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Guide to Getting the Best Rate on Your Mortgage

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Guide to Getting the Best Rate on Your Mortgage

When you’re shopping for an affordable place to live, a home’s list price is the first thing most people consider. The median sales price of homes sold across the U.S. is $307,700 according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But there’s a lot more that goes into your monthly payment. Equally important is the interest rate you get on your mortgage. And just as you shop for a home, you can shop for the best rate on a mortgage.

How can you get the best rate? You’ll want to improve your credit score, pay down debt and contribute as large of a down payment as possible, but you’ll also want to shop around to ensure you receive a competitive mortgage rate.

Why your mortgage rate matters so much

The interest rate on your loan can make or break whether that mortgage will be affordable. Let’s look at an example, using LendingTree’s mortgage payment calculator.

We’re assuming a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on a $200,000 home with 20% down, or a $40,000 down payment. The mortgage payment amounts also include homeowners insurance ($700 per year) and property taxes ($2,500 per year). The taxes and insurance amounts are each divided by 12 and added to the mortgage payments.

 

4.00% Interest Rate

4.50% Interest Rate

5.00% Interest Rate

Total loan amount

$160,000

$160,000

$160,000

Monthly mortgage payment

$1,030.53

$1,077.36

$1,125.58

Total interest amount

$114,991.21

$131,850.74

$149,209.25

A half-percent increase in your mortgage rate could cost you nearly $50 more on your monthly mortgage payment, and close to $17,000 in interest over the life of your loan, while a full-percent difference in your mortgage rate comes with a monthly payment that is $95 higher and a loan that costs another $34,000-plus in interest over a 30-year term.

What factors influence your mortgage rate?

Before you can shop for a mortgage, it’s important to understand the data points that go into the rates that lenders offer you.

Lenders previously relied on a rate sheet when quoting mortgage rates to prospective mortgage borrowers, but now that’s all done online, said John Stearns, a senior mortgage banker with American Fidelity Mortgage Services in Milwaukee. Today, loan officers log into a pricing system and input the borrower’s credit score, loan amount and ZIP code to provide a rate quote.

There are several factors, including the details mentioned above, within your control, giving you the power to help influence the rate you receive.

Credit score

In short: The better your credit scores, the better your rate will be. Improving your credit score is one of the most effective ways to influence your mortgage interest rate. In fact, taking the time to increase your score could mean the difference of more than a full percentage point. Your credit score is arguably the most important factor influencing your rate, said Stearns.

When lenders pull your credit scores from each of the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — they use the middle score of the three to help determine your estimated mortgage rate. That’s why it’s important to ensure you’re improving and maintaining a good credit profile across all three bureaus.

There are minimum required credit scores for several mortgage programs. For example, conventional lenders want to see at least a 620 score and in some cases 640. FHA lenders want to see a 580 score if you’re planning to make the smallest down payment possible, which is 3.5%.

Still, skating by with the absolute minimum score won’t get you the best mortgage rate available. A lower score means a higher mortgage rate, so you’ll potentially save thousands by striving toward a good or excellent credit score. If you want a chance at the lowest mortgage rate possible, ask each lender you gather quotes from what score you’ll need to get the best rate.

“The breaking point for me is 740,” Stearns said, referring to the score cutoff after which mortgage rates don’t go any lower. “After that, it doesn’t matter.”

Down payment

The more money you put down toward your home purchase, the lower your interest rate will typically be. If you’re applying for a conventional mortgage, have good credit and plan to put down at least 5%, you’ll likely qualify for a more competitive rate. There are some conventional loan programs that allow 3% down, but they sometimes come with income limits and homebuyer education requirements.

Don’t confuse a lower interest rate with a lower cost of financing, however.

Most conventional lenders require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you don’t contribute at least a 20% down payment. PMI adds about 0.5% to 1% of your loan amount per year to your mortgage payment and can’t be removed until you’ve built up at least 20% equity in your home. You build equity when your home value increases and you pay down your mortgage balance.

If you’re putting down less than 5%, a FHA loan or VA loan might work better for you. FHA loans require a 3.5% down payment, as well as upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums (MIP). The upfront MIP is 1.75% of the loan amount. Annual mortgage insurance premiums are divided into 12 installments and paid monthly as part of the mortgage payment. The cost ranges from 0.45% to 1.05%, depending on your loan amount, loan-to-value ratio and loan term. In most cases, you can’t get rid of MIP unless you refinance into a conventional loan.

VA loans are reserved for military personnel and veterans and have competitive rates for people who don’t have a down payment. There is a mandatory upfront financing fee, however. Check the VA loan fee schedule to see if the financing fee is worth it to you.

Loan amount

Interest rates on smaller mortgages tend to be higher than rates on typical mortgage sizes because they are less profitable. Borrowers may need to work with local banks or credit unions or government lending programs to find a smaller loan.

Let’s say you wanted to take out a small mortgage of less than $50,000 to purchase a fixer-upper house. That lower loan amount will likely have a pricey mortgage rate.
You might see a lower mortgage rate on a higher loan amount, however.

“Banks may say, ‘Wow, you’re borrowing $300,000, I’ll give you a little deal on the interest rate,’” Stearns said.

At the other end of the spectrum are jumbo mortgages, or loans that don’t follow conforming loan limits. Banks can’t sell jumbo loans in the secondary market, so they are riskier for the bank compared to other mortgages. Usually, banks compensate for higher risk with higher interest rates, but rates on jumbo loans have been trending lower than conventional loans as of late.

Location

Where you’re buying a house matters — mortgage rates vary from state to state and can even differ within certain areas of a given state.

Buyers looking for a mortgage in a rural area may see higher rates compared to equally qualified buyers in nearby urban areas, which could be attributed to less competition or unfamiliarity with the region. Some larger lenders have less familiarity with lending in rural areas, which could lead to higher rates. In rural settings, you may get the best rates from local banks and credit unions.

States with laws in place that make foreclosure difficult tend to have higher mortgage rates than states with looser foreclosure laws. Likewise, states that require lenders to have a physical presence in the state also raises interest rates.

Loan term

Mortgages with shorter terms typically have lower rates than those with longer terms. Banks consider longer-term loans to be more risky and compensate for the risk by charging higher rates.

The average 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is 3.57%, according to Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey. By contrast, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 4.1%.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a shorter-term loan is always the right choice. Choose the term that fits your needs before you compare rates. That way you’ll get the best interest rate on the right mortgage for you.

Loan type

The loan program you choose may not seem as important as the other factors referenced, but it does have an influence on your rate. Conventional loans tend to have the lowest interest rates. This refers to mortgages that can be purchased by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest purchasers of mortgage loans in the U.S.

As previously mentioned, conventional loans require good credit and at least a 5% down payment in most cases, though there are some loans that allow 3% down. You’ll need to put at least 20% down to avoid paying PMI. Lenders can easily sell these loans to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and reinvest the proceeds in making more loans.

FHA loans have more lenient down payment and credit standards, and their average interest rates have been typically less expensive than those of conventional loans. But as of late, FHA loans have had the higher interest rates. However, an FHA loan may be the right option if you only have access to a small down payment and have a lower credit score. The extra costs of the annual and upfront mortgage insurance premiums are other factors to consider when deciding whether an FHA loan is right for you.

VA loans are available to military servicemembers and veterans, and they charge an upfront fee. However, they offer competitive rates for homebuyers.

If you’re taking out a jumbo mortgage, you will likely need to qualify for conventional underwriting. Likewise, condo buyers may need to qualify for a conventional loan. Keep in mind that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not purchase a mortgage if the property is part of an association that has more than 50% renter occupants.

Rate type

Adjustable-rate mortgages put more risk onto borrowers. You’ll initially pay a lower interest rate if you take out an adjustable-rate mortgage, but the rate could increase down the line when your loan enters its adjustment period. By contrast, fixed-rate mortgages don’t increase or decrease over the life of your loan.

If you’re considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, learn when and how the interest rate adjusts. Most loans adjust based on a set index. In a low-interest-rate environment, you can expect rates to increase, but you need to estimate how much. Weigh whether the low rates now are worth a potential high rate in the future.

Discount points

Many lenders offer what are called “discount points,” or money the borrower can pay to lower their mortgage interest rate. One discount point is generally equal to 1% of the loan amount. So, if you’re borrowing a $200,000 loan, one point would cost you $2,000.

In some circumstances, buying discount points makes sense. Dividing the cost of the point by the change in your monthly payment will tell you the number of months it takes for the discount points to pay off in terms of savings. If you have the cash and expect to stay in the house significantly longer than the payoff period, purchasing the points could be worthwhile. Otherwise, keep the higher interest rate.

Special programs

Cities and states often offer special interest rates on loans for homebuyers who meet certain criteria. For example, the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program offers a 4.375% interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for eligible homebuyers — plus down payment assistance for some borrowers. In many cases, this is a lower rate than the same borrower would qualify for elsewhere.

Check your city, county and state housing finance websites to see if you qualify for special rate programs. They often have favorable borrowing terms in addition to great rates.
There are also factors you can’t control, such as the movement of the 10-year Treasury bond yield, inflation and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions, that can impact mortgage rates.

Tips for getting the best rate on your mortgage

When it comes to buying a house, you don’t just need to house hunt; you need to shop for a mortgage. Homebuyers could potentially save more than $37,000 in interest over the life of a 30-year fixed-rate $300,000 loan by comparison shopping, according to research from LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

Your mortgage rate can make or break the affordability of a house, and it’s up to you to find the best one. These are the steps you can take to shop around.

Clean up your credit

Even before shopping for a mortgage, make sure to pay your bills on time and keep your credit usage low. Try to use less than 30% of your total available credit, like your limit on a credit card. Once you’ve started shopping, don’t close old credit accounts or apply for new accounts while you’re in the middle of the process.

Additionally, review each of your credit reports for errors and have any inaccurate information removed or corrected.

For more help with improving your creditworthiness, consider these tips for rebuilding your credit score.

Pay down your existing debt

Along with improving your credit score, lenders want to see how well you’re managing your current debt load. If you’re maxing out credit cards and taking out loans left and right, that’s not likely to work in your favor when applying for a mortgage.

One of the most important factors that lenders consider is your debt-to-income ratio, or the percentage of your gross monthly income that is dedicated to debt payments. Most of the time, lenders will not extend mortgages to borrowers whose monthly debt liabilities eat up more than 43% of their income.

Use a rate comparison tool

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a tool that allows you to compare the interest rates in your state for various types of loans. Another option is to use a rates comparison tool, such as the one offered on LendingTree’s website. This will give you an idea of the ballpark your interest rate quote should be in.

To use these tools, you need to know your credit score, the amount you intend to borrow, down payment amount, loan term and loan type. By exploring the different options, you’ll get an idea of the rate landscape in your state.

Get a mortgage preapproval from multiple lenders

After you’ve found the mortgage lenders with the best rates, consider applying for a mortgage preapproval. A preapproval is a letter you receive from a lender that gives you an estimated loan amount and interest rate, based on a review of your financial information including bank statements, credit reports, pay stubs and tax returns. Preapprovals are conditional and often last for about 90 days.

You can compare your preapproval offers to see which lender is offering the best combination of rates and fees. Ask for a worksheet that outlines your estimated fees once you have your preapproval.

A preapproval isn’t subject to full underwriting or an appraisal. Rates can change after you get a preapproval, though in some cases you can lock an in interest rate at this point.
Your preapproval letter has the added benefit of giving you something legitimate to submit with an offer on a home. Home sellers like to see preapprovals because it means you’re likely to have access to the financing to close a deal.

Once you’ve been preapproved, you can start shopping for houses, submitting bids and negotiating home prices.

Lock in your mortgage rate

Once a home seller has accepted your offer and you’ve also chosen your mortgage lender, it’s time to speak with that lender about your mortgage rate lock options.

A mortgage rate lock is a feature lenders offer during the homebuying process that allows you to lock in your mortgage rate for a predetermined time period. When you have a rate lock in place, your mortgage rate won’t change from the date the lock takes effect until your closing date, with the caveat that you actually close on your mortgage before the rate lock expires.

Some common rate lock terms include 30, 45 or 60 days. If your mortgage doesn’t close in time, then you’ll need to purchase a rate lock extension, which could cost up to 0.50% of your loan amount.

Determining a budget for your mortgage

Finding a great rate on a loan that you can’t pay back is a sure way to destroy your credit. Before you apply for a loan, establish a realistic budget for your monthly mortgage payment and avoid borrowing more than you can comfortably afford to repay.

No matter how large a loan you can qualify for, you need to be a savvy consumer. Keep your monthly mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) at or below 30% of your gross monthly income.

Before you start shopping for houses, determine how a mortgage will fit into your budget. Don’t succumb to pressures to overextend yourself. A burdensome mortgage has the power to turn a dream house into a nightmare. You can avoid the nightmare by planning ahead.

You’ll also need to determine your non-mortgage-related recurring costs before committing to a new loan. Calculate income taxes, transportation and child care or education costs. If you pay alimony or for out-of-pocket health care, consider those costs as well. Additionally, factor in the costs of home maintenance. Experts recommend setting aside 1% to 3% of your home’s purchase price annually for maintenance and upgrades.

In addition to establishing a budget, you need to understand how to find the right features on a mortgage. A great rate on a bad mortgage could spell financial ruin. When you’re shopping for loans, ask yourself these questions:

How long will you stay in the home?

Some buyers purchase houses with the intention of staying just a few years. Someone who plans to sell in a few years might consider an adjustable-rate mortgage rather than a fixed rate, since interest rates are typically lower in the first few years. However, an adjustable-rate mortgage is risky for someone who intends to live in a home long term.

How risky is your financial situation?

How stable is your income? What about your savings? If you have access to a hefty amount of savings, consider making a larger down payment and choosing a 15-year mortgage over a 30-year mortgage to borrow less and grab a lower interest rate.

People with a moderate income and little savings might feel more comfortable with a smaller down payment and a longer payoff period. This will mean paying mortgage insurance and higher financing costs, but they can be worth it for peace of mind.

What about closing costs?

An advertised interest rate doesn’t account for your total cost to borrow money. Most banks make their real money by charging closing costs. These include loan origination fees, recording fees, title inspection fees, underwriting fees and application fees.

All the financing charges will be disclosed on your Loan Estimate. The document will also provide you with an annual percentage rate (APR), which expresses the total cost of borrowing money, including the financing fees.

Closing costs can range from 2% to 5% of a home’s purchase price, and in some cases can be rolled into the loan. Check with your lender for more information about payment options.

Can you accelerate your payments?

Some borrowers cut their total interest costs by accelerating their mortgage payoff. If you have room in your budget to tackle your mortgage debt more quickly than expected, you can save money in the long run.

Making biweekly mortgage payments works out to an extra mortgage payment every year. This cuts a 30-year mortgage down by more than four years, and can shorten your loan term even more if you frequently pay more than expected.

If you have a conventional loan, making extra payments can help you achieve 20% equity faster, which will allow you to drop PMI payments. For FHA borrowers, building your equity at a faster pace means you can possibly refinance into a conventional loan and drop your mortgage insurance premiums, provided you have a 80% LTV ratio or lower.

Common mortgage lingo

Sometimes the most difficult part about shopping for a mortgage is understanding the terms that lenders use. Below we’ve defined a few of the most common mortgage terms that you should know before you commit to a loan.

  • Interest rate: The amount charged by a lender for a borrower to use the loaned money. This is expressed as a percentage of the total loan amount.
  • APR: The annual percentage rate is the total amount that it costs to borrow money from a lender expressed as a percentage. The APR factors in closing costs and other financing fees.
  • Amortization schedule: A table that shows how much of each payment goes to the principal loan balance versus the interest portion of the loan.
  • Term: A set period of time over which a fixed loan payment will be due (often 15 or 30 years).
  • Fixed-rate mortgage: A mortgage where the interest rate stays the same for the entire term of the loan.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage: A mortgage where the interest rate changes based on factors outlined in the loan agreement. Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARMs) are considered riskier than fixed-rate mortgages due to the potential volatility of payments. An example of this loan type is the 5/1 ARM, which has a fixed interest rate for the first five years and then increases once each year thereafter for the life of the loan.
  • Interest-only mortgage: A mortgage where a borrower pays only the interest on a loan for a fixed period (usually 5-7 years).
  • PMI: Private mortgage insurance is a product that protects a bank if you default on your mortgage. Lenders often require borrowers with less than 20% equity to purchase PMI.
  • Jumbo mortgage: A mortgage that is larger than the standards for a “conforming loan” set by government-backed agencies. In most parts of the U.S., a jumbo loan must be larger than $484,350. In some of the highest cost of living areas, a jumbo is in excess of $726,525.
  • Fannie Mae: The Federal National Mortgage Association is a government-sponsored enterprise that purchases mortgages that meet certain criteria from banks that issue the mortgages.
  • Freddie Mac: The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation is a government-sponsored enterprise that purchases mortgages that meet certain criteria from banks that issue the mortgages.
  • Conforming loan: A mortgage that meets the funding criteria of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The most stringent criteria is the loan amount.
  • FHA loan: A loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration. Qualifying standards are not as stringent, but the fees are higher. In addition to annual mortgage insurance premiums (similar to PMI), borrowers pay an upfront premium when they take out the loan.
  • VA loan: A mortgage guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Servicemembers and veterans can purchase houses with a $0 down payment when using a VA loan, provided they meet other lending criteria.
  • Down payment: The initial payment that a homebuyer supplies when purchasing a home with a mortgage.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
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Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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7 Reasons Your Mortgage Application Was Denied

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Rejection isn’t fun under any circumstances, but it can be especially frustrating when you’re trying to buy a home. If your mortgage application was denied, know that you aren’t alone. Nearly 11% of mortgage applications were denied in 2017, according to the latest available data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Reasons for a mortgage application denial usually fall into a handful of categories, including credit history, employment history or property issues. Regardless of what the problem is, you’ll walk away from the experience learning why you’ve been denied and can use that information to work toward a favorable outcome in the future.

Below are seven of the most common reasons your mortgage application might not be approved, according to the CFPB — and then how to move forward.

1. You have a history of late payments

Before you can be approved for a mortgage, your lender needs to make sure you’d be able to repay the loan. Your income and how well you manage your existing debt help determine whether you’ll satisfy your mortgage payments every month, but so will your payment history. Failing to pay your electric, internet or other recurring bills on time will eventually affect your credit reports and scores.

Why this matters

Your payment history makes up the largest chunk of your credit score — 35% — and is listed on every debt-related account included on your credit report. Your credit score factors in the following details about late or missed payments, according to the FICO credit scoring system:

  • How late you were
  • How much you owe
  • How recently you were late
  • How many late or missed payments you have

Other negative information such as a bankruptcy or an account in collections are also factored into your score and will catch your lender’s attention.
If you have a credit history filled with late payments, this indicates to your lender that you struggle with maintaining on-time payments and are more likely to continue making late payments while repaying a mortgage.

How to avoid this issue: Maintain a track record of on-time payments for all your existing debt before and after you apply for a mortgage. If you have a few late payments on your credit report, keep in mind the further removed you are from your late payments, the less impact they’ll have on your credit score.

2. Your job status has changed

Rapidly switching employers and being in-between jobs can be grounds for an application denial.

Why this matters

Mortgage lenders like to see evidence of steady employment, especially for the last two years. They’ll usually verify this by reviewing your pay stubs and W-2s. If your employment history is spotty and doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve been maintaining consistent employment, you’re considered a higher risk and likely won’t be approved.

How to avoid this issue: Limit your job changes before you apply for a mortgage. A good rule of thumb is have had no more than three employers in the last two years and no time between those jobs where you were unemployed. Additionally, avoid any job changes after applying for a mortgage, as this could derail the process.

3. Your bank account has some red flags

Lenders will request at least the last few months of statements from your banking institution to see how your finances are holding up. Because they’re closely reviewing those documents, any suspicious-looking activity will present some red flags. Suspicious activity might include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Using multiple P.O. boxes or frequently changing addresses.
  • Conducting wire transfers to and from places known for their tax haven status or terrorism affiliation.
  • Making large cash payments from sources that typically aren’t associated with cash-based transactions.
  • Using money orders that are sequentially numbered.

Why this matters

Combing through your financial profile is part of the mortgage lending process. If you frequently overdraft your checking account, that won’t reflect well on your reputation as a prospective borrower. On the other end of the spectrum, having large deposits that aren’t accounted for can also cause problems.

You’ll need to verify every income source you want counted as part of your application, said Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C. Any side hustles you have need to be documented and verified if you want that information factored into your ability to afford the mortgage. One way to verify income is by providing your lender with pay stubs or W-2s from your supplemental income sources.

“If you’re relying on every penny, that can really be a roadblock,” McClary said.

How to avoid this issue: Keep track of all your income-related documents and provide them to your lender when they’re requested.

4. You omitted information on your application

Don’t try to outsmart your mortgage lender by withholding information that is pertinent to your loan application, such as neglecting to mention alimony payments or an unpaid federal tax debt. And even if you do so unintentionally, it might be too late to correct it once it’s discovered.

Why this matters

Your loan officer should carefully review your application to make sure it’s filled out completely and accurately. A small error like missing a zero on your income or accidentally skipping a section could mean losing your dream home.

There’s also the chance you forgot to include information that the underwriter caught later in the more extensive screening process, such as money owed to the IRS.

How to avoid this issue: Disclose all of your debt, judgments and other financial-related details to your loan officer upfront. Otherwise, they may not be able to help you if it comes up and disqualifies you later on.

5. You recently opened a new credit account

One of the main ways homebuyers can self-sabotage their chances at being fully approved for a home loan is by making decisions — such as opening a new credit card or financing a new vehicle — that affect their credit profile, after getting an initial green light from their lender in the form of a mortgage preapproval.

A preapproval is conditional and based on where your credit reports, credit scores, income and overall financial picture stand at the time the preapproval was granted. Any changes you make to your finances can prevent you from buying a home.

Why this matters

When you add a new set of debt to your plate, that increases your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI ratio is the percentage of your gross monthly income that is used to repay debt. In most cases, mortgage lenders like to see a DTI ratio of 43% or less. Adding any type of credit account will jeopardize your DTI ratio and potentially push you into denial territory.
“Everybody focuses so much on the credit report, but the other question is: Are you financing a home that you can actually afford?” McClary said.

How to avoid this issue: Don’t make any financial decisions that will result in an inquiry on your credit reports and an increase in your debt load. Practice this for 6-12 months before you start the homebuying process, McClary advised. You’ll also need to continue this practice until after you get your house keys. Additionally, try to find ways to boost your income to pay off debt.

6. You don’t have enough cash to close

Borrowing a mortgage will cost you more than just your monthly mortgage payment. In most cases, you’ll have a required down payment and closing costs to pay for. If you don’t have proof that you can cover those costs, your application may be rejected.

Why this matters

Your mortgage lender will want you to have some skin in the game for your home purchase, which would be your down payment. There are also the closing costs you’ll be charged for taking out a mortgage.

During the approval process, your lender will request that you provide proof of funds to close on your loan. Some examples of proof include bank statements, retirement account statements and gift letters with the donor’s proof of funds — in cases when a loved one is helping you meet your “cash to close” amount. Be sure your gift money is coming from an acceptable source, however.

Failing to provide the necessary documents can lead to a mortgage denial.

How to avoid this issue: Save aggressively for your down payment and closing costs. It’s possible to qualify for a mortgage with as little as 3% down, depending on your credit score. Your closing costs can range from 2% to 5% of your home’s purchase price.

If you’re borrowing or withdrawing from a retirement account, supply documentation from your plan provider that shows you qualify to do so, along with statements that verify you have the funds available to use for your home purchase. And if you need some extra help, consider a down payment assistance program.

7. Your home appraisal doesn’t match up

Getting a full mortgage approval is also contingent upon having the home appraised. Any problems that come up during the appraisal process can stop you from getting your house keys.

Why this matters

A home appraisal is an unbiased estimate of a home’s value. Your mortgage lender will more than likely require an appraisal for the home you’re trying to buy in order to verify that the purchase price checks out. If the appraisal aligns with the sales price or is slightly higher, no worries there. But if the appraisal is lower than the sales price, your lender might deny your application.

How to avoid this issue: If you have the financial capacity to do so, you can make up the difference in cash. You could also try negotiating a lower sales price with the home seller.

How to move forward after a mortgage denial

Once you’ve been denied, it’s time to figure out how to work toward eventually getting approved. Keep these tips in mind on how to move forward.

  • Find out why you were denied. Mortgage lenders are required to give you an explanation for why they denied your mortgage application if you submit a request for that information in writing, according to the CFPB. They must also provide you with a copy of the credit report that factored into your denial.
  • Improve your circumstances. Whether it’s a high DTI ratio, too short of an employment history or another common setback, take some time to correct those issues and better position yourself for mortgage approval in the future.
  • Consider housing counseling. In cases where you were denied for credit or income-related reasons, McClary suggests reaching out to a nonprofit housing counseling agency for help addressing those issues.

Everyone’s timeline is different for when they should apply again, so be sure to check with your lender or a housing counselor for guidance on next steps.

The bottom line

Being denied for a mortgage can be a discouraging experience, but it doesn’t mean all hope is lost for your goal of homeownership.

Once you’re clear on why you were denied, you can make the necessary changes so you’re not rejected the next time around.

“The more you do leading up to the loan application to make sure that you check and double-check every step, then the easier the actual homebuying process will be,” McClary said, “because that financing piece is locked down and you’ve addressed all the issues that could potentially be roadblocks.”

Here’s what you need to know about the most important factors to getting approved for a mortgage.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

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

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5/1 ARM mortgage
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Homebuying involves a lot of decisions. You choose your neighborhood, your home, your mortgage program and your down payment. But you’ll also need to decide on the structure of your interest rate — fixed or adjustable.

While most people prefer a fixed-rate mortgage, there is a market for adjustable-rate loans. Nearly 7% of all loans originated in April 2019 were adjustable-rate mortgages, according to Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report.

One common adjustable-rate mortgage is known as a 5/1 ARM. It has an initial fixed rate for five years before the interest rate starts adjusting. The rate can change every year for the remaining life of the loan.

An adjustable-rate mortgage can be a good way to get a better initial interest rate, usually lower than a traditional 30-year fixed-rate loan. But before you dive in to an adjustable-rate mortgage application, you’d better know how the changing interest rate will affect what you pay.

Here’s a guide to how 5/1 ARMs work, how they differ from fixed-rate mortgages and their pros and cons.

What’s a 5/1 ARM?

Before defining a 5/1 ARM, we should first define an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM. An ARM is a type of mortgage that has an interest rate that changes, or adjusts, multiple times over the life of the loan.

Different types of adjustable-rate mortgages have interest rates that change at different intervals and are limited to certain levels of increase each time. Most ARMs start out with a fixed interest rate for several years and eventually transition to a period with an variable interest rate for the rest of the term, usually a total of 30 years.

In the case of a 5/1 ARM, the mortgage rate is fixed for the first five years. That’s what the “5” refers to. Then, the mortgage can adjust each year thereafter for the remaining 25 years of the loan term. That’s what the “1” refers to, since the rate changes after one year.

Since the 5/1 ARM is a blend of a fixed-rate and adjustable-rate loan, it can also be known as a hybrid mortgage.

How 5/1 ARM interest rates adjust

Adjustable-rate mortgages are less predictable than fixed-rate loans and are directly impacted by economic factors after you’ve started repaying the loan.

Changes to the interest rate on an adjustable-rate mortgage are based on an index, which is a benchmark interest rate that reflects general market conditions, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The most common index used for mortgages is the one-year London Inter-Bank Offer Rate, or LIBOR for short.

Mortgage lenders use the index and then add on a fixed margin to determine your interest rate. A margin is a set number of percentage points added on to the index. So, if the one-year LIBOR is 2.65% and your lender’s margin is 2.15%, your mortgage rate, or “fully indexed rate,” at that time would be 4.8%.

Interest rates on 5/1 ARMs typically start out lower than those for fixed-rate mortgages. As of mid-May 2019, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.07%, while the 5/1 ARM was 3.66%, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

Let’s take a look at how a 5/1 ARM stacks up against a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage after the first five years. We’ll use a hypothetical $250,000 house and assume the buyer is putting down 20%, which means they’ll borrow a $200,000 mortgage.

 

5/1 ARM

30-Year FRM

Interest rate

3.7

4.1

Monthly payment
(Principal and interest)

$920.57

$966.40

Interest paid after five years

$6,639.60

$7,406.94

Principal paid after five years

$4,407.19

$4,189.82

As shown above, because the 5/1 ARM has a lower interest rate during its fixed-rate period than the 30-year fixed does, the buyer would pay $767.34 less in interest after five years and pay down $217.37 more of the principal balance of the loan. The results could quickly reverse once the 5/1 ARM’s interest rate begins adjusting, however.

Let’s look at the 5/1 ARM (on a $250,000 home with a $50,000 down payment) after two interest rate adjustments to understand how the changes can impact the monthly mortgage payment.

 

Adjustment #1

Adjustment #2

Index

2.65%

2.8%

Margin

2.15%

2.15%

Interest rate (Index + margin)

4.8%

4.95%

Monthly payment (Principal and interest)

$1,049.33

$1,067.54

In the above scenarios, the 5/1 ARM interest rate jumps significantly higher than 3.7%. By the time the rate jumps to 4.8% and again to 4.95%, the monthly payment increases by nearly $130 and $150, respectively.

Pros and cons of 5/1 ARM

As with any financial product, there are benefits and drawbacks. Consider the following pros and cons of borrowing a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage.

Pros

  • ARM interest rates are usually lower than 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (and sometimes 15-year fixed-rate mortgages) for the first five years, which means you’ll pay less in interest during that time.
  • Monthly mortgage payments are also typically lower in the first five years, thanks to the lower interest rate.
  • There is a limit to how high your interest rate can increase over the life of your loan, which is called a lifetime adjustment cap. The cap is typically five percentage points, but your lender’s cap could be higher, according to the CFPB.

Cons

  • After the first five years of a 5/1 ARM, the interest rate can adjust each year and is not predictable. Although there’s a cap on how much your rate can increase the first time it adjusts, it can still be significantly higher than the fixed rate you’re losing.
  • Because your interest rate adjusts over the life of your loan, so does your monthly mortgage payment. If a higher mortgage payment would greatly impact your budget, this could cause you some affordability problems.
  • If you want to keep a fixed interest rate, you must refinance into a fixed-rate mortgage, which comes with closing costs and other fees. You must also qualify for a refinance in order to get out of your existing mortgage.

A 5/1 ARM might work for you if …

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

Homebuyers in the following scenarios could benefit from a 5/1 ARM:

  • First-time buyers who plan to move within the first five years of owning their home.
  • Buyers who plan to pay of their mortgage very quickly.
  • Buyers who are borrowing a jumbo mortgage.

Crouse explained that with some first-time buyers, 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, a real estate agent and community manager for BiggerPockets, an online community of real estate investors, agrees. “You can actually use a 5/1 ARM to your advantage in certain situations,” she said.

A 5/1 ARM could work well for someone who wants to aggressively pay down a mortgage in a short amount of time, Jensen explained. 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?

“The lower initial interest rate frees up more money to make higher principal payments,” Jensen said.

Another group of people that can benefit from 5/1 ARM are those who take out or refinance jumbo mortgages, Crouse added.

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 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.

However, keep in mind that real estate is a risky investment and nothing is guaranteed.

A 5/1 ARM isn’t right for you if …

For homebuyers who plan to stay put for longer than five years, Crouse and Jensen share the sentiment that a 5/1 ARM might not be as beneficial for them.

Homeowners should also consider whether they want to be landlords in the future, Jensen added. If you decide to move out of your home but keep the mortgage and rent out your home, a 5/1 ARM may not serve you.

Additionally, if you think there’s a chance you might not be able to refinance out of a 5/1 ARM by the time your interest rate starts adjusting, you might consider a fixed-rate mortgage instead.

The bottom line

The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage can offer you the benefits of a lower interest rate and monthly payment, especially in the first five years of the loan. This alone may make it an attractive product for homebuyers.

Still, you can’t predict how high your interest rate can go when it transitions from fixed to variable, and that’s a budgeting concern you’ll need to consider when weighing your home financing options.

If after reading this guide you think a 5/1 ARM might be right for you, keep this list of questions in mind as you gather mortgage quotes from lenders:

  • How long do I want to live in this house?
  • Will this house suit my family if my family grows?
  • Is there a chance my job will transfer me elsewhere?
  • How often does the rate adjust after five years?
  • When is the adjusted rate applied to the mortgage?
  • If I want to refinance in five years, how much might that cost me?
  • How comfortable am I with the uncertainty of a variable rate?
  • Do I want to rent out my house if I decide to move?

Once you’ve filled in the answers to the above questions, your next step is to understand the minimum mortgage requirements for the available loan programs.

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Cat Alford
Cat Alford |

Cat Alford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Catherine at [email protected]

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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