You can meet with a mortgage lender and get pre-qualified for a home loan at any time. A pre-qualification simply means the lender thinks that, based on your credit score, income, and other factors, you should be able to get approved for a mortgage. It’s informal and totally non-binding.
📝 Different Types of Mortgage Loans
Option 1: Fixed vs. Adjustable Rate
As a borrower, one of your first choices is whether you want a fixed-rate or an adjustable-rate mortgage loan. All loans fit into one of these two categories, or a combination “hybrid” category.
- Fixed-rate mortgage loans have the same interest rate for the entire repayment term. Because of this, the size of your monthly payment will stay the same, month after month, and year after year. It will never change. This is true even for long-term financing options, such as the 30-year fixed-rate loan. It has the same interest rate, and the same monthly payment, for the entire term.
- Adjustable-rate mortgage loans (ARMs) have an interest rate that will change or “adjust” from time to time. Typically, the rate on an ARM will change every year after an initial period of remaining fixed. It is therefore referred to as a “hybrid” product. A hybrid ARM loan is one that starts off with a fixed or unchanging interest rate, before switching over to an adjustable rate.
Option 2: Government-Insured vs. Conventional Loans
A conventional home loan is one that is not insured or guaranteed by the federal government in any way. This distinguishes it from the three government-backed mortgage types explained below (FHA, VA and USDA).
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program is managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is a department of the federal government. FHA loans are available to all types of borrowers, not just first-time buyers. The government insures the lender against losses that might result from borrower default. Advantage: This program allows you to make a down payment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price. Disadvantage: You’ll have to pay for mortgage insurance, which will increase the size of your monthly payments.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a loan program to military service members and their families. Similar to the FHA program, these types of mortgages are guaranteed by the federal government. This means the VA will reimburse the lender for any losses that may result from borrower default. The primary advantage of this program (and it’s a big one) is that borrowers can receive 100% financing for the purchase of a home. That means no down payment whatsoever.
USDA / RHS Loans
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a loan program for rural borrowers who meet certain income requirements. The program is managed by the Rural Housing Service (RHS), which is part of the Department of Agriculture. This type of mortgage loan is offered to “rural residents who have a steady, low or modest income, and yet are unable to obtain adequate housing through conventional financing.” Income must be no higher than 115% of the adjusted area median income [AMI]. The AMI varies by county.
Option 3: Jumbo vs. Conforming Loan
There is another distinction that needs to be made, and it’s based on the size of the loan. Depending on the amount you are trying to borrow, you might fall into either the jumbo or conforming category.
- A conforming loan is one that meets the underwriting guidelines of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, particularly where size is concerned. Fannie and Freddie are the two government controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities (MBS). A conforming loan falls within their maximum size limits, and otherwise “conforms” to pre-established criteria.
- A jumbo loan exceeds the conforming loan limits established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This type of mortgage represents a higher risk for the lender due to its size. As a result, jumbo borrowers must have excellent credit and larger down payments, when compared to conforming loans. Interest rates are higher with the jumbo products.
💲Variable and Fixed Rate Loans
Fixed-rate financing means the interest rate on your loan does not change over the life of your loan. With a fixed rate, you can see your payment for each month and the total you will pay over the life of a loan. You might prefer fixed rates if you are looking for a loan payment that won’t change.
Variable-rate financing is where the interest rate on your loan can change, based on the prime rate or another rate called an “index.” With a variable-rate loan, the interest rate on the loan changes as the index rate changes, meaning that it could go up or down. Because your interest rate can go up, your monthly payment can also go up. The longer the term of the loan, the riskier a variable rate loan can be for a borrower, because there is more time for rates to increase.
✍️ The Importance of Pre-Approval When Buying a Home
Many banks will give you an informal estimate of what you can afford, and this is known as pre-qualification. It is not a statement of fact, but rather an opinion. Make sure you get an official Pre-Approval letter. This is a statement of fact, and will hold a lot more weight than a pre-qualification letter. It takes more work to get pre-approved, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run.
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