A mortgage is a type of loan used to purchase or maintain a home, land, or other types of real estate. The borrower agrees to pay the lender over time, typically in a series of regular payments that are divided into principal and interest. The property then serves as collateral to secure the loan.
A borrower must apply for a mortgage through their preferred lender and ensure that they meet several requirements, including minimum credit scores and down payments. Mortgage applications go through a rigorous underwriting process before they reach the closing phase. Mortgage types vary based on the needs of the borrower, such as conventional and fixed-rate loans.
Seven things to look for in a mortgage
The size of the loan
The interest rate and any associated points
The closing costs of the loan, including the lender’s fees
The Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
The type of interest rate and whether it can change (is it fixed or adjustable?)
The loan term, or how long you have to repay the loan
Whether the loan has other risky features, such as a pre-payment penalty, a balloon clause, an interest-only feature, or negative amortization
Focus on a mortgage that is affordable for you given your other priorities, not on how much you qualify for.
Lenders will tell you how much you are qualified to borrow – that is, how much they are willing to lend you. Several online calculators will compare your income and debts and come up with similar answers. But how much you could borrow is very different from how much you can afford to repay without stretching your budget for other important items too thin. Lenders do not take into account all your family and financial circumstances. To know how much you can afford to repay, you’ll need to take a hard look at your family’s income, expenses and savings priorities to see what fits comfortably within your budget.
Don’t forget other costs when coming up with your ideal payment.
Costs such as homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and private mortgage insurance are typically added to your monthly mortgage payment, so be sure to include these costs when calculating how much you can afford. You can get estimates from your local tax assessor, insurance agent and lender. Knowing how much you can comfortably pay each month will also help you estimate a reasonable price range for your new home.
The Mortgage Process
Would-be borrowers begin the process by applying to one or more mortgage lenders. The lender will ask for evidence that the borrower is capable of repaying the loan. This may include bank and investment statements, recent tax returns, and proof of current employment. The lender will generally run a credit check as well.
If the application is approved, the lender will offer the borrower a loan of up to a certain amount and at a particular interest rate. Homebuyers can apply for a mortgage after they have chosen a property to buy or while they are still shopping for one, a process known as pre-approval. Being pre-approved for a mortgage can give buyers an edge in a tight housing market because sellers will know that they have the money to back up their offer.
Once a buyer and seller agree on the terms of their deal, they or their representatives will meet at what’s called a closing. This is when the borrower makes their down payment to the lender. The seller will transfer ownership of the property to the buyer and receive the agreed-upon sum of money, and the buyer will sign any remaining mortgage documents. The lender may charge fees for originating the loan (sometimes in the form of points) at the closing.
Types of Mortgages
Mortgages come in a variety of forms. The most common types are 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages. Some mortgage terms are as short as five years, while others can run 40 years or longer. Stretching payments over more years may reduce the monthly payment, but it also increases the total amount of interest that the borrower pays over the life of the loan.
Within the different term lengths are numerous types of home loans, including Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans available for specific populations that may not have the income, credit scores, or down payments required to qualify for conventional mortgages.
The following are just a few examples of some of the most popular types of mortgage loans available to borrowers.
The standard type of mortgage is fixed-rate. With a fixed-rate mortgage, the interest rate stays the same for the entire term of the loan, as do the borrower’s monthly payments toward the mortgage. A fixed-rate mortgage is also called a traditional mortgage.
Adjustable-Rate Mortgage (ARM)
With an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), the interest rate is fixed for an initial term, after which it can change periodically based on prevailing interest rates. The initial interest rate is often a below-market rate, which can make the mortgage more affordable in the short term but possibly less affordable long-term if the rate rises substantially.
Other, less common types of mortgages, such as interest-only mortgages and payment-option ARMs, can involve complex repayment schedules and are best used by sophisticated borrowers. These types of loans may feature a large balloon payment at its end.
As their name suggests, reverse mortgages are a very different financial product. They are designed for homeowners age 62 or older who want to convert part of the equity in their homes into cash.
These homeowners can borrow against the value of their home and receive the money as a lump sum, fixed monthly payment, or line of credit. The entire loan balance becomes due when the borrower dies, moves away permanently, or sells the home.