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Home Equity Line

How does a Home Equity Line Of Credit work?

When it comes to home finance, it pays to know your options. Homeowners looking to access cash often use a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC, for short). How a Home Equity Line Of Credit works is different than a traditional mortgage.

Let’s take a look at how they work and what they can do for you.

What is a HELOC?

A HELOC is a common type of second mortgage. Homeowners obtaining a HELOC often have a need for additional cash.  Typical uses are debt consolidation, home remodeling or accessing cash to purchase another property.

A unique structure

HELOCs are different because they have a unique structure. For the first 10 years, the loans are in a draw period.  During the draw period, homeowners can access any portion of the available cash on demand and pay only the interest on the funds in use each month.

During a draw period, homeowners can also pay back funds at any time.  If more cash is needed, the funds which were recently paid back can be accessed again.  In this sense, a HELOC is similar to a credit card.  Different from a credit card, however, HELOCs come with relatively favorable interest rates (only slightly above traditional mortgage rates).

Adjustable rates

HELOCs also come with adjustable rates that follow the prime rate published in the Wall Street Journal. Rates can vary each month and will be impacted by the prime rate and the margin (more on margin in a moment).

When the draw period ends after 10 years, a payback period begins. During the payback period, funds can no longer be accessed from the HELOC. The outstanding balance is converted to a regularly amortizing loan spread over 20 years.  Said another way, the balance is converted to a “normal” 20-year mortgage.  At the start of the payback period, the interest rate is typically fixed and will remain so during the next 20 years.

Shopping a HELOC

Virtually all banks, lenders and credit unions will use the prime rate as the core component of determining the interest rate during the draw period.  This is called the “index.”  A bank will also set a “margin” for the draw period. Banks may offer a promotional margin for an initial period.  For example, a bank may offer “Prime minus 0.50% for 6 months, then Prime plus 0.25% onwards.”

In this case, if the prime rate is currently 5%, the initial rate will be 4.5%.  It is important to note that if prime increases, so will the effective interest rate.  The promotional margin simply reflects a relative adjustment to the published prime rate.

Why a HELOC?

There are several reasons why you may consider a HELOC over a traditional refinance.

Maintain your great interest rate

It is no secret that mortgage interest rates have increased since their historic lows.  While they may still be low, rates in the 3% range aren’t coming back anytime soon.

Homeowners looking to access additional cash may be hesitant to refinance out of their low rate – and rightfully so!  The HELOC, as a second mortgage on the property, is a great option to maintain your first loan and still gain access to cash.  As a second mortgage, the loan operates independently of any first mortgage on a property.

Low costs to obtain

The transaction costs associated with a HELOC are significantly lower than a traditional refinance. The costs of a HELOC are typically limited to an appraisal (around $350).

In contrast to a traditional refinance that involves an appraisal, title charges, lender charges and other fees, HELOCs come out as a far less expensive option.

It is worth noting that many banks offering HELOCs will also require a borrower to open a checking account. If it is not a requirement to obtain a HELOC, it is often a requirement to obtain the promotional rate.

Flexibility

The flexibility provided by a HELOC during the draw period makes them extremely advantageous. In addition to the flexibility of taking money on demand, the flexibility to pay it back and draw again is unique. This is in stark contrast to “closed-ended” mortgages (like your first mortgage) where payments are made and funds cannot be withdrawn.

Flexibility also comes in the form of lower monthly payments.  For most HELOCs, the minimum required payment is equal to the interest accrued during the prior month. In contrast to a traditional mortgage that requires interest and principal, HELOCs provide for a significantly lower payment.

HELOCs also allow some or all of the principal balance to be paid off at any time with no penalty (unless stated otherwise in their terms). This feature allows HELOC borrowers to use them for short-term cash needs – such as cash to purchase and flip a house or buy a car.

Qualifying for a HELOC

Qualifying for a HELOC is similar to most traditional mortgage products.

A homeowner looking to obtain a HELOC will need to have good credit, documented income and some type of assets for reserves. Additionally, banks will require that the total amount borrowed against the home does not exceed 80% (or in some cases 90%) of the home value.

HELOCs can be a flexible way to obtain cash without disrupting a current first mortgage. With mortgage rates inevitably rising in the future, HELOCs will certainly maintain their place as a viable home financing product.

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Refinance when rates are up

Refinance when rates are up? Maybe.

Refinancing when mortgage rates drop is usually an easy decision.  A reduction in payment and the advantages of paying less interest can make great sense.  What happens when rates increase?  Does it ever make sense to refinance when rates are up?  The answer is “maybe.”

Let’s take a look at how amortization can be used to win when rates are up.

Amortization

In addition to the interest rate and loan amount, the loan term impacts your monthly mortgage payment.  Most mortgages are spread over 30 years or 360 months.  In these cases, the loan is amortizing across 360 payments.  The shorter the amortization time, the higher the payments will be when all else is held equal.  This is because the same debt will need to be paid off in a shorter period of time.

For an extreme example, assume you pay $100,000 in 10 equal payments.  Without any interest at all, you will pay $10,000 per payment.  Whoa. When the payment schedule is set to 360 months, the amount drops to just $278.  This, again, is without factoring in interest. The same loan amount spread over more months results in a lower payment.

Amortization can benefit you

When it comes to understanding how amortization can benefit you, an example speaks mountains of truth.  Let’s examine the pros and cons by looking at the Smith family’s options.  (Note: the Smith family is fictitious in this case).

Amortization Example

The Smith’s purchased their home ten years ago.  At the time, the home was valued at 300,000 and they put $60,000 down.  As a result, they started with a $240,000 mortgage.  Their mortgage broker was able to obtain a rate of 3.5% for a 30-year mortgage.  Their monthly mortgage payment has been $1,078 for the last ten years.  This amount does not include real estate taxes or homeowners insurance.

The Smith’s have been making regular payments without contributing extra on a monthly basis. As a result, the Smith’s have $185,000 remaining to pay in the next 20 years.

Increasing cash flow with a refinance

The Smith’s have decided it may be time to refinance. They wonder if reducing their monthly mortgage payment is possible.

They learn a new mortgage at 4.375% is available. The new mortgage doesn’t require the Smith’s to pay anything out of pocket but will increase their loan to $187,000 to cover some closing costs.

If the Smith’s obtain this new loan, they’ll reduce their mortgage payment to $933, saving about $145 each month.  While the Smith’s are interested in freeing up $145 each month, they wonder what else they have to consider when increasing cash flow in this way.

Extending the loan term

In the example above, the Smiths have determined they can save nearly $150 each month if they were to refinance.  They wonder if any issues exist with extending the loan term.

Each family’s timeline and needs are unique.  As a result, there is not a single answer to this question.  Let’s examine the Smith’s again to see what they come up with.

The Smith’s have lived in their home for ten years.  Now, with children in 3rd and 4th grade, they realize they’ve got just 12 years left until they are “empty nesters.”  At that time, they plan to move to a smaller home on the coast.  In light of this family plan, the Smith’s elect to continue with the refinance transaction.

Regardless of being in their old loan or a new loan, extending the loan term is not a major concern.  This is because they plan to sell their home prior to either mortgage being paid off in full.  The Smith’s elect to save $150 each month today because that was the best choice for them.

For more on saving money on mortgages – take a look at this recent post.

 

Mortgage PITI

PITI – What Does That Mean?

PITI (pronounced “pity”) is a widely used mortgage acronym. Here is a breakdown of the term and how it relates to your loan approval. Read on!

Mortgage companies have their fair share of acronyms and PITI is not only one of them, but perhaps the most widely used. It is a critical piece of the loan approval process, as lenders use it to determine affordability.

So, what is PITI?

PITI stands for principal, interest, taxes and insurance. Here is a breakdown of the term and how it relates to your loan approval:

Principal

When you make a monthly payment, there is a portion allotted to each of the four elements of PITI. One portion is applied to the outstanding balance of your loan. This is your principal balance. In the early stages of a mortgage loan, more of the payment goes toward interest and less goes toward principal. Over time, as the loan is paid down, more money goes to the principal balance and less goes to interest.

Interest

Lenders are in business to lend money at a profit. This profit is the interest paid by the borrower. With a fixed rate loan, the mortgage payment stays the same, but the portion of each payment allotted to interest and principal will vary each month. With an adjustable rate loan, the amount of interest can vary based upon the newly adjusted rate.

Taxes

This is the amount you’re charged to cover your annual or semi-annual property tax bill. For those who escrow or impound their taxes, instead of paying property taxes directly to the local tax assessment office, the taxes are included with the monthly mortgage payment and the lender pays them when due.

Insurance

This is the sum required to pay for your homeowners insurance policy when it’s time to renew. Each month you will pay 1/12th of the annual insurance premium to your lender, who will then pay the premium amount when the policy comes up for renewal. In certain areas, a property might be designated as being in a Flood Zone, in which case an additional policy will be required. In a condo, the only insurance you’ll pay for is a “walls in” policy which protects the property you own: the square footage inside your unit.

More Letters

HOA

HOA stands for Homeowners’ Association, and is usually found in condominium housing as well as in Planned Unit Developments or PUDs. Each resident is charged a fee for enforcing the various covenants, conditions and restrictions of the building or community.

If you don’t live in a condo or a PUD you most likely won’t be a member of an HOA, but if you are, this amount is not optional. It is a requirement for living in your home. The collective funds are applied to the upkeep of common areas, as well as to other requirements.

PITI in Action

Let’s look at a scenario to illustrate how lenders use PITI in the approval process. A couple has found a home for sale at $300,000 and wants to borrow $200,000. Using a 30-year fixed rate of 4.00%, the principal and interest payment is $954.

Annual property taxes on the home they want to buy are $3,000 per year, or $250 per month. After shopping around for an insurance policy, they’ve found what they need at an annual premium of $1,500 per year, or $125 per month. The PITI in this example is $954+$250+$125=$1,329.

When lenders evaluate affordability, they compare the borrower’s monthly debt with his or her gross monthly income. In this example, the borrowers make $5,000 per month combined. If you divide the PITI of $1,329 by $5,000 the result is .27, or simply “27.” Most loan programs like to see this ratio of debt-to-income somewhere below 33.

Now, the lenders will add up other monthly credit obligations such as automobile or student loans. If there is an auto loan of $500 per month, and student loans adding up to $300 per month, the lender adds these amounts to the PITI of $1,329, arriving at $2,129. Dividing this amount by $5,000 gives a ratio of 43, which is acceptable for most loan programs.

Don’t fall into this trap!

When first time buyers begin their research, and they run some numbers on a mortgage calculator they find online, they may not be aware that lenders will use not just the principal and interest payment the calculator provides, but also the estimated monthly payments for taxes, insurance and any HOA dues. Online mortgage calculators typically don’t provide space to enter that information.

Most loan programs in today’s marketplace will require monthly payments for taxes and insurance if the mortgage is greater than 80 percent of the value of the property. For those who put down 20 percent, or who otherwise configure a loan where the first mortgage is at or below 80 percent of the value, making monthly payments for taxes and insurance is optional, it is not a requirement. Even in such cases, the lender will calculate the entire PITI amount when qualifying a borrower.

A Day in the Life of a Loan Officer (Video)

Video Transcript: Have you ever wondered what your loan officer does all day?

In a nutshell he or she is working hard on your behalf to close your loan while also managing many other tasks. At times it may feel like they’re doing everything but working on your loan, so keep in mind that loan officers typically only make money when they actually close loans. They want your deal to close.

Your loan officer will change hats constantly throughout their day. They’re a consultant in the morning, a documents processor in the afternoon, a marketer in the evening and a problem solver just about all of the time. One of their toughest jobs is overcoming obstacles associated with documentation requirements and other questions brought up by underwriters. They’re running interference for you all day long, and making a complex process feel a lot more simple than it actually is.

A typical path of working with a loan originator looks like this: You’ll be introduced through MortgageCS or some other way, where you have an opportunity to interact and then exchange information when the time is right. Keep in mind that a good loan officer listens carefully, takes time to understand your complete situation and then develops a proposal that meets your short-term and long-term needs.

A good proposal is much more than the lowest rate being offered. It considers interest rate as well as the length of time you plan to stay in the home, the best strategy for the down payment, the amount of the mortgage, and the estimated closing costs.

Loan Originators stay up to date on program guidelines, complete numerous licensing classes and work hard to set proper expectations that result in delighting their clients. At MortgageCS, loan originators know that a happy customer will leave positive feedback and this will help them build their reputation in the platform – which is about the best marketing a loan officer can get.

“My Loan Was Sold!” (Video)

If you know your loan is going to be sold, or if you just found out it was sold, you may be wondering how it could impact your situation.

Watch this short video and find out what you really need to know:

Transcript of Video:

If you know your loan is going to be sold, or if you just found out it was sold, there is no need to panic. Lenders sell all types of loans to other banks on a regular basis. It’s part of their daily business and it’s how they ensure they can continue to make more loans in the future.

In all likelihood, your mortgage will probably change hands several times as banks buy and sell on the secondary market.

So what is this secondary market all about? And how does it impact the terms of your mortgage?

Let’s start with the impact on your loan. There’s no real impact. You have a contract that guarantees the terms of your mortgage, even after it’s sold to another lender. You may have to change the auto-payment settings on your checking account and call a different customer service number, but there won’t be any changes to any of the terms of your agreement.

Now why would a lender sell your loan in the first place? And what’s the secondary market? To answer this question you just need to remember that banks are always working to maximize their profits. And sometimes it’s better for them to sell a loan today, instead of waiting 15 or 30 years to collect small chunks in monthly payments.

Some lenders will sell a mortgage immediately after it closes, often lining up buyers while the loan is still being processed. Other lenders wait until they have a batch of loans. Then they sell them together in a single package, which bankers refer to as a “bulk” sale.

Keep in mind that the secondary mortgage market increases competition, which improves mortgage pricing and terms for you as the borrower. So the fact that your loan can be sold is a very good thing and it shouldn’t be perceived any other way.

Ace the Mortgage Process with these 7 tips

Buying a home is considered one of the most stressful events in the average person’s life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Read on for simple steps you can take to avoid unnecessary frustration and delays.

Be Responsive

After you complete your loan application and submit your documentation, the loan officer needs time to review what you have submitted and make sure nothing is missing. He or she might have questions about your paperwork.

For example, your application might state that you make $6,000 per month while your year-to-date pay stub doesn’t match up exactly. Your loan officer or loan processor would then call or email you asking about the discrepancy. The lender can work on other parts of your loan application while awaiting your response, but when there is a question about income, the lender can only go so far. The longer you delay your response, the longer it will take the lender to process your application. You might even miss your settlement date!

When asked to clarify something about your application, respond quickly and clearly. If you have documentation to support your claim, always send it to your loan officer.

Review Your Credit In Advance

It’s easier than ever these days to get a free copy of your credit report. You really should review it annually, looking for any errors. Many credit card companies today offer a free credit score service, and the three main credit repositories: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion have also created a portal at annualcreditreport.com, where you can view and print your credit report for free.

When reviewing these reports, don’t focus exclusively on the score as it won’t be the very same one the mortgage company receives (but it should be close). What you’re looking for are mistakes because unfortunately, credit reports can often contain errors. Someone else’s bad credit might pop up on your report, or a creditor could mistakenly report a late payment. Don’t be caught off guard when your loan officer calls and tells you something on your credit report is causing problems – be proactive to preserve your credit profile.

Gather Your Financials

When you submit a completed loan application, you’ll also be asked to provide some documentation that will verify certain aspects of your loan. Prepare these in advance so you won’t have to worry about scrambling for paperwork while the clock is ticking on a 30-day closing. Gather your:

  • Most recent pay stubs covering the last 30 days
  • Two most recent W2 forms from your employer(s)
  • Most recent bank statements (all pages) covering the past 60 days
  • Homeowners insurance information
  • Two most recent annual federal income tax returns
  • A year-to-date profit and loss statement as well as business bank statements if self-employed

Note: When using a digital mortgage platform, you’ll still need information contained on these documents – or should review them to eliminate any surprises.

Lookout For New Info

Just before your settlement date and the signing of your loan papers, the lender will make a final pass over your application to be sure the documentation in the file is current.  This includes a review of recent pay stubs, retirement account documents, bank statements and other items. At this time, if there is a more recent document available, the lender will ask for it – and it will feel like a bit of an emergency.

To avoid this issue, always provide updated documents to your lender right when you receive them. You should also save a copy of all messages sent – so you can easily resend if needed.

Don’t Make Changes

This is one of the most common requests/gripes from loan officers when accepting a loan application because the consequences can be catastrophic.

Here are the “Don’ts” to follow when your loan is in process:

  • Don’t take out another credit account.
  • Don’t get a new phone
  • Don’t miss a payment on anything
  • Don’t ask a credit card company for a credit line increase
  • Don’t accept a new credit card offer
  • Don’t co-sign on a loan
  • Don’t buy or lease a car
  • Don’t change jobs
  • Don’t deposit cash into your savings or checking account
  • Don’t withdraw cash from your savings or checking account
  • Don’t change at all from what appears on your mortgage loan application.

Here is the list of “To Do” to follow when your loan is in process:

  • Follow the list above

Ask Questions

One of the main responsibilities of your loan officer is to ensure you have a clear understanding of the process, especially as it relates to closing costs and your interest rate. When you receive your initial offers or cost estimate, review the prospective charges with your loan officer line item by line item and get a clear picture of not just the charge, but why it’s being ordered.

For example, all transactions require a certified Flood Certificate stating whether or not the property is located in a flood zone. Even if your property is nowhere near water or flooding, you’ll still need this in your file. It’s best to ask questions long before you get to the closing table.

Follow Your Lender’s Lead

If you could to look inside your mortgage company while your loan application is being documented and verified, it would probably look like people were spinning plates.

Mortgage lenders must document every aspect of your application and work with multiple other professionals to complete the documentation process in order to get your loan to the underwriting department, which then approves loan. We touched on this earlier, but it can’t be stressed enough: follow the advice of your loan officer, and work with your loan processor to provide requested information as soon as possible.

Mortgage companies do one thing and one thing only: they process mortgage loans. They know exactly what documentation is required and when, so follow the mortgage company’s lead.

If you follow these simple steps, you will be your loan officer’s favorite borrower but more importantly, your loan approval will be easy and stress-free. It all boils down to communication. Talk, ask questions and work hand-in-hand and with your mortgage company to ensure a smooth and simple transition into home ownership.

Mortgage Closing Costs: 3 keys to successful shopping

Getting a mortgage is a complex transaction. Behind the scenes, the process of completing a mortgage requires services from a range of different providers.  Mortgage lending guidelines state that any company providing a service on your loan (and charging for it) must be accounted for and documented within your loan file.

Where can you find your closing costs?

Your mortgage company will typically collect the necessary documents pertaining to these charges and deliver a Loan Estimate.  By law, a Loan Estimate is provided to you within three days of your loan application.  This will be your first opportunity to see a detailed breakdown of the closing costs you can expect for your purchase or refinance. While some charges shown can change by up to 10 percent or more, other charges must be exact and cannot change between the time you make your application and your closing date.

When you first view the Loan Estimate, it may seem a bit confusing as you’ll find charges from numerous third parties – and you may not recognize the names or services they offer.

Fortunately, taking a short amount of time to understand the different categories of closing costs, fees and points will vastly improve your chances of getting a great deal because you will be an informed consumer. So read on!

1. Recurring vs. Non-Recurring Costs

When it comes to the costs of your mortgage loan, certain costs will occur again (recurring), while others are associated with the transaction only and are simply one-time charges (non-recurring).

Why is this important? It is important to differentiate these costs, as recurring costs will typically be associated with owning the actual property (regardless of which mortgage company closes your loan) and should be factored into your ongoing budget. Non-recurring costs are associated purely with the transaction and will not come up again.

Recurring Costs

Recurring costs include prepaid interest charges which are, in reality, your very first mortgage payment! (Wasn’t that exciting!) Normally, mortgage payments are made in arrears, which means that on the first day of every month, you are paying for the previous month’s interest accumulation and a bit of the principal balance.

When it comes time for your closing, you’ll see an amount listed as prepaid interest.  Prepaid interest is a “per diem” (per day) charge of interest between the day your loan closes up to the first day of the following month. This is the one and only time you will pay for interest ahead of time when it comes to your mortgage loan.

Example: Suppose your settlement date is on the 20th of a given month. Your settlement agent will collect ten days of interest (assuming 30 days in the month) at the time of closing. Again, this is your very first mortgage payment, and it is collected in advance just this one time.

Another form of recurring costs involves your property taxes and homeowners insurance. A full year of homeowners insurance premium is typically collected and paid to your insurance company at the time of closing.  Also, you’ll need to pay some amount of property taxes that may be due in the coming year. Property tax collection times and frequency will vary by state or county and include funds paid to the local school district, county and city.

Property taxes and homeowners insurance are recurring costs because you must continue to pay them as long as you are in your home – even if you pay off your mortgage balance completely!

If you decide (or are required to) escrow for these two items, your first regularly scheduled mortgage payment after closing (and all others) will include one-twelfth (1/12th) of your yearly tax and homeowners insurance amount.  These incremental payments will be accumulated by the mortgage company and paid when due.  If you receive a tax bill or insurance bill when you are escrowing these items it is always a good idea to forward to your mortgage company immediately.

Non-Recurring Costs

Non-Recurring costs are those costs associated with the closing of your mortgage loan which will not occur again.  Typically, these are referred to as transaction costs. Examples include a lender/broker fee (could be called “Origination Fee”), an appraisal fee, and document preparation fees.

In some states, you may also be required to pay a state-mandated transaction fee at closing. In the state of Pennsylvania, for example, a two percent (2%) transfer tax is charged by the State for each home purchase. This amount is typically split between the buyer and seller and is not a lender charge.

2. Lender Fees vs. Non-Lender Fees

When it comes to shopping for the best mortgage deal between lenders, you’ll want to pay attention to fees payable to the lender versus fees payable to third parties. Why? Lender fees and interest rates are the true “apples to apples” numbers you can compare when shopping for your mortgage provider. Accordingly, lender fees should be considered separately from third party fees which are payable to different companies and cannot be “padded” by the lender.

Note: You can always shop for third party services such as appraisal services, title companies and home inspectors, after you select a mortgage lender. 

Lender Fees

A lender or broker fee will appear in black and white when you are comparing offers or when you are viewing a Loan Estimate. This may also appear as a percentage of your loan amount.  In either case, this amount will be paid directly to the lender or broker in exchange for providing their services.

When two separate lenders provide the same interest rate, the offer that includes lower lender fees is the lower cost option of the two. 

Providing an interest rate above a “par rate” to earn yield spread (YSP) is another way money is generated for mortgage lenders or brokers.  Similar to a retail store owner sourcing and purchasing clothing at wholesale prices and then selling at a retail markup price, the mortgage lender or broker sources your loan on the wholesale market and charges a retail markup interest rate.

Non-lender Fees

Non-lender fees include charges for services such as title insurance, an appraisal or abstract. On your Loan Estimate, as well as on your Closing Disclosure, the lender charges will be located at the top of the document and all non-lender fees will be detailed below. Remember that you can shop for these third party services – just as you would a mortgage lender.

3. What are Points?

A point (discount point) is a percentage of the loan amount you can pay upfront to reduce, or discount, the interest rate on your loan.

Example: A loan officer might quote to you a 30-year fixed rate at 4.75% with no points, but if you want to get a lower rate, say 4.50%, you’ll be asked to pay one point, or one percent of the amount to be borrowed, at closing.

Points are a form of prepaid interest to the lender, and different from an origination fee or other fee, the lender is indifferent if you select to pay them. This is because the lender earns the same amount of interest either way. Either you pay a slightly higher interest rate over time, or you pay the interest upfront via a discount point and pay less interest over the life of the loan.

Lenders can provide an array of interest rate options based upon the number of points purchased. They can offer a particular interest rate for 0 points, another interest rate for 1 point, and so on. To determine whether or not paying points makes sense in your situation, it is a good idea to compare the total funds required at closing and the difference in monthly payments at various rate and point combinations. You may also want to think about how long you intend to be in the home and if paying interest ahead of schedule makes good financial sense.

Tip: Your lender can usually offer a lender credit toward closing costs if you elect to pay a higher interest rate over time. The higher rate generates extra revenue for the lender and they use these funds to pay some or all of your fees. When you hear about lenders advertising a “no closing cost loan,” this is how they do it.

Now that you know a bit more about the types of mortgage closing costs – be sure to compare them along with the interest rate when mortgage shopping. Your choice of a mortgage lender and loan program will have a lasting impact on your budget – so shop for a great loan and set yourself up for financial success by getting the best deal possible.

Tip: Compare mortgage lenders safely and easily at MortgageCS.com.  Once your account is set up – you can anonymously obtain detailed quotes for your exact situation.

VA and USDA Loans: 0% Down Loans For Those Who Qualify

FHA loans may be the most common government-backed loan when it comes to buying a home, but there are two others that may provide an even better fit for the right candidates: VA Loans, and USDA Loans.

VA Loans

The VA loan was created in 1944 to guarantee loans issued to veterans and their families. Many military families find it difficult to qualify for conventional loans due to tough credit standards and down payment requirements, but with a VA loan, home ownership is within their reach.

Here are some points about VA loans that may be of interest to you:

  • There is no down payment required, however, there is a funding fee of 2.15% of the purchase price (3.3% if you’ve used a VA loan before)
  • There is no private mortgage insurance (PMI) required
  • Interest rates can be better than conventional loans by up to 1 percent
  • Qualifying for a loan is easier
  • Your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is counted as income
  • Closing costs can be lower

With such wonderful benefits, why isn’t everyone going for this loan? Not everyone qualifies. Let’s take a look at qualifications for the loan.

The VA Loan is designed for those who have served our country in the military.

To be considered, you must:

  • Have served 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime, OR
  • Have served 181 days of active service during peacetime, OR
  • Have more than 6 years of service in the National Guard or Reserves, OR
  • Be the spouse of a service member who has died either in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related disability

If you meet the military qualifications, you will also have some income qualifications to meet. Unlike most loans, the VA Loan doesn’t set a specific income level requirement. However, you will need to have stable, reliable income that can cover your monthly expenses including the new mortgage payment.

Instead of front-end and back-end debt to income ratios, VA loan requirements look at residual income. Residual income, also known as discretionary income, is the money that is left over after you have made all your monthly payments, including your mortgage and escrows, student loans, car loans, credit card bills, child support, spousal support, day care, and other obligations. Expenses such as food, entertainment, and utilities are not considered when determining your residual income.

USDA Loans

The USDA’s Rural Housing Service offers a program known as the Section 502 Direct Loan Program. This program provides either a direct loan or a loan guarantee to low and moderate-income borrowers wishing to buy in a rural area.

To qualify for this USDA loan, you must:

  • Have an adjusted income that is at or below the low-income limit for the area in which you are buying a home
  • Currently be without good housing
  • Be unable to get a loan from other sources
  • Plan on living in the home as your primary residence
  • Be a citizen of the United States

In addition to the borrower’s qualifications, the home itself must also qualify. It must:

  • Be less than 1,800 square feet
  • Have a market value that is less than the area’s loan limit
  • Have no swimming pool
  • Not be an income generating property
  • Be in an eligible area, which is a rural area with a population of fewer than 35,000 people

These loans have fixed interest rates based on current market rates. However, since the rates are modified by payment assistance, your rate could be as low as 1%. Additionally, most loans are for 33 years instead of the traditional 30. For those with very low income, this can be stretched to 38 years. Finally, you will not need a down payment unless your assets are higher than the predetermined limits. If they are, you may be required to use some of your assets as a down payment.

Unlike other government-backed programs, the USDA program will require that you repay all or a portion of the payment subsidy when you no longer live in the home.