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What is a mortgage?

A mortgage? It's basically a big loan helping you grab that dream home! You get a hefty sum—sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars—at a sweet, low-interest rate. But remember, this money is strictly for buying, refinancing, or sprucing up your home.

Thinking about snagging a house, condo, or any real estate? Chances are, a mortgage is in your future plans.

This decision's a whopper—probably the biggest financial plunge you'll take. So, nailing how mortgages roll is key before diving in. Let's break it down for you

Mortgage basics

A mortgage loan offers the chance to snag your dream home pronto and pay it off gradually, sidestepping the need to stash away the entire purchase price at once. Think of a mortgage akin to a car loan. You borrow a hefty sum, making fixed monthly payments at a steady interest rate until you've cleared the loan. Let's face it—most home buyers don't have a truckload of cash lying around for such a big buy. Instead of shelling out all at once, a mortgage stretches the purchase cost over years, making home buying way more pocket-friendly.

Key mortgage terms to know

Many home buyers pitch in their own cash for the home purchase, known as a 'down payment,' and then handle the remaining sale price using a mortgage loan. This loan gets chipped away in monthly bits, often spanning 30 years.

Understanding mortgages might feel like a maze, but it's simpler with these four key terms:

  • Down payment: Your savings contributing to the home purchase.

  • Loan amount: The borrowed sum to cover the purchase, calculated as the home's price minus your down payment.

  • Loan term: Duration to repay the mortgage, aiming for a zero balance by the term's end with timely payments.

  • Interest rate: The cost of borrowing, expressed as a percentage. For example, a 3% rate on a $100,000 loan means $3,000 in annual interest (though it's not that linear due to paying down principal).

While there's more to grasp when seeking home loans, these four are crucial in understanding how mortgages roll.

Your down payment, loan amount, loan term, and interest rate are the pillars defining your affordability, monthly payments, and the interest accrued until your home's fully paid off.

How does a mortgage work?

There's a buffet of mortgage choices out there, but for many, the go-to is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM).

So, what's under the hood?

You've got three decades to settle the loan. That sum you borrow? It splits into 360 monthly payments (that's 12 monthly installments a year, spread over 30 years).

The interest rate is locked in. You know the deal upfront—no surprises. Your lender can't pull a sneaky rate hike; what you agree on sticks for the loan's life.

Consistent monthly payments. Pick a number for month one, and that's your number for month 360. It stays steady throughout.

Most loans follow a "fully amortized" path, meaning your payments are structured to clear the loan by the term end.

Sure, there are other flavors like 15-year mortgages or adjustable-rate ones. But the 30-year fixed-rate deal steals the show for its stability and manageable payments.

First-time buyer? This loan's a great starting point. Tap into a mortgage calculator to ballpark what you might snag based on your current income.

Do I have to keep my mortgage for all 30 years?

It's crucial to understand that opting for a 30-year mortgage doesn't lock you into staying put for three decades.

You're not obliged to stick around until the loan matures. In reality, most homeowners don't. They either sell up or refinance before the term's end.

If you sell before paying it off, a chunk of the sale proceeds settles the remaining loan with your lender. Want a different loan or snag a better rate later? Refinance! Swap your current mortgage for a more financially rewarding one.

No need to stress about selling or refinancing now. Just know, getting a mortgage isn't a lifelong pact. You're not shackled to the same deal for eons.

You've got flexibility down the road. If your home or loan no longer fits the bill, you're free to move or find a more suitable mortgage whenever you please.

Do I own my home when I have a mortgage?

Yes, you do own your home, but that doesn't mean others don't have a stake in it.

As long as you keep up with mortgage payments, maintain the property, insure it, and pay taxes, your ownership stands firm. No one else can claim control.

However, if you neglect these responsibilities, the lender could seize and sell the property. Similarly, unpaid property taxes might prompt action from your city or county.

These third-party rights might cloud the sense of ownership, but meeting your commitments secures your control over the property.

How are mortgages different from other loans?

Mortgages work akin to other loans, involving borrowing a sum, paying interest to the lender, and a fixed repayment period.

Similar to installment loans, like car loans, mortgages follow a set repayment plan.

Yet, mortgages diverge in significant ways:

  • Designed solely for real estate purchases or renovations, barring some refinance options.

  • Funds are handled by the lender, who directly pays the seller.

  • Flexibility in down payments, loan terms, and features.

  • Stringent borrower requirements due to substantial loan amounts. Lenders check credit scores, income, debts, and assets to ensure repayment.

Mortgages, secured loans using the purchased home as collateral, shield both lenders and borrowers. Failure to repay could lead to foreclosure, where the lender repossesses and sells the home.

Despite intensive financial scrutiny during the application, it safeguards you and the lender, ensuring an affordable loan and a prudent investment in your new home

Why do home buyers use mortgages?

Mortgages revolutionize home ownership, making it achievable for diverse buyers. With a mortgage, purchasing a home doesn't hinge on having hefty savings, a high income, or an impeccable credit score.

In 2021, the median U.S. home price hit $346,900, a sum most buyers can't just whip out from their pockets.

Instead, they pay a fraction upfront (the down payment) and secure the remaining funds through borrowing, allowing some buyers to step into a new home with $0 upfront investment, if they navigate their options smartly.

Mortgage loan benefits

Utilizing a mortgage removes the necessity of having enormous cash reserves upfront, enabling homeowners to settle their homes through reasonable monthly payments.

Let’s break down how a mortgage boosts accessibility in home buying:

Home price: $350,000 Initial down payment: $50,000 Loan sum: $300,000 Loan period: 30 years Fixed interest rate: 3.5% Monthly payment (principal + interest): $1,300 Loan balance at 30 years: $0 Total interest over 30 years: $185,000

In this scenario, a buyer invests $50,000 for a $350,000 home. Their monthly mortgage approximates $1,300—similar to rents in many urban centers. Yet, this example is just one. Many buyers secure smaller loans and lower monthly payments.

Mortgage loans provide flexibility

Moreover, home loans offer flexibility, granting control over mortgage terms and monthly expenses.

Consider this: Opt for a substantial down payment to slash monthly housing costs and long-term interest payments.

Conversely, a smaller down payment, typically 3% to 3.5%, allows swift home acquisition, though with higher loan amounts and payments. It gets you into your home quicker.

Every buyer can navigate mortgage options, tailoring a loan structure that precisely suits their requirements.



Mortgage loan drawbacks

Using a mortgage comes with an apparent drawback—paying substantial interest to your lender. However, opting to contribute extra amounts towards the principal monthly can expedite mortgage clearance, reducing total interest over the loan's lifespan.

Compared to personal loans or credit cards, mortgage rates are more cost-effective. Yet, interest accumulates on a substantial loan across an extended period, resulting in significant costs.

However, if the alternative is purchasing a house outright with a lump sum, a mortgage appears far more appealing.

For most, amassing hundreds of thousands in cash isn't feasible, making a mortgage the optimal and often sole choice.

While paying interest isn't perfect, it's a necessary compromise for many, granting the opportunity to own homes and relish the personal and financial benefits that hometownership brings.

Types of mortgage loans

There exist various mortgage types, each carrying distinct benefits and requisites for home buyers.

Here are the primary four mortgage loan types, three federally supported:

  1. Conventional Loans: Widely offered by lenders, these lack federal backing, favoring borrowers with good credit and moderate to substantial down payments (5% to 20%).

  2. FHA Loans: Federally backed by the Federal Housing Administration, ideal for those with poor to fair credit and low to moderate income. Even those with good credit opt for FHA due to its low down payment and flexible terms.

  3. VA Loans: Backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, these loans render home buying affordable for veterans and service members, providing zero-down loans at low rates to eligible individuals with a qualifying service history.

  4. USDA Loans: Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this program offers zero-down affordable loans to low and moderate-income borrowers residing in rural areas.

Conventional loan basics

Conventional loans, often termed 'conforming loans,' align with standards outlined by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, pivotal agencies supporting affordable mortgage rates for U.S. home buyers.

Yet, not all conventional loans adhere to these standards. Jumbo loans, for instance, finance multi-million-dollar homes, surpassing Fannie and Freddie criteria, classifying them as non-conforming conventional loans.

Government-backed loan basics

FHA, VA, and USDA loans, federally insured but offered by private lenders like banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies, offer diverse loan options within each program.

For example:

  • FHA provides choices like 30-year fixed-rate or 15-year fixed-rate loans.

  • Conventional loans, highly flexible, offer varied loan terms, amounts, and interest rates.

  • Government-backed loans, though slightly less flexible, feature looser requirements, aiding those struggling to qualify for conventional mortgages.

Exploring and comparing these mortgage types can be found here. Additionally, upon application, a designated loan officer will assist in detailed comparisons to find the right fit for your needs.

How do I qualify for a mortgage?

Qualifying for a mortgage hinges on meeting specific standards aligned with your chosen loan type.

Each loan has distinct qualification criteria, yet the steps to qualify generally align across programs:

  • Credit score assessment

  • Evaluation of debt-to-income ratio

  • Determining the down payment

  • Consideration of closing costs

What credit score do I need for a mortgage?

You'll start by aiming for a minimum credit score that varies by the loan type:

  • FHA loan: 580

  • VA loan: 580-620

  • Conventional loan: 620

  • USDA loan: 640

Following that, you'll confirm your income through W-2s, pay stubs, and tax returns. Your debts will also be reviewed using your credit report.

If any errors are present in your credit report, you can furnish documentation to rectify them.

Your employment history and savings will be assessed by the lender. Typically, stable employment over two years is preferred, although exceptions exist, making it feasible to secure a loan in newer job situations.

What should my debt-to-income ratio be for a mortgage?

Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is calculated by dividing your total monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income — your income before tax deductions.

For example: Total monthly debt repayment: $350 Gross income: $3,500 DTI: 10%

Lenders leverage DTI to gauge your ability to handle mortgage payments. While a lower DTI is advantageous, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests aiming for a DTI of 43% or less.

How big of a down payment do I need?

When purchasing a home, the money you bring to closing is your down payment, the part of the home price not borrowed from the bank.

While many assume a hefty 20% down payment is essential, the actual minimums are lower:

  • VA loan: 0% down payment

  • USDA loan: 0% down payment

  • Conventional loan: 3% down payment

  • FHA loan: 3.5% down payment

Larger down payments mean borrowing less, reducing monthly payments. Additionally, with conventional loans, bigger down payments often secure lower mortgage rates.

Don’t forget closing costs

When buying a house, besides the down payment, you'll encounter closing costs.

These cover mortgage setup fees and the official transfer of home ownership. They add to your initial expenses.

Typically 3% to 5% of the loan amount, closing costs on a $300,000 mortgage could exceed $9,000.

First-time buyers often overlook these costs, but factoring them into your budget is crucial.

Mortgage FAQ

What is a mortgage in simple terms?

A mortgage is a substantial loan specifically for purchasing a home. Unlike other loans, it's tailored for real estate purchases, allows repayment across 30 years, and typically offers lower interest rates.

What’s an example of a mortgage?

Let's break down how a mortgage operates with a simple scenario: Picture buying a $300,000 home. You put in $25,000 from your savings and borrow the remaining $275,000 from a lender. That $275K is your mortgage loan, repaid in monthly installments instead of requiring the full $300,000 upfront.

Is a mortgage the same as a home loan?

Absolutely. A home loan and a mortgage loan are synonymous terms.

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