

Better offers a single application platform that borrowers can access anytime to e-sign documents, link bank accounts and securely upload files from any device.

Borrowers can work on the application for a bit, then save their progress and come back later to finish up. It takes three minutes to receive a basic preapproval confirmation, and 24 hours for a “cash-competitive” verified preapproval letter. The entire process is personalized to each user, with different questions popping up based on responses. The company has funded nearly $1 billion in mortgages.

Customers can chat with a loan consultant as early in the process as they would like, to ask questions or get more information even before they begin. Once borrowers are approved for a loan, they are assigned to a “Loan Ranger” who serves as their point of contact.

Better offers home purchase loans for as little as 3% down, as well as a variety of loan types. Borrowers can play around with different fees and discount points to see how it affects their rate. Better also guarantees its loan estimate will be at least $1,000 less in closing costs compared with a competitor offering the same rate and loan terms — or they’ll pay you $1,000.

Potential cons: Better originates mortgages in only Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, plus Washington, D.C. The company says it’s working to expand into more states soon. Better won’t offer loans for manufactured mobile homes, cooperatives or multifamily units.

Also, Better doesn’t service mortgages. As a direct lender the company processes the application and underwrites, closes and funds your loan. Once the loan is funded, however, Better’s servicing partner LoanCare services the loan for a temporary period of about 30 days. Then it’s transferred to a “reputable, quality investor that provides the right type of loan and servicing for your situation.”

Better’s application, step by step

getting a mortgage with better mortgage
Screenshot of the Better Mortgage application.

Better’s super-simple preapproval questionnaire is designed to help even customers who might be interested in buying a home sometime soon but don’t know where to start. First, Better asks if you already have an accepted purchase offer. If you do, you’ll enter the address and then Better will prompt you to create an account.

If you don’t have an accepted offer, then you’ll share the zip code where you’re looking and when you plan to make an offer (there’s an option to say “not sure”). Next, select which type of home you’re interested in — primary residence, second home or investment — and the property type (single family or condo/townhouse). At this point Better will ask you to create an account.

Then you’ll give Better permission to do a soft credit check that won’t affect your score, providing your name, current address, phone number and Social Security number. After a moment, Better will present your credit score from TransUnion and ask for a few more details: how you earn money, whether anyone else will be on the home’s title, if you’re working with a real estate agent, whether you currently pay rent or own properties, other assets available and the estimated purchase price of your home plus your maximum down payment percentage.

You’ll find out in a few moments whether you’re preapproved. If you are, you can look at rate options — terms include 30-, 20- and 15-year fixed, as well as a variety of adjustable rates — and select the one you like. Better says that basic preapproval takes about three minutes, and you can receive a verified preapproval letter within 24 hours.

Better wasn’t able to provide a demo after this point, because the rest of the process to loan purchase is a “personalized Q&A” that changes depending on the answers you provide. But Better says you can expect to need two years’ worth of the following documents: personal tax returns, business tax returns (if you own more than a quarter of the business) and W-2s or 1099s; plus two months of bank statements and proof of any alimony or child support payments.

Should you get an online mortgage?

A fully online mortgage process is great for buyers like the Olanoffs, and people who don’t want the hassle of meetings and phone calls. But other homebuyers might be unsettled by a “low-touch experience,” says Gumbinger, the HSH.com vice president.

A recent survey of about 2,000 U.S. adults conducted on behalf of the American Bankers Association showed that 60 percent use the Internet to research their home loans but would rather apply for a mortgage in person.

It’s important to ask yourself which of those groups you fall into. Are you a high- or low-touch shopper? Can you get your financial paperwork in order, or is it much more attractive to you to choose a lender who can automatically fill in that information? Is the ease and speed of the online process more valuable to you than the ability to have in-person meetings with a loan officer?

Whatever you do, shop around first

Even if your comfort level with a fully online experience is high, it’s paramount to do your homework when it comes to a decision as major as a mortgage. Compare experiences between both traditional and online lenders, be honest with yourself about your personal needs — and, though it goes without saying, we’ll say it anyway: Always shop around for rates. You can ask individual lenders for quotes (so long as you do them over a short period of time they should only count as one hard inquiry on your credit account) one at a time, or you can compare mortgage rates online from many lenders at once on sites like LendingTree.

“Just because someone has an electronic platform that’s easy and nice-looking, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the best possible price,” Gumbinger says. “On the flip side, the mortgage lender your aunt recommended may not have the best price, either. The fact of the matter is, you always need take a cross-cut of the marketplace to find where you can get the best deal for you.”

Julianne Pepitone
Julianne Pepitone |

Julianne Pepitone is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julianne here

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Mortgage

APR vs Interest Rate: Understanding the Difference

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

When you’re shopping for a loan, don’t let your research end with a comparison of lenders’ interest rates. While a low interest rate is appealing, it’s important to also look at each loan’s annual percentage rate (APR), which will provide a clearer picture of how much the loan will cost you when fees and other costs are factored in.

APR vs Interest Rate: Understanding the differences

The difference between APR and interest rate is that APR will give borrowers a truer picture of how much the loan will cost them. While APR is expressed as an interest rate, it is not related to the monthly payment, which is calculated using only the interest rate. Instead, APR reflects the interest rate along with fees and other one-time costs a borrower will pay for a loan.

“You can find a mortgage that has a 4-percent interest rate, but with a bunch of fees, that APR may be 4.6 or 4.7 percent,” said Todd Nelson, senior vice president-business development officer with online lender Lightstream. “With all of those fees baked in, they are going to swing the interest rate.”

For example, one lender may charge no fees, so the loan’s APR and interest rate are the same. The second lender may charge a 5 percent origination fee, which will increase the APR on that loan.

How the APR is calculated

Lenders calculate APR by adding fees and costs to the loan’s interest rate and creating a new price for the loan. Here’s an example that shows how APR is calculated using LendingTree’s loan calculator.

A lender approves a $100,000 at a 4.5 percent interest rate. The borrower decides to buy one point, a fee paid to the lender in exchange for a reduced rate, for $1,000. The loan also includes $900 in fees.

With these fees and costs added to the loan, the adjusted balance being borrowed is $101,900. The monthly payment is then $516.31 with the 4.5 percent interest rate, compared with $506.69 if the balance had remained at $100,000.

To find the APR, the lender returns to the original loan amount of $100,000 and calculates the interest rate that would create a monthly payment of $516.31. In this example, that APR would be 4.661 percent.

APRs will vary from lender to lender because different lenders charge different fees. Some may offer competitive interest rates but then tack on expensive fees and costs. Lenders with the same interest rate and APR are not charging any fees on that loan, and lenders that offer APR and interest rates that are the closest will charge the least-substantial amount of fees and extra costs.

What can impact my APR?

While APR will change as interest rates fluctuate, lenders’ fees and costs will have the greatest impact on APR. Here are some of the fees that will affect the APR.

Discount points: Buying points to lower a loan’s interest rate can have a significant impact on APR. Lenders allow buyers to purchase “points” in return for a lower interest rate. A point is equal to one percent of the mortgage loan amount. For example, a buyer approved for a $100,000 loan could buy three points, at $1,000 each, to lower the interest rate from 4.5 to 4.15.

Loan origination fees: Loan origination fees typically range between 1 and 6 percent, according to Nelson. This can be especially significant for larger loans.

Loan processing: This fee, which some lenders will negotiate, pays for the cost of processing a mortgage application.

Underwriting: These fees cover an underwriter’s review of a loan application, including the borrower’s income, credit history, assets and liabilities, and property appraisal, to determine whether the lender should approve the loan application and what terms should be applied to the loan.

Appraisal review: Some lenders pay an outside reviewer to make sure an appraisal meets underwriting standards and that the appraiser has submitted an accurate report of the home’s value.

Document drawing: Lenders often charge a fee for creating mortgage documents for a loan.

Commonly not included in APR are notary fees, credit report costs, title insurance and escrow services, the appraisal, home inspection, attorney fees, document preparation and recording fees.

Because APR includes a loan’s interest rate, rising interest rates will increase APR for mortgages, auto loans and other types of loans and credit.

Interest rate vs APR: What should I focus on when shopping for a mortgage?

While lenders often push their low interest rates when they advertise loans, Nelson said it’s vital that consumers check loans’ APR when shopping around and pay attention to how loan advertisements are worded.

“Look for a lender that’s transparent about disclosing all of those fees,” he said. Lenders may advertise “no hidden fees,” he said, but that might mean there are other fees that simply aren’t hidden.

Here’s how two loans for the same amount can have different APRs.

Loan amount

Fees and costs

Fixed interest rate

APR

$200,000

$1,700

4.5%

4.572%

$200,000

$2,600

4.5%

4.61%

The Truth in Lending Act requires lenders to disclose APR in advertising so that consumers can make an equivalent comparison between loans. If two loan offers have similar APRs, request a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) or Loan Estimate from each lender.

Lenders are required to provide this document, which shows all expenses associated with the mortgage, within three business days of the loan application date. Some lenders may be willing to supply a loan estimate for consumers who are shopping for a loan.

APRs on Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): What to know

It’s important to remember that the APR on ARMs will not apply for the life of the loan, as the payment on the loan will change as the economy fluctuates. APR on ARMs is calculated for the interest rate during the loan’s introductory period, and no one can predict how much the rate will increase in years to come.

A loan with a 7/1 ARM, for example, will have a fixed rate for the first seven years that is determined by the current economic conditions on the day the loan was approved. After seven years, the lender will begin to adjust the rate based on movement of the economic index, which likely will not be the same as it was when the loan was approved. Rates fluctuate daily, and no economic forecaster can predict where the index will be in 20 or 25 years.

Understanding mortgage interest rates

A mortgage rate is another term for interest rate, which is the rate that a lender uses to determine how much to charge a customer for borrowing money. Mortgage rates can be either fixed or adjustable.

Fixed mortgage rates do not change over the life of a loan. For example, if you take out a 30-year loan at a 4.25 percent interest rate, that rate will stay the same regardless of changes in the economy and market index, through the entire lifetime of the loan.

Adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), on the other hand, will change as the market changes after an introductory period, often set at five or seven years. That means your interest rate could go up or down depending on economic conditions, which will in turn raise or lower your payments.

ARMs, which are a common type of mortgage loan with an adjustable rate, often start with a lower interest rate than a fixed mortgage — but only for that introductory period. After that, the rate could go up as it adjusts to market conditions, which could raise your payment accordingly.

If you are considering an ARM, it’s important to talk to your lender first about what the adjustable rate could mean for your loan payment after the introductory period. The federal government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends researching:

  • Whether your ARM has a cap on how high or low your interest rate can go.
  • How often your rate will be adjusted.
  • How much your monthly payment and interest rate can increase with each adjustment.
  • Whether you can still afford the loan if the interest rate and monthly payment reach their maximum under your loan contract.

How is your mortgage rate calculated?

Don’t be surprised if a lender offers you a mortgage interest rate that is higher than what is advertised. Each loan’s interest rate is primarily determined by market conditions and by the borrower’s financial health. Lenders take into account:

  • Your credit score: Borrowers with higher credit scores generally receive better interest rates.
  • The terms of the loan: The number of months you agree to pay back the loan can make a difference. Generally, a shorter term loan will have a lower rate than a longer term loan but higher monthly payments.
  • The location of the property you are purchasing: Interest rates are different in rural and urban areas, and sometimes they can vary by county.
  • The amount of the loan: Interest rates can be different for loan amounts that are unusually large or small.
  • Down payment: Lenders may offer a lower rate to borrowers who can make a larger down payment, which often is an indicator that the borrower is financially secure and more likely to pay back the loan.
  • Type of loan: While many borrowers apply for conventional mortgages, the federal government offers loan programs through the FHA, USDA, and VA that often offer lower interest rates.

How often do mortgage rates change?

Mortgage rates fluctuate on a daily basis. Because the market changes so often, lenders typically give borrowers the opportunity to lock in or float your interest rate for 30, 45, or 60 days from the day your lender approves your loan. That way you won’t get burned if rates rise soon after you secure a loan.

If you choose to lock in your rate, lenders will honor that rate within the agreed-upon time period before closing regardless of market fluctuations. Floating your rate will allow you to secure a lower interest rate before closing, should rates drop during that period.

How do mortgage rate changes impact the cost of borrowing?

Small differences in the interest rate can cost a borrower thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Here’s an example for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage using our parent company LendingTree’s online mortgage calculator tool:

Mortgage (30-year)

Fixed interest rate

Monthly payment

Total borrowing cost

$200,000

3.65%

$914.92

$129,371.20

$200,000

3.85%

$937.62

$137,543.20

$200,000

4.25%

$983.88

$154,196.80

What’s a good rate on a mortgage?

While mortgage rates change daily, Nelson noted that mortgage rates have stayed low for several years now and don’t show signs that they will increase drastically in the nearly future.

LendingTree’s LoanExplorer tool recently showed interest rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage as low as 3.625% for borrowers with excellent credit.

Shop wisely

When shopping for loans, you can best compare loans by getting mortgage quotes from lenders at the same day on the same time. Online marketplaces such as LendingTree also can provide real-time loan offers from multiple lenders, which makes it easier to compare mortgage APR vs. interest rates.

Don’t be dazzled by low interest rates. If the loan’s APR matches its low interest rate, you likely have a good deal. Otherwise, investigate the costs and fees behind a loan’s APR to best determine which loan offer is the best deal.

Learn more about how you can compare quotes from lenders at LendingTree.com.

LEARN MORE

Marty Minchin
Marty Minchin |

Marty Minchin is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marty here

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The 5/1 ARM Mortgage: What Is It and Is It for Me?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

5/1 ARM mortgage
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Finding the right mortgage can be a confusing process, especially for first-time homebuyers. There are so many options that it can be hard for a consumer to know how to get the optimal rate and terms.

One way to get a better initial interest rate is by taking out a 5/1 ARM mortgage. Small wonder that many potential borrowers want to know what makes a 5/1 ARM mortgage so unique and whether it might be the right loan for them.

Below is a guide to how 5/1 ARM mortgages work, how they are different from traditional 15- and 30-year mortgages, and what pros and cons consumers need to understand.

How a 5/1 ARM works

A 5/1 ARM mortgage, as explained by MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, is a type of adjustable-rate mortgage (hence, the ARM part) that begins with a fixed interest rate for the first five years. Then, once that time has elapsed, the interest rate becomes variable. A variable rate means your interest rate can change. Consequently, so can your payment.

The number “5” in “5/1 ARM” means that your interest rate is fixed for five years. The number “1” in “5/1 ARM” means your interest rate could change each year after the first five years have passed.

Interest rates are based on an index, which is a benchmark rate used by lenders to set their rates. An index is based on broad market conditions and investment returns in the U.S.. Thus, your bank can adjust its interest rates at any point that the benchmark rate changes or if there are major fluctuations in the U.S. stock market.

What’s fixed? What’s adjustable?

Fixed-rate mortgages have the same interest rate for the duration of the mortgage loan. The most common loan periods for these are 15- and 30-year.

Because a 15-year fixed rate mortgage is, obviously, for a shorter term than a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, you will likely pay much less interest over time. However, as a result, you will have a higher monthly mortgage payment since the loan payoff period is condensed to 15 years.

Adjustable-rate mortgages like the 5/1 ARM loan mentioned above have a fixed interest rate for the beginning of the loan and then a variable rate after the initial fixed-rate period.

The chart below shows an example of the same house with three different types of mortgages.

As you can see below, the 15-year fixed rate mortgage has a lower interest rate, but a much higher payment. The 5/1 ARM has the lowest interest rate of all, but once that interest rate becomes variable, the lower rate is not guaranteed. This is one of the cons of a 5/1 ARM mortgage, which will be outlined in the next section.

Mortgage snapshot

Here is an example of three different types of mortgage payments for someone taking out a $200,000 mortgage. The chart below makes the assumption that the fictional person this is for has a high credit score and qualifies for good interest rates.

 

Interest Rate

Monthly payment

Principal Paid
After 5 Years

Total Interest Cost
After 5 Years

30-year fixed

3.625%

$912.10

$20,592.12

$35,046.14

15-year fixed

3.0%

$1,403

$57,987.88

$26,263.08

5/1 ARM

2.875%

$829.78

$22,595.20

$27,191.90

The pros and cons of 5/1 ARM mortgages

The pros

The biggest advantage of a 5/1 ARM mortgage is that interest rates are typically lower for the first five years of the loan than they would be with a typical 15- or 30-year fixed-rate deal. This allows the homeowner to put more of the monthly payment toward the principal balance on the home, which is a good way to gain equity in the property.

The 5/1 ARM mortgage commonly has a lifetime adjustment cap, which means that even though the rate is variable, it can never go higher than that cap. That way, your lender can tell you what your highest monthly payment will be in the future should your interest rate ever reach that point.

The cons

As mentioned above, the con of a 5/1 ARM mortgage is the whole “adjustable” component. Once you get past the five-year term, there will be uncertainty. Every year after the fifth year of your mortgage, the rate can adjust and keep adjusting.

There is a way around this. You can refinance your mortgage after the five years and secure a new mortgage with a fixed rate. But be warned: Refinancing comes with fees. You will have to calculate on your own whether or not the savings you derive from a lower payment for five years is worthwhile as you measure it against the cost of refinancing to a fixed-rate loan.

That’s why it’s important to know how long you want to live in your home and whether or not you’ll want to sell your home when you move (as opposed to, say, renting it out).

A 5/1 mortgage is right for …

“For certain people, like first-time homebuyers, 5/1 ARM mortgages are very useful,” Doug Crouse, a senior loan officer with nearly 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry, tells MagnifyMoney.

Here are the types of people who could benefit from a 5/1 ARM mortgage:

  • First-time homebuyers who are planning to move within five years.
  • Borrowers who will pay off their mortgages very quickly.
  • Borrowers who take out a jumbo mortgage.

Crouse explains that with some first-time homebuyers, the plan is to move after a few years. This group can benefit from lower interest rates and lower monthly payments during those early years, before the fixed rate changes to a variable rate.

Mindy Jensen, who is the community manager for BiggerPockets, an 800,000-person online community of real estate investors, agrees. “You can actually use a 5/1 ARM to your advantage in certain situations,” Jensen tells MagnifyMoney.

For example, Jensen mentions a 5/1 ARM could work well for someone who wants to pay down a mortgage very, very quickly. After all, if you know you’re going to pay off your loan early, why pay more interest to your lender than you have to?

“Homeowners who are looking to make very aggressive payments in order to be mortgage-free can use the 5/1 ARM” to their advantage, she explains. “The lower initial interest rate frees up more money to make higher principal payments.”

Another group that can benefit from 5/1 ARM mortgages, Crouse says, is those who take out or refinance jumbo mortgages.

For these loans, a 5/1 ARM makes the first few years of mortgage payments lower because of the lower interest rate. This, in turn, means that the initial payments will be much more affordable for these higher-end properties.

Plus, if buyers purchased these more expensive homes in desirable areas where home prices are projected to rise quickly, it’s possible the value of their home could soar in the first few years while they make lower payments. Then, they can sell after five years and hopefully make a profit. Keep in mind that real estate is a risky investment and nothing is guaranteed.

The 5/1 isn’t right for …

Long-term home buyers who plan to stay put for the long haul probably won’t benefit from a 5/1 ARM loan, experts say. “An adjustable-rate mortgage loan is a bad idea for anyone who sees their home as a long-term choice,” Jensen says.

Crouse echoes the sentiment: “If someone plans to stay in their home for longer than five years, this might not be the best option for them.”

Jensen adds that homeowners should consider whether or not they want to be landlords in the future. If you decide to move out of your home but keep the mortgage and rent a property, it won’t be so beneficial to sign up for a 5/1 ARM loan.

Questions to ask yourself

If, after reading this guide, you think a 5/1 ARM mortgage might be right to you, go through this list of questions to be sure. Remember, you can also consult with your lender.

  • How long do I want to live in this home?
  • Will this home suit my family if my family grows?
  • Is there a chance I could get transferred with my job?
  • How often does the rate adjust after five years?
  • When is the adjusted rate applied to the mortgage?
  • If I want to refinance after five years, what is the typical cost of a refinance?
  • How comfortable am I with the uncertainty of a variable rate?
  • Do I want to rent my house if I decide to move?

Hopefully these questions and this guide can aid you in reaching a sensible decision.

Cat Alford
Cat Alford |

Cat Alford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Catherine at cat@magnifymoney.com

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Mortgage

FHA Mortgage Insurance: Explained

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Mortgages with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) can be especially attractive to credit-challenged first-time homebuyers. Not only can your down payment be as little as 3.5 percent, but FHA loans also have more lenient credit requirements. Indeed, you can qualify for maximum funding and that low percentage rate with a minimum credit score of 580.

On the negative side, the generous qualifying requirements increase the risk to a lender. That’s where mortgage insurance comes into play.

FHA mortgage insurance (MIP) backs up lenders if you default. It’s the price you pay for getting a mortgage with easier underwriting standards. If you put down 10 percent or more, you’ll pay MIP for 11 years. If you put down less than 10 percent, you’ll pay for MIP for the life of the loan. But there are ways you can get MIP removed or canceled, which we’ll also explain in a bit.

MIP can be bit confusing, so we’ll break down exactly how it works and how much it can add to the cost of a mortgage loan in this post.

Upfront and ongoing MIP: Explained

All FHA borrowers have to pay for mortgage insurance.

MIP is paid upfront, when you close your mortgage loan, as well as through an annual payment that is divided into monthly installments. Not all homebuyers have to pay MIP forever, and we’ll get into those specifics, so hang tight.

When you make your upfront MIP payment, the lender will put those funds into an escrow account and keep them there. If you default, those funds will be used to pay off the lender. As for your ongoing MIP payments, they get tacked onto your monthly mortgage loan payment.

How long you have to pay MIP as part of your mortgage payments can vary based on when the loan was closed, your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, and the size of your down payment. Your LTV is simply how much your loan balance is, versus the value of your home, which our parent company LendingTree explains in this post.

Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP)

UFMIP is required to be paid upon closing. It can be paid entirely with cash or rolled into the total amount of the loan. The lender will send the fee to the FHA. The current upfront premium is 1.75 percent of the base loan amount. So, if you borrow a FHA loan valued at $200,000, your upfront mortgage insurance payment would be $3,500 due at closing.

UFMIP is required to be paid by the FHA lender within 10 days of closing. The payment is included in your closing costs or rolled into the loan. A one-time late charge of 4 percent will be levied on all premiums that aren’t paid by lenders within 10 days beyond closing. The lender (not the borrower) must pay the late fee before FHA will endorse the mortgage for insurance.

With ongoing premiums, your lender will collect your MIP and send it to HUD. The lender, not you, be penalized for any late MIP payments.

Annual MIP payments are calculated by loan amount, LTV, and term. To help estimate your cost, the FHA has a great What’s My Payment tool.

Here’s an example of monthly charges based on a $300,000, 30-year loan at 4 percent interest, with a 3.5 percent down payment and an FHA MIP of 0.85 percent. (This does not include any money escrowed for taxes and insurance):

  • Principal and interest: $1,406.30
  • Down payment: $10,500
  • Upfront MIP at 1.75 percent: $5,066
  • Monthly FHA MIP at 0.85 percent: $203.42
  • Total monthly payment = $1,609.72

Penalties and interest charges for late monthly payments are similar to those levied on the UFMIP.

Base Loan Amount

LTV

Annual MIP

Less than or equal to $625,500

≤ 90.00%

0.80%

> 90.00% but
≤ 95.00%

0.80%

> 95.00%

0.85%

Greater than $625,500

≤ 90.00%

1.00%

> 90.00% but
≤ 95.00%

1.00%

> 95.00%

1.00%

Source: HUD

Base Loan Amount

LTV

Annual MIP

Less than or equal to $625,500

≤ 90.00%

0.45%

> 90.00% but
≤ 95.00%

0.70%

Greater than $625,500

> 90.00% but
≤ 95.00%

0.45%

> 95.00%

0.70%

> 90.00%

0.95%

Source: HUD

How long does MIP last?

The length on MIP requirements also depends on when you closed the loan and the size of your down payment. The rules changed dramatically in July 3, 2013. Until then, you could cancel your MIP after your LTV ratio dropped to 78 percent. Under the new rules, the MIP on loans closed after June 3, 2013, will last either the life of the loan or for 11 years, based on the amount of the down payment.

For loans that were closed before June 3, 2013, you can still request that MIP be dropped after your LTV ratio drops to 78 percent — after five years of payments without delinquencies.

Here’s the breakdown:

Loan Term

Original Down Payment

MIP Duration

20, 25, 30 years

Less than 10%

Life of loan

20, 25, 30 years

More than 10%

11 years

15 years or less

Less than 10%

Life of loan

15 years or less

More than 10%

11 years

Source: FHA

 

Loan Term

Original Down Payment

MIP Duration

20, 25, 30 years

Less than 10%

78% LTV based on original purchase price
(5 years minimum)

20, 25, 30 years

10-22%

78% LTV based on original purchase price
(5 years minimum)

20, 25, 30 years

More than 22%

5 years

15 years

Less than 10%

78% LTV

15 years

10-22%

78% LTV

15 years

More than 22%

No MIP

Source: FHA

How to Eliminate MIP

NOTE: About endorsements

According to the MIP Refund Center, the HUD endorsement on FHA loan is the date your MIP is approved. When you pay your upfront MIP with the lender, the loan is closed.The clock starts ticking on your MIP on the endorsement date.

More on MIP cancellation:

Most of today’s FHA borrowers will have but a few options to end their insurance payments. If you’re hoping to get out of paying FHA mortgage insurance, you’re going to either have to pay off the loan or do some refinancing. The FHA policy allowing borrowers to cancel annual MIP after paying for five years and reaching 78 percent LTV was rescinded with the new regulations in 2013 requiring payments for the life of the loan.

The good news about the FHA policy is that you can retire your loan earlier by making additional payments. If you closed your loan after June 2013, you can cancel MIP by refinancing into a conventional loan once you have an LTV of at least 80 percent.

Here are two strategies to get your MIP canceled:

Replace/refinance with a Streamline FHA Mortgage

If you have a current FHA mortgage and have no late payments, you may qualify for a Streamline FHA mortgage to refinance your existing loan with a better rate. You’ll still need to pay MIP but the savings generated by the lower interest rate can offset your insurance costs.

Replace/refinance, with conventional PMI

Want to switch to conventional refinancing? Credit requirements are tougher and interest rates may be higher on conventional PMI. The minimum qualifying credit score for conventional fixed-rate loans is 620.

PMI is similar to MIP in that both protect the lender’s investment. The MIP is determined by the LTV and term. The PMI is calculated on the size of your down payment.

A minimum of 5 percent down is required and the PMI can be paid in a lump sum or monthly installments — not both. If you put down 20 percent or more, the requirement for PMI on conventional financing can be waived. In conventional refinancing, you may be required to have an appraisal to determine property value. This is essential since the PMI insurance requirement on conventional loans ends once the borrower’s LTV drops to 78 percent. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that the lender is required to cancel PMI once your payments reach the “midpoint of your loan’s amortization schedule” — no matter the LTV. That’s if you’re current on your payments.

A good way to determine the value of refinancing is to complete an analysis through LendingTree’s Refinance Calculator.

LEARN MORE:

FHA announcements and changes

HUD announces changes in MIP requirements from time to time in reaction to risks such as foreclosures, deficits in the Mortgage Insurance Fund or downturns in FHA lending.

For example, in January 2015, HUD reduced the annual MIP insurance rate by 50 basis points. Another announcement was released this year after President Trump took office when HUD canceled a plan to lower MIP premiums proposed by the Obama administration. According to the National Association of Realtors, the cancellation of lower rates means “roughly 750,000 to 850,000 homebuyers will face higher costs, and 30,000 to 40,000 new homebuyers will be left on the sidelines in 2017 without the cut.”

Consumers should check with lenders or with HUD to stay up to speed on changes that could affect their mortgage.

Am I eligible for a HUD refund?

If you acquired your loan prior to Sept. 1, 1983, you may be eligible for a refund on a portion of your UFMIP. Or, if you refinance your home with another FHA loan, the insurance refund is applied to your new loan.

HUD rules specify how long you have to refinance before you lose your refund:

  • For any FHA-insured loans with a closing date prior to Jan. 1, 2001, and endorsed before Dec. 8, 2004, no refund is due the homeowner after the end of the seventh year of insurance.
  • For any FHA-insured loans closed on or after Jan. 1, 2001 and endorsed before Dec. 8, 2004, no refund is due the homeowner after the fifth year of insurance.
  • For FHA-insured loans endorsed on or after Dec. 8, 2004, no refund is due the homeowner unless he or she refinanced to a new FHA-insured loan, and no refund is due these homeowners after the third year of insurance.

The refund process goes into motion when the mortgage company reports the termination of your insurance on the loan to HUD. You may receive additional paperwork from HUD or receive a refund directly in the mail. You can find out if you’re owed a refund by entering your information at the HUD refund site. If you’re on the list, call HUD to get the ball rolling at: 1-800-697-6967.

Final thoughts

If you’re trying to get into a home with less-than-optimal credit, an FHA-backed loan could be your best option. You’ll pay for the benefit of landing the mortgage through MIP over much of the loan’s lifetime, if not all of it. You may save money after you’ve built some equity (or improved your credit) by refinancing to a conventional mortgage that drops the mortgage insurance requirement after you reach the 78 percent LTV milestone.

Gabby Hyman
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Gabby Hyman is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gabby here

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How Can Baby Boomers Tackle Their Housing Debt Faster?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Unlike people of her father’s generation, Lauren Beale, 60, said she never expected to own a house outright at retirement. 

Beale, a former journalist who retired in 2015, pays $2,063 a month for a mortgage for her home in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., in Los Angeles County, where she lives with her husband. The couple bought the house for $800,000 in 2002.  

They now owe $268,000 on the mortgage. And Beale said she had no plans to double up on her payment and pay it off faster. “What if you need that money for some kind of emergency down the road?” she asked. “We are comfortable with some mortgage payment. It doesn’t make sense to draw from the nest egg, the retirement accounts, to pay it down soon.” 

Beale, now a freelancer and novelist, said she would rather keep her savings as a safety net: “I think boomers are feeling less secure about our medical futures.” 

Retired with a mortgage 

The Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, recently released an analysis concluding that baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1965 — were 10 percentage points less likely to own their homes outright than pre-boomer people who were the same age in 2000.  

The report says the rise in housing debt among older homeowners is increasingly worrisome. There are concerns that having mortgage obligations could weaken seniors’ financial security in retirement and put them at greater risk for foreclosure, among other potential problems. 

Still, Beale is not concerned. Her family’s monthly mortgage bill is just roughly 20 percent of the total household income. They have no other debts, nor do they have major monetary needs. Her financial goal at this stage is to have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, pay all the bills and be able to travel. 

To be sure, not every boomer is as financially confident as Beale. Nationwide, boomers carried an average housing debt of about $68,400 in 2016, according to Federal Reserve data analyzed by MagnifyMoney. National statistics also revealed that a hefty 2.5 million people ages 55 and older became renters between 2009 and 2015, up 28 percent from 2009, the biggest jump among all age groups. RENTCafe.com, a nationwide apartment search website, said the notable change in renter profile could be that empty-nesters changed lifestyles, got hit hard by the housing slump or can’t afford to own homes. 

How to pay off your mortgage faster 

For those who do care about paying mortgages off before retirement, here are some ways to handle those debts faster and stay motivated to reach your goals: 

Paying off debt? It’s like earning more money 

Leon LaBrecque, a Michigan-based certified financial planner, said roughly half of his clients — mostly middle-class Americans — are able to pay off mortgages approaching retirement. A boomer himself, he is all for paying off mortgages as soon as possible to achieve  better cash flow. 

“Debts are an anti-asset,” said LaBrecque. “Removing an anti-asset is the same as having an asset. So If I got a 4 percent mortgage, I pay it off, I made 4 percent.” 

He added: “It’s very hard to make 4 percent now. The fixed-income market is so constrained that there are not a lot of good alternatives to debt reduction.” 

Pay off other debts. High-interest debt, in particular. 

Before paying down a mortgage or paying it off, get rid of other high-interest-rate debts first. Think student loans and credit card balances.  

LaBrecque offered this example:  Say you have a 4 percent rate on your mortgage and an auto loan with a $350 payment and a 5 percent interest rate — you should pay the car note off first. Then you can put an extra $350 toward your mortgage each month. 

Find money from other sources 

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If you have cash idling somewhere, with no particular purpose, pay off your mortgage. Remember: If you go and pay off a loan, there is an immediate return for what you’ve repaid. 

“You got $125,000 sitting in the bank, making nothing, and you owe $80,000 on the mortgage; pay the mortgage off,” LaBrecque has been telling his elderly clients lately. 

Also, if you have money in the market, consider getting rid of a sub-performing investment and put the resources into the mortgage, he said. 

Improve the cash flow 

Be conscious of how you spend your money. If paying off housing debts is your primary goal, prioritize it and allocate your money accordingly.  

“We always talk about having a good cash-flow management system for our younger population, but we don’t get a lot of that on the older population,” said Juan Guevara, a Colorado-based certified financial planner. “We always think that, ‘Well, those guys have figured it out.’ Well, maybe not.” 

Take a look at your cash flow holistically. When you track your spending, you can watch for opportunities to put more money toward your mortgage. For example, if you were helping your children pay student loans, see if they can take on the responsibility and redirect that budget toward your housing debt. As you approach retirement, consider using any bonuses or pay raises you receive to pay down debt.  

Break down big goals. Baby steps. 

It’s easier to make big goals and separate them into little pieces, experts say. Guevara advises that boomers divide their monthly house payment by 12 and add that amount to their payment each month.  

If your monthly payment is $1,500, for instance, “now you’re looking at a goal of having to add another $125 to each payment every month, instead of having to come up with $1,500 at the end of the year,” Guevara said. 

Refinance your mortgage 

Once you’ve managed a good cash flow, it’s likely that you are able to apply extra funds to your mortgage every month. This is when you may to consider refinancing the mortgage to get a lower rate or a shorter term. 

LaBrecque said he suggests that clients take out 30-year mortgages but pay them off sooner.  

“You can always turn a 30-year mortgage into a 15 but you can’t turn a 15-year mortgage into a 30,” he said. “I’m a big fan of having the obligation as low as possible on a monthly but also have the flexibility to pay it off.” 

Shorter home loans generally have lower interest rates, so you’ll not only pay off your mortgage faster, you’ll also pay less in interest.  

Beale has refinanced her mortgage twice to lower the monthly payment. Her current 20-year mortgage now carries an interest rate of about of 3.88 percent, significantly lower than the original 30-year loan. (It came with a rate above 5 percent.) 

You can learn more about this tactic in our guide to refinancing your mortgage. 

Educate your children  

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Guevara said he has seen an increasing number of parents spending beyond their means for their children: They’re taking on student loans, supporting sons and daughters after they finish school or offering other assistance. Those expenses chew up a significant amount of the money they could be putting toward the mortgage.  

“It’s not my place to tell them to stop,” he said. “It’s my place to show them, ‘Look, this is what happens if you don’t stop or if you continue on the path that you are on now.’” 

If you want to own your house outright earlier, Guevara said it’s worth starting to teach your children about the value of money and helping them become more financially responsible in an early stage. 

“Money is a taboo in our society, and it shouldn’t be,” Guevara said. “It should be something that we talk about at the dinner table.” 

Look forward to financial freedom

Beale and her husband will be debt-free in 13 more years if they stay in the same house and continue making payments as they’ve been doing. But she doesn’t seem to look forward to that day. 

“I think as we age, things that might seem like a happy occasion might be more of a sense of finality,” she said. 

But she also finds a silver lining — the financial freedom that comes when debt is paid off. 

“Who knows at that point; what if I have grandkids?” she said. “Maybe I’ll say: ‘Hey, my bills are paid. Maybe I’ll start taking that $2,000 and putting it into a college fund or something.’” 

Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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Can I Get a Home Equity Loan with Bad Credit?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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A less-than-perfect credit score isn’t necessarily a barrier between you and a home equity loan (definition courtesy of MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree). Why? Because unlike unsecured debts, such as personal loans or credit cards, you actually have some valuable collateral to offer the lender — your home. So while you may still face a difficult road ahead in pursuit of such a loan, for many it’s more than doable.

When applying for a home equity loan (HEL), you’re essentially leveraging the equity you’ve built up in your home. By equity, we mean the difference between the value of the home and whatever’s currently left on your mortgage. If, for example, an appraisal finds that your home is worth $150,000, and your mortgage balance is $100,000, then you have $50,000 of equity. (You can find a handy LendingTree equity calculator here.)

Generally speaking, more equity translates to more robust financing options, even if you have poor credit. That’s not to say you’ll get the best terms and interest rates. (We’ll get back to that.) But even if you’re squarely in this camp, there are options out there.

The application process for a HEL, which isn’t unlike that of a mortgage, can be lengthy. Get ahead of the game by gathering up all the relevant financial documentation. This includes your latest tax returns, proof of income and employment, home insurance documents, your home value estimate and the like. Any co-applicants ought to do the same.

What’s considered a “bad credit score” for a home equity loan?

Getting a home equity loan with bad credit is possible, but as with any other type of financing option, a good score is bound to work in your favor.

“Anything under 680 is going to be where things get a little difficult,” Nathan Pierce, a certified residential mortgage specialist and vice president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB), tells MagnifyMoney.

Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule Discover, for example, offers HELs to consumers with credit scores as low as 620.

If your score is on the lower side of the 600s, you aren’t necessarily out of the game. Lenders look at other factors besides your score. They also consider whether you have a history of responsible credit use, solid employment and income, and sufficient equity in your home.

Other factors that can impact your quest for a HEL

Debt-to-income ratio: Aim for 43 percent or less

Qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit is about more than just your credit score. During the process, a number of factors come into play. Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a biggie. This basically provides a snapshot of what you owe versus what you earn.

Many lender sites specify the 43 percent threshold. According to Pierce, a DTI that exceeds 45 percent will likely work against you when applying for a home equity loan.

“You may see some lenders that may go up to 48 percent or 50 percent, but that’s on the rare side,” he adds.

In general, lenders tend to lean more conservatively here. And, as we said, 43 percent is a big number for many lenders. The maximum DTI for applying through both Chase and TD Bank, for example, is 43 percent.

Let’s say your monthly gross income stands at $4,000 and all your monthly debt payments (from your mortgage to credit cards to student debt to auto loans) adds up to $3,000. When we divide your debt by your income, it reveals a 75 percent DTI. That is an amount that’s considered high by HEL standards, which will probably impact your ability to qualify for a home equity loan in spite of bad credit.

Loan-to-value ratio: Aim for 85 percent or less

How much equity you have in your home is another big piece of the puzzle, as it affects how much money you’ll be able to borrow. Since you’re using the home itself as collateral, owing less makes you more desirable to lenders.

It’ll also help you get approved for a larger loan amount. If your mortgage debt exceeds 85 percent of the home’s value, qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit might prove tricky. This calculation is called the loan-to-value ratio. (You may encounter the acronym LTV.)

“For most lenders, that’s the bottom number,” says Pierce. “When you get up to 90 percent, it gets a little bit thinner, but there are some institutions out there that are going to 100 percent these days.”

Most of these will be credit unions and small community banks, as opposed to traditional banks and mortgage companies. The big guys, according to Pierce, are usually limited to 85 to 90 percent.

Low equity, when coupled with poor credit, is likely to make qualifying for a HEL an uphill battle. That’s not to say you’re out of options; you just might have to take a different financing route.

Your credit report: Getting it right

That said, you’ll definitely want to take a good look at your credit report before applying for a HEL. According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, roughly one in five Americans has potential errors on his or her credit report. If you’re one of these people, disputing errors with credit bureaus can give your credit score a nice boost in the right direction. Indeed, 13 percent of consumers experienced a change in score due to their dispute, the report said.

Legitimate red marks on your report, like delinquent accounts or a past bankruptcy, could indeed makes things harder, but every lender is different.

How to shop for a HEL with bad credit

Before making any big financial decision, it’s in your best interest to shop around. Don’t let having poor credit score or disempower you or make you feel like you need to jump at the first offer. Instead, leverage what equity you have in your home to negotiate multiple offers and try to score the best terms you can.

“With a home equity loan, there could be large variations between lenders, so I’d definitely suggest checking with multiple places, as you could get pretty different options from each,” says Pierce.

Just remember that the qualifying criteria for one lender might not match another’s. But that’s all the more reason to do your homework. (Oh, and by the way: if you sign loan papers and then change your mind, the Federal Trade Commission says you have the right to cancel the deal for any reason, without penalty, within three days.)

Additionally, Pierce says that large banks and mortgage brokers might not be your best option. So check out your local community banks and credit unions, which will likely be more open to working with people who have less-than-perfect credit.

What to expect during the HEL application process

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After submitting the necessary paperwork, the application process typically takes a few weeks. This may vary depending on the complexity of the application, underscoring the importance of being prepared. If a lender needs to dive deeper to verify your income or look into other properties or assets you have, it’ll draw out the timeline.

That said, folks with good credit are more likely to snag financing options with better terms and lower interest rates. This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your credit score is on the lower end, but applying for a home equity loan with bad credit may result in being offered less or paying a bit more in the long run because of higher interest rates. This is when you really need to compare your options, which is why shopping around can pay off big time.

You also need to think about why you’re seeking the loan in the first place. For example, a home equity loan with a 10 percent interest rate that’s used for a home renovation — which could ultimately boost your home value — might make sense if you have room in your budget to easily absorb the monthly payment. But the same loan doesn’t add up if you’re looking to consolidate lower-interest debt. Sure, you might boost your credit score a bit, but you’ll pay more over the long haul.

Either way, be sure to really pay attention to the loan terms, especially the monthly payments. The good news is that HELs come with fixed rates, and the repayment window seem to fall in the five- to 30-year range. But if the payments are going to strain your budget, you might be better off going with an unsecured line of credit. You’ll pay more in interest, but defaulting on a HEL could result in you losing your house — no small thing.

The application process for someone with poor credit might also involve lenders limiting the amount of money they’ll let you borrow. And while hashing out loan terms and interest rates, Pierce adds that many lenders will set minimum loan amounts as well.

“You may have lenders that say they want a $25,000 minimum loan amount [if] they’re not interested in $10,000 or $15,000, which may be another factor that stops somebody from getting it,” he tells MagnifyMoney.

How to improve your chances of a HEL approval with bad credit

Reduce your DTI

If you’ve got a few strikes against you, rest easy; there are a number of things you can do to improve your odds of qualifying for a HEL. As we mentioned, reducing your debt-to-income ratio is a big one. Take a look at your monthly budget to see where you can free up extra cash to redirect toward your debt. Minor tweaks, from shrinking your cable bill to eating out less, can make a big difference; $50 here and $25 there, when used to accelerate your debt payments, will supercharge your efforts to improve your score.

While it may not be as easy to dramatically increase your salary, you can give your income a nice boost by picking up a side gig or taking on a roommate to reduce your monthly mortgage burden. The idea is to get creative and find something that works for your lifestyle. The freed-up cash can help dig you out of debt faster, which will also improve your credit score and bolster your chances of being approved for a HEL.

Bring on a co-signer

As with applying for a student loan or a traditional mortgage, introducing a co-signer can be a game changer.

Pierce says bringing a co-signer with good credit on board is a good move because lenders will feel a little safer taking a chance on you. Just do your homework, as different lenders have different qualifying options.

Wait until you have more equity

This might take a bit more time, but remember: More equity translates to a higher LTV (loan-to-value) ratio, which tips the scale in your favor when shopping around for a home equity loan.

Just as we discussed upping your take-home pay and trimming your budget to accelerate your debt payments, the same can be said for fast-tracking mortgage payments. Hacking away at the principal balance will cut the loan down quicker — and grow your equity at a faster clip. This tactic may prove tricky if you’re also tackling high-interest debt, but if you have the wiggle room in your budget, it could help reduce your timeline.

Alternatives to a HEL

Marcus Personal Loan Review: Goldman Sachs Takes on Online Lenders with Exclusive New Loan

If you’re having trouble qualifying for a home equity loan with bad credit, you also have some other financing options to explore:

Cash-out Refinance

  • What it is: A cash-out refinance lets you start over with a new mortgage that replaces your old one while letting you borrow extra that you can use as you wish.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? You’ll have one new monthly mortgage payment. If you refinance to a longer-term mortgage, that’ll also improve your credit utilization ratio, which can help boost your credit score.
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? It depends on the situation. You may qualify, but with a higher interest rate. Pierce adds that, when compared with a HEL, there may be more limits in terms of how much cash you can take out

Personal loan

  • What it is: A personal loan is an unsecured loan. If you qualify, a lender will deposit cash right into your account that you can use any way you wish. It can be a good way to consolidate and pay off debt, so long as you can afford the monthly payment.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? No collateral. If keeping up with HEL payments means stretching your budget (and potentially defaulting), this option has an advantage: You won’t risk losing your home.
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? Probably, but think carefully. Interest rates for people with bad credit can in some instances be upward of 35 percent. Lenders may also tack on an origination fee and/or prepayment penalty

Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

  • What it is: A little different from a HEL, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a revolving credit line extended to you by the lender.
  • Why might it be a good alternative? Your equity level dictates your credit limit, but you can borrow against a HELOC as much as you need to during what’s called the “draw period,” which usually lasts five to 10 years. (Side note: you’ll be on the hook for making interest payments during this time.)
  • Would someone with bad credit qualify? If you don’t have a lot of equity and/or you have a spotty credit history, getting approved for a HELOC is apt to be as challenging as snagging a HEL, Pierce says.

Last words

Getting approved for a home equity loan with bad credit is tough, but it is not impossible. The most powerful tool in your arsenal: to gradually improve your score by making consistent, on-time payments. This, in turn, will reduce your debt while improving your debt-to-income ratio. Keeping up with your mortgage payments will also help you steadily build more home equity.

Plus, you’ve got other options. Aside from potentially bringing on a co-signer, a cash-out refinance, personal loan or HELOC all represent viable alternatives, depending on what you need the money for and what terms and interest rates you can snag.

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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What is PITI? 

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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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. 

Principal 

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 

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. 

Taxes

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: 

  • Property taxes vary from one state to the next. 
  • 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. 
  • You can check your property tax assessment every year to make sure there are no errors on it. In some areas, you’ll have an updated assessment every year, but in others, it could be every few years. 
  • 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 

Luckily, the property taxes you pay are often an income tax deduction, so that is one benefit to homeownership. 

Insurance 

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.” 

Next steps: 

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. 

Cat Alford
Cat Alford |

Cat Alford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Catherine at cat@magnifymoney.com

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