When embarking upon the mortgage loan journey, the typical borrower’s number one concern is how they can get the lowest interest rate possible. It’s inevitable that the rate question is asked early on, as it’s an essential part of judging if taking out a mortgage is a sound financial decision. Borrowers, whether they shop around or not, want to rest assured that they’re not being swindled, particularly at a time when “rock-bottom rates” are making headlines.
Consumers should be aware, however, that it’s very possible that the rates they see published won’t apply to their particular situations. Property type, down payment amount, amortization term, credit score, and rate-lock duration are all variables that factor into the equation, as do points paid or rebates credited against closing costs. As such, loan originators aren’t able to quote a rate (an accurate one, anyway) on command, as it takes a bit of time to obtain and analyze that information.
Given that they’re dictated by the whims of the market, rates are also subject to massive fluctuations over the course of a day, which makes pinning down the absolute lowest possible rate unlikely. Some lenders do offer the option to lock a loan a second time if rates fall, but “floating down” comes at a cost that is passed onto the borrower. Floating can also backfire if rates rise instead of fall.
Concisely stated, mortgage loan transactions are too complex for lenders to quote rates on a lark or simple supply and demand. Some borrowers contact multiple lenders and shop around for the best rate, which the federal government endorses—lenders are required to present borrowers with documentation that encourages consumers to make comparisons—but it’s tough, if not impossible, to outsmart the market. In the spirit of capitalism, compare Lender A with Lender B; however, it’s unlikely that one will quote a rate that’s life-changingly lower than the other.
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There are a lot of companies, and people, involved in the home loan process. A borrower might work with a real estate agent, a loan broker, a lender, a title or escrow company, a loan servicer, investor, and so on – it can be somewhat confusing. But most borrowers know what those are – except for the “servicer.” What is a loan servicer, and is it needed?
When it comes to buying a home, the role of the mortgage servicer is an important one that bridges the gap between the borrower and the investor who owns the loan. The role of the mortgage servicer is to provide certain customer service tasks such as, collecting payments from the borrower on behalf of the investor, handling customer service after the loan closes, paying real estate taxes and insurance on escrowed loans, negotiate loan modifications on behalf of the investor, and work with the funds when a loan is paid off.
An issue that consumer groups have had with the mortgage servicing industry is that borrowers have not been able to pick their mortgage servicer (like they did with their lender). This, coupled with the servicer's insufficient resources, left them ill-equipped to handle the mortgage crises. This resulted in inefficiencies such as lack of employee continuity, "runaround" from their servicers, and inconsistency with paperwork. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") has now mandated that for any borrower who is two or more month's delinquent, policies need to be put into place by the servicer to provide these borrowers with easy, ongoing access to a servicer's employees.
The servicer's personnel will be responsible for making sure that the documents get sent to the proper person for handling of the issue. The person responsible for loss mitigation must have timely access to the borrower's records and provide the borrower with accurate information about the foreclosure process and loss mitigation options, procedures a borrower must follow to be eligible for loss mitigation, and the status of any loss mitigation application that the borrower has filed.
Dodd-Frank has demanded that mortgage servicers be more responsive and accountable to their customers. Effective January 10, 2014, a new set of servicing rules will go into effect providing borrowers with better tools and options for dealing with their mortgage servicers. If borrowers have questions before that time on these issues, they should contact their lender or servicer.
If you're thinking about buying a house or refinancing a loan, you probably know the sobering realities in the mortgage market: thanks to strict federal rule changes in the wake of the housing bust, it can be tough to qualify for a loan.
That's especially true if you don't quite fit the mold — you don't conform to all the underwriting mandates on credit, income, debt-to-income ratio and other criteria. You can handle the payments, but issues in your credit history and application push borrowers “outside the box” that defines Qualified Mortgages, or “QM”.
That being said, a small but growing number of lenders have begun offering mortgages with more flexible terms designed for borrowers that don’t meet the stringent requirements set up by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Borrowers with solid credit scores and/or money in the bank but that student loans or uninsured medical bills push debt-to-income ratios over the maximum that federal rules generally prescribe have programs open to them.
Self-employed borrowers have options, as well as anyone who did a short sale on their underwater home a couple of years ago too recently to meet the four-year minimum wait time prescribed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before you are allowed to obtain a new mortgage.
Borrowers may choose to wait until their credit improves, their job is stable, or the prescribed waiting period is over. But another option for "near-miss" applicants or potential applicants nationwide has begun taking shape: "non-Qualified Mortgage" or non-QM lending. Interest rates are higher than the standard market, but certain programs are being created to help certain borrowers – and that helps the housing market.
When you start the process of applying for a mortgage, you may feel as though you're giving every single bit of personal and private information to your mortgage lender. Just why does your lender need to know all of those things? Are your personal financials and credit history really necessary just to get a quote?
As you approach a loan officer to apply for a loan, you should be prepared to deliver quite a bit of personal information. Taking a closer look at how the loan industry works will help you understand why this is necessary.
Increased Scrutiny Means Increased Details
In the early 2000s, lenders were known for having loose underwriting for mortgages. Many people were given mortgages that they really were not qualified to have, and this led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the following real estate slump. Now, lenders are facing tighter scrutiny from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and this has triggered increased requirements when borrowers approach lenders in pursuit of a loan. In order to get a mortgage, you are going to have to give up a lot of details and prove that you are credit worthy.
Why a Credit Pull Is Vital
Borrowers who suspect they may have credit problems or who are private in nature may wish to wait to have their credit checked until they're certain they've chosen the right lender and loan. Also, some borrowers don't want to approve the credit check because they don't want to have a credit pull on their history. However, your chosen lender can't offer loan terms without pulling your credit, and if you want to have more than one quote, each lender you apply to is going to have to pull your credit. These credit pulls do have a temporary impact on your credit report, but as long as you don't have an excessive number of inquiries for different types of loans, this shouldn't create a problem.
A Full Financial Picture
Your credit score is just part of the picture that your lender will need. Your lender's also going to need to know your financial situation. This includes your income, investments and other debts. This, combined with your credit rating, will show the lender whether or not you are a safe risk. Once the lender has all of this information, they can provide you with a loan that fits your financial profiles. If there are problems, the lender can also help you know what to do to improve your credit and financial profile. If you're denied, the lender will tell you why, and you can take measures to change your situation and improve your chances of being approved for the next loan.
So yes, when you apply for a loan, you will need to offer up quite a bit of personal and financial information. It's simply part of the process. To limit the number of credit pulls and disclosure you are required to make, shop for lenders first and narrow down your choices to a couple, then apply, but don't be afraid to give up your information, because without it, you can't get a loan.
Underwriting guidelines change all the time. But interestingly, one thing that is somewhat constant is the amount of down payment due at the closing table. Many borrowers find, however, that coming up with the cash for the down payment has perhaps been the biggest obstacle to homeownership.
Seventy-five years ago, banks would only loan money to buy a house if the homebuyer had 30 percent or more of the sales price for the down payment. Even in 1935 when the average price of a home in the United States was $3,400, coming up with $1,000 for a down payment was a challenge. After all, the average income of a worker was just $1,500 per year. But in the 1930s the government decided to step in and help Americans buy their homes, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created to offer prospective homeowners the opportunity to buy a home with a small down payment and a stable 30 year fixed rate loan.
Today, our government, through the FHA, insures lenders who offer FHA loans. These loans have many benefits but probably the most noteworthy is that FHA insured loans allow a homebuyer to buy a home with as little as 3.5 percent down and to borrow as much as $729,750 (in a high-priced housing market) at a competitive 30-year fixed rate. FHA loans are typically more lenient on credit and allow a borrower to spend more of their monthly income on their house payment than conventional loans. They also allow a borrower to receive all of the down payment as a gift.
But FHA-insured loans also have their downsides. For example, FHA loans require mortgage insurance on every loan, despite the size of the down payment, and that mortgage insurance effectively adds up to 1.35 percent to the note rate. In other words, if the 30-year fixed rate today were 3.25 percent, the effective rate for an FHA loan would be over 4.5 percent.
Alternatively, the conventional financing offered by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae requires the borrower to pay for mortgage insurance only if there is less than 20 percent for the down payment. Mortgage insurance may be paid either on a monthly basis or as a lump sum at the close of escrow. The precise payment options are dependent on the loan to value ratio, the loan amount and the credit score. Unlike with the current FHA loans, mortgage insurance on conventional loans does not continue throughout the life of the loan.
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