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Mortgage

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

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Buying a home allows you to choose a residence that fits your lifestyle.

Should you buy a house in a suburb or a historic downtown? What about a condo within walking distance of a train station? Or maybe a townhouse in a new urban infill community?

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Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or are looking for a second home, choosing between a condo, house or townhouse requires you to consider location, maintenance and price. The good news is these housing styles have some overlap, so choosing one over the others may involve less sacrifice than you might expect.

What’s the difference between a condo and a townhouse?

Condominiums — called condos for short — are a kind of ownership, while townhouses and houses (stand-alone structures that most people would consider traditional, single-family homes) refer to physical structure styles.

Condos

Condos can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, though they are often similar in size and appearance to an apartment. At the same time, some condos can be quite expansive. They typically are private residences that are part of a building of multiple-unit communities, although some detached condominiums are available. Condos are occupied by an individual or a family and are often found in urban areas where land for construction is scarce.

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

Regardless of their location or size, condo owners share ownership of common areas and facilities that are maintained by a board 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, like community pools, gym facilities and landscaping.

Townhouses

Townhouses typically are vertical, single-family structures that have at least two floors and must be separated by at least one ground-to-roof wall with any other residence that may be attached to it.

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

In some cases, townhouses may be classified as condos. The way they’re categorized depends on what’s outlined in the declaration and bylaws for each association, Swets said.

Comparing condos, townhouses and houses

To help you decide which house and ownership type is best for you, we’ve highlighted comparisons as we look at condo versus townhouse, house versus condo and townhouse versus house.

Condo vs. townhouse

Benefits

Risks

Condos and townhouses both offer the opportunity to get to know neighbors and build a strong community and walkable amenities such as a pool or clubhouse, with generally less maintenance than a house. Condos may offer a variety of extra features, with new developments providing luxury conveniences such as rooftop bars, doormen and catering kitchens.Condo and homeowners association (HOA) fees can be expensive, and you’re trusting the HOA or condo association to provide satisfactory upkeep of the property. Condo fees tend to be higher than townhouse HOA fees — as much as several hundred dollars more — because condo associations typically provide more maintenance and amenities, and they can charge owners extra fees to pay for one-time facility expenses.

House vs. condo

Benefits

Risks

While condos offer a range of amenities and maintenance for the exterior of the property, owning a single-family home frees owners from the rules and restrictions of condo ownership. Buyers looking for privacy, a rural or suburban lifestyle or a larger property will have more options with a single-family house.Owning a single-family home means that the owner must pay for damage and upkeep to the interior and exterior that insurance doesn’t cover. Condo associations are liable for the exterior property and, if stated in the bylaws, “common elements” such as the roof and windows.

Townhouse vs. house

Benefits

Risks

Owners of both single-family houses and townhouses own their units, giving them freedom to improve and renovate as they see fit — within any guidelines for changes set by HOAs.Single-family homeowners assume responsibility for their property. Townhouse owners may not be liable for repairs, upkeep or incidents that occur outside their unit or the land on which it sits, depending on their HOA.

How to choose between condos and townhouses

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

Maintenance

A single-family house gives you the freedom to fix up or renovate as you please, but you’re also responsible for repairs and maintenance. As a condo owner, the monthly fee you pay to a board or association may take care of maintenance such as mowing, exterior repairs and snow shoveling. Townhouse HOA fees may include maintenance of the community’s common areas, such as a shared backyard or playground, but that’s not always 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, immediate past 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, townhouses and stand-alone 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.

Ownership restrictions

While condos can offer convenience and amenities, they also come with monthly dues and occasional assessment fees for special community projects, such as clubhouse repairs, 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, which might include a gym, pool, clubhouse access and landscaping. Owners of a single-family house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association will pay monthly or annual HOA fees, and condo and townhouse owners will likely pay fees every month to their community board or association.

HOA fees typically can range from about $200 to $300 a month; other factors may contribute to how much the fee will be, like your location, unit size and available amenities. Monthly condo association fees can go as high as $700 or more, also depending on the amenities and services provided.

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 home out of reach.

Lending and price

Where you live will determine the price that you’ll pay for your home. Homes in desirable locations, such as a lively downtown area or a neighborhood with a good school district, can cost significantly more than homes with a long commute to a city.

Interest rates vary by lender and location, so it’s important to comparison shop with multiple mortgage lenders before making a decision.

Another consideration for each dwelling type is its resale value. It’s helpful to research resale information for similar homes in the community or neighborhood, and make a note of how long those properties were on the market before they were sold. You should also keep in mind that association fees could have an impact on whether a home is resold.

The bottom line

Your decision to buy a condo, house or townhouse should depend on:

  • What you can afford
  • How much maintenance you’re OK handling
  • Where you want to live
  • The type of community in which you want to live

For example, a family with kids may want a house with a big yard near a good school, while a single professional may be more interested in a downtown condo within walking distance to the office and nightlife.

As you consider which dwelling to buy, be sure to include the costs of condo or HOA fees in your housing expenses to determine whether your new home fits your lifestyle and your budget.

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing. 

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Mortgage

How to Recover From Missed Mortgage Payments

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understanding good faith estimate vs loan estimate
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Can you bounce back from a missed mortgage payment or two? The answer is yes, but there’s work involved. After all, your payment history has the greatest impact in determining your credit score.

Falling behind on your mortgage payments can affect your credit and finances, and you could lose your home to foreclosure. It’s critical to be proactive and not wait until it’s too late to get help.

How missed mortgage payments affect your credit

In most cases, mortgage lenders give you a 15-day grace period before charging a fee — often around 5% of the principal and interest portion of your monthly payment — for late payments. But your credit history typically isn’t impacted until you’re at least 30 days behind on a mortgage payment. At this point, your mortgage servicer may report your late mortgage payment to the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Your credit score could drop by 60 to 110 points after a late mortgage payment, depending on where your score started, according to FICO research. Being 90 days late on your loan could lower your score by another 20 points or more.

It can take up to three years to fully recover from a credit score drop after being a month behind on your mortgage, FICO’s research found. Once you’re three months behind on your mortgage, that time can increase to seven years.

Recovering from missed mortgage payments

Falling behind on your mortgage can be a frustrating and scary experience, particularly if you’re facing the threat of foreclosure. Here are some options to help you get back on track after missed mortgage payments:

  • Repayment plan. Your loan servicer agrees to let you spread out your late mortgage payments over the next several months to bring your loan current. When your upcoming payments are due, you’d also pay a portion of the past-due amount until you catch up.
  • Forbearance. Your servicer temporarily reduces or suspends your monthly mortgage payments for a set amount of time. Once the mortgage forbearance period ends, you’ll repay what’s owed by one of three ways: in a lump sum, a repayment plan or by modifying your loan.
  • Modification. A loan modification changes your loan’s original terms by extending your repayment term, lowering your mortgage interest rate or switching you from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate mortgage. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment to a more affordable amount.

Be proactive about getting back on track and reaching out to your lender for help instead of waiting until you get late payment notices. If you think you’ll be behind soon or are already a few days behind, make contact now and review your options.

Extra help for homeowners affected by COVID-19

If you’re behind on mortgage payments because of a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may qualify for a mortgage relief program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Homeowners who have federally backed mortgages, and conventional loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, can request mortgage forbearance for up to 180 days. They can also request an extension for up to an additional 180 days.

Federally backed mortgages include loans insured by the:

  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Reach out to your mortgage servicer to request forbearance. Even if your loan isn’t backed by a federal government entity, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, your servicer may offer payment relief options. You can find your servicer’s contact information on your most recent mortgage statement.

How many mortgage payments can you miss before foreclosure?

Your lender can begin the foreclosure process as soon as you’re two months behind on your mortgage, though it typically won’t start until you’re at least 120 days late, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Still, it’s best to check your local foreclosure laws since they vary by state.

Here’s a timeline of how missed mortgage payments can lead to foreclosure.

30 days late

Your lender or servicer reports a late mortgage payment to the credit bureaus once you’re 30 days behind. Your servicer will also directly contact you no later than 36 days after you’re behind to discuss getting current.

45 days late

You’ll receive a notice of default that gives you a deadline — which must be at least 30 days after the notice date — to pay the past-due amount. If you miss that deadline, your servicer can demand that you repay your outstanding mortgage balance, plus interest, in full.

Your mortgage servicer will also assign a team member to work with you on foreclosure prevention options. This information will be communicated to you in writing.

60 days late

Once you’re 60 days late, expect more mortgage late fees, as you’ve missed two payments. Your servicer will send you another notice by the 36th day after the second missed payment. This same process applies for every month you’re behind.

90 days late

At 90 days late, your servicer may send you a letter telling you to bring your mortgage current within 30 days, or face foreclosure. You’ll likely be charged a third late fee.

120 days late

The foreclosure process typically begins after the 120th day you’re behind. If you live in a state with judicial foreclosures, your loan servicer’s attorney will file a foreclosure lawsuit with your county court to resell the home and recoup the money you owe. The process may speed up in nonjudicial foreclosure states, because your lender doesn’t have to sue to repossess your home.

You’re notified in writing about the sale and given a move-out deadline. There’s still a chance you can keep your home if you pay the amount owed, along with any applicable legal fees, before the foreclosure sale date.

Can you get late mortgage payment forgiveness?

If you’ve otherwise had a good payment history but now have one missed mortgage payment, you could try writing a goodwill adjustment letter to request that your servicer erase the late payment information from your credit reports.

Your letter should include:

  • Your name
  • Your account number
  • Your contact information
  • A callout of your good payment history prior to missing a payment
  • An explanation of what led to the late mortgage payment
  • The steps you’re taking to prevent late payments in the future

End the letter by requesting that your servicer remove the late payment from your credit reports, and thank your servicer for their consideration. Print, sign and mail your letter to your servicer’s address.

The letter is simply a request; your servicer isn’t required to grant late mortgage payment forgiveness. If your servicer agrees to remove the late payment info from your credit reports, your credit scores may eventually increase — so long as you continue to make on-time payments.

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.

By clicking “See Rates”, you will be directed to LendingTree. Based on your creditworthiness, you may be matched with up to five different lenders in our partner network.

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Mortgage

What Is the Minimum Credit Score for a Home Loan?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’re hoping to become a homeowner, your credit score may hold the keys to realizing that dream. Knowing the minimum credit score needed for a home loan gives you a baseline to help decide if it’s time to apply for a mortgage, or take some steps to boost your credit first.

It’s possible to get a mortgage with a score as low as 500 if you can come up with a 10% down payment. Keep reading to learn the minimum credit score requirements for the most common loan programs.

What are the minimum credit scores for home loans?

Your credit score plays a big role in determining whether you qualify for a mortgage and what your interest rate offers will be. A higher credit score means you’ll likely get a lower rate and a lower monthly mortgage payment.

There are four main types of mortgages: conventional loans, and government-backed loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Conventional loans, which are the most common loan type with guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have a credit score minimum of 620. Although some loan programs don’t specify a minimum credit score needed to qualify, the approved lenders who offer them may set their own minimum requirements.

The table below features the minimum credit scores for these home loans, along with minimum down payment amounts and for whom each of the loans is best.

Loan type

Minimum credit score

Minimum down payment

Who it’s best for

Conventional6203%Borrowers with good credit
FHA500-579 with 10% down payment
580 with 3.5% down payment
10% with a score of 500-579
3.5% with a minimum score of 580
Borrowers who have bad credit and are purchasing a home at or below their area FHA loan limits
VANo credit minimum, but 620 recommendedNo down payment requiredActive-duty service members, veterans and eligible spouses with VA entitlement
USDA640No down payment requiredBorrowers in USDA-eligible rural areas with low- to moderate-incomes

What is a good credit score to buy a house?

Meeting the minimum score requirement for a home loan will limit your mortgage options, while higher credit scores will open the doors to more attractive rates and loan terms. A good credit score can also provide you with more choices for home loan financing.

  • 740 credit score. You’ll typically get your best interest rates for a conventional mortgage with a 740 (or higher) credit score. If you make less than a 20% down payment, you’ll pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender in case you default on your home loan.
  • 640 credit score. Rural homebuyers need to pay attention to this benchmark for USDA financing. Exceptions may be possible with proof that the new payment is lower than what you’re paying for rent now.
  • 620 credit score. The bare minimum credit score for conventional financing comes with the largest mark-ups for interest rates and PMI.
  • 580 credit score. This is the bottom line to be considered for an FHA loan with a 3.5% down payment.
  • 500 credit score. This is the lowest credit score you can have to qualify for an FHA loan, but you must put 10% down to qualify.

Annual percentage rates by credit score

Your mortgage rate is a reflection of the risk lenders take when they offer you a loan. Lenders provide lower rates to borrowers who are the most likely to repay a mortgage.

Here’s a glimpse of the annual percentage rates (APRs) and monthly payments lenders may offer to borrowers at different credit score tiers on a $300,000, 30-year fixed loan. APR measures the total cost of borrowing, including the loan’s interest rate and fees.

FICO Score

APR

Monthly Payment

760-8503.011%$1,267
700-7593.233%$1,303
680-6993.410%$1,332
660-6793.624%$1,368
640-6594.054%$1,442
620-6394.6%$1,538
*Based on national average rate data from myFICO.com for a $300,000, 30-year, fixed-rate loan as of May 4, 2020.

As the credit score ranges fall, the interest rates are higher. Borrowers with a score of 760 to 850, the highest range, saw an average monthly payment of $1,267. Borrowers in the lowest credit score tier of 620 to 639 saw their monthly payment jump to $1,538. The extra $271 in monthly payments adds up to an additional $97,560 in interest charges over the life of the loan.

Steps for improving your credit score

Now that you have an idea of the extra cost of getting a minimum credit score mortgage, follow some of these tips that may help boost your score.

  • Make payments on time. It may seem obvious, but recent late payments on credit accounts hit your scores the hardest. Set your bills on autopay if possible to avoid forgetting to pay one.
  • Pay off balances monthly. Try to pay your entire balance off each month to show you can manage debt responsibly.
  • Keep your credit card balances low. If you do carry a credit card balance, charge 30% or less of the available credit limit on each account.
  • Have a mix of different credit types. Mortgage lenders want to see you can handle longer-term debt as well as credit cards. A car loan or personal loan will help demonstrate your ability to budget for installment debt payments over time.
  • Avoid applying for new accounts. A credit inquiry tells your lender you applied for credit. Even if you were applying to get your best deal on a credit card or car loan, multiple inquiries could drop your scores, and give a lender the impression you’re racking up debt.

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.