Whether you’re a first time homebuyer or a seasoned homeowner, the terminology of mortgages can be confusing. Since buying a home is such a huge financial decision, you’re also going to want to make sure you understand every step of the process and all of the conditions and fees along the way.
In this article, we’re going to explain some of the common terms you might come across when applying for a home loan, be it online or over the phone. By learning the basic meaning of these terms you’ll feel more confident and prepared going into the application process.
We’ll cover the acronyms, like APRs and ARMs, and the scary sounding terms like “amortization” so that you know everything you need to about the terminology of home loans.
ARM and FRM, or adjustable rate vs fixed rate mortgages. Lenders make their money by charging you interest on your home loan that you pay back over the length of your loan period. Adjustable rate mortgages or ARMs are loans that have interest rates which change over the lifespan of your loan. You may start off at a low, “introductory rate” and later start paying higher amounts depending on the predetermined rate index. Fixed rate mortgages, on the other hand, remain at the same rate throughout the life of the loan. However, refinancing on your loan allows you to receive a different interest rate later down the road.
Amortization. It sounds like a medieval torture technique, but in reality amortization is the process of making your life easier by setting up a fixed repayment schedule. This schedule includes both the interest and the principal loan balance, allowing you to understand how long and how much money will go toward repaying your mortgage.
Equity. Simply state, your equity is the the amount of the home you have paid off. In a sense, it’s the amount of the home that you really own. Your equity increases as you make payments, and having equity can help you buy a new home, or see a return on investment with your current home if the home increases in value.
Assumption and assumability. It isn’t the title of a Jane Austen novel. It’s all about the process of a mortgage changing hands. An assumable mortgage can be transferred to a new buyer, and assumption is the actual transfer of the loan. Assuming a loan can be financially beneficial if the home as increased in value since the mortgage was created.
Escrow. There are a lot of legal implications that come along with buying a home. An escrow is designed to make sure the loan process runs smoothly. It acts as a holding tank for your documents, payments, as well as property taxes and insurance. An escrow performs an important function in the home buying process, and, as a result, charges you a percentage of the home for its services.
Origination fee. Basically a fancy way of saying “processing fee,” the origination covers the cost of processing your mortgage application. It’s one of the many “closing costs” you’ll encounter when buying a home and accounts for all of the legwork your loan officer does to make your mortgage a reality--running credit reports, reviewing income history, and so on.
If you’re a first time homebuyer and want to start weighing your mortgage options, you’ll have much to learn. With so much at stake, you’ll want to make sure you choose the best mortgage for you now, and one that will still suit your needs years into the future.
Sometimes, first time buyers are hesitant to ask questions they may consider too basic because they don’t want to seem inexperienced to lenders, agents, or anyone else they’ll be in contact with throughout the home buying process.
So, in this article, we’ve compiled a list of commonly asked mortgage questions that first time buyers might want to ask before heading into the process of acquiring a home loan.
What is the first step to getting a mortgage?
This question may seem straightforward, however the first step can vary depending on your financial situation. For those who already have saved up for a down payment and built a solid credit score, the first step is probably contacting lenders and getting preapproved or prequalified.
However, if you aren’t sure about your credit score and haven’t saved up for a down payment (ideally, 20% of what you hope to spend on the house), then you should address those matters first.
To find a lender, you can do a simple Google search for the mortgage lenders in your area, or you can ask around to friends and family to find out their experience with their own mortgage lenders.
What does it mean to be pre-qualified and pre-approved?
If you think of the mortgage process in three steps, the first step would be getting pre-qualified. This means you’ve given the lender enough basic information for them to decide which type of mortgage you’re eligible to receive.
Pre-approval includes collecting and verifying further details. At this step, you’ll complete a mortgage application and the lender will run a credit check. Once you’re pre-approved, your file can be moved to the underwriting phase.
What are closing costs?
“Closing costs” is an umbrella term that covers all of the various fees and expenses related to buying or selling a home. As a buyer, you are responsible for paying numerous closing costs. These can include, but are not limited to, underwriting fees, title searches, title insurance, origination fees, taxes, appraisal fees, surveys, and more.
That sounds like a lot to keep track of, however your lender will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the total closing costs when you apply for your loan. In fact, lenders are required to give you a list of these costs within three days of your loan application in the form of a “good faith estimate” of the closing costs.
What will my interest rate be?
The answer to this question is dependent upon numerous factors. The value of the home, your credit score, the amount you put down (down payment), the type of mortgage you have, and whether or not you’re paying private mortgage insurance all factor into the interest rate you’ll receive. Interest rates also will vary slightly between lenders.
You can receive a fixed-rate mortgage that does not fluctuate throughout the repayment term. However, you also typically have the option to refinance to acquire a lower interest rate, however refinancing comes with its own costs.
Once you have gone through the pre-approval process and have narrowed down your home search, there’s a good chance you’ll soon find a place that you want to make an offer on. This can seem like a huge step for any first time homebuyer. Even seasoned home buyers feel butterflies when the time comes to make an offer on a home they love. Before you even start your home search, you should become educated on how to make a good offer in order to land the property that you really want. There’s so many factors that effect your offer including the surrounding properties and the current state of the market. Here are a few very important pieces of advice that you should heed in order to have a successful time securing a home and closing the deal.
Craft A Persuasive Offer
In many areas there’s a low inventory of homes and a high number of those seeking to buy. This means that you’re not guaranteed to get a property that you have made an offer on. Lowball offers might not be at all competitive and even insulting to sellers in certain markets. Often, you may need to make an offer of more than the asking price if you’re in love with a home. By working with your real estate agent and doing the right research, you can craft an offer on a home that will be compelling for sellers.
Decide On Your Contingencies
Once an offer has been accepted, it’s time to get to work on those contingencies. Be especially mindful of financing contingencies. If something falls through in the process, you’ll want to be sure you can get the deposit you made back. Also keep in mind that sellers love reliable buyers who have already been preapproved.
Home inspection contingencies are another area of importance. After you sign the purchase agreement and the inspection is complete, you’re allowed to ask the seller to make repairs or provide you with a counter offer. While this can be one of the more nerve-wracking aspects of home buying, it has many positives. Home inspections protect buyers from purchasing a home that they can’t live with in cases of extreme mold, termites and other environmental and structural issues.
The appraisal contingency is also important. In order for you to qualify for a loan, the property must be appraised. The property must be valued at or above the purchase price. A loan will only be approved by a lender up to the appraised value. If your home loan is $400,000 but your home of choice is appraised at $390,000, you’ll have a problem.
Your Finances Matter Until You Get To The Closing Table
Don’t go crazy with all kinds of purchases before you reach the closing table. Opening a new credit account at your favorite furniture store, for example, could lead to a disastrous surprise on closing day. Hold off on big purchases until after you secure your home. Also avoid making large transfers or deposits from your bank account. don’t do anything to negatively affect your credit score
Know What To Bring To The Closing
Don’t show up to the closing for your home purchase unprepared. You’ll need to have the following items:
- Photo ID
Be sure that you think of the future when you’re purchasing your home. You’ll need to have enough cash flow to pay for things like property taxes, home insurance, utility bills and even new furniture for your home. Plan your future mortgage payments accordingly. Some companies have payments that are monthly or bimonthly.
While buying a home is a huge undertaking, with the right plans in place, the process will be as seamless as possible. With the right plans, the moving truck will be pulling into the driveway before you know it.
Deciphering credit scoresMost major lenders assign your credit score based on the information provided by three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies report your credit history to FICO, who give you a score from 300 to 850 (850 being the best your score can get). When applying for a mortgage (or attempting to be pre-approved for a home loan), the lender you choose will weight several aspects to determine if they will lend money to you and under what terms they will lend you the money. Among these are your employment status, current salary, your savings and assets, and your credit score. Lenders use this data to attempt to determine how likely you are to pay off your debt. To be considered a "safe" person to lend money to it will require a combination of things, including good credit. What is good credit? Credit scores are based on five components:
- 35%: your payment history
- 30%: your debt amount
- 15%: length of your credit history
- 10%: types of credit you have used
- 10%: recent credit inquiries (such as taking out new loans or opening new credit cards)
What does this mean for taking out mortgages?A higher credit score will get you a lower interest rate. By the time you pay off your mortgage, just a hundred points on your credit score could save you thousands on your mortgage, and that's not including the money you might save by getting lower interest rates on other loans as well. If you would like to buy a home within the next few years, take this time to focus on building your credit score:
- If you have high balances, do your best to lower them
- If you have a tendency to miss payments, set recurring reminders in your phone to make sure you pay on time
- If you don't have diverse credit, it could be a good time to take out a loan or open your first credit card