Frequently Asked Questions

Getting Started

Your home should fit way you live, with spaces and features that appeal to the whole family. Before you begin looking at homes, make a list of your priorities - things like location and size. Should the house be close to certain schools? Your job? To public transportation? How large should the house be? What type of lot do you prefer? What kinds of amenities are you looking for? Establish a set of minimum requirements and a 'wish list'. Minimum requirements are things that a house must have for you to consider it, while a 'wish list' covers things that you'd like to have but aren't essential.

The lender considers your debt-to-income ratio, which is a comparison of your gross (pre-tax) income to housing and non-housing expenses. Non-housing expenses include such long-term debts as car or student loan payments, alimony, or child support. According to the FHA, monthly mortgage payments should be no more than 29% of gross income while the mortgage payment, combined with non-housing expenses, should total no more than 41% of income. The lender also considers cash available for down payment and closing costs, credit history, etc., when determining your maximum loan amount.

The two don't really compare at all. The one advantage of renting is being generally free of most maintenance responsibilities. But by renting, you lose the chance to build equity, take advantage of tax benefits, and protect yourself against rent increases. Also, you may not be free to decorate without permission and may be at the mercy of the landlord for housing.

Owning a home has many benefits. When you make a mortgage payment, you are building equity. And that's an investment. Owning a home also qualifies you for tax breaks that assist you in dealing with your new financial responsibilities - like insurance, real estate taxes, and upkeep - which can be substantial. But given the freedom, stability, and security of owning your own home, they are worth it.

Start by thinking about your situation. Are you ready to buy a home? How much can you afford in a monthly mortgage payment (see Question 4 for help)? How much space do you need? What areas of town do you like? After you answer these questions, make a "To Do" list and start doing casual research. Talk to friends and family, drive through neighborhoods, and look in the "Homes" section of the newspaper.

You can find out by asking yourself some questions:

  • Do I have a steady source of income (usually a job)?
  • Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last 2-3 years?
  • Is my current income reliable?
  • Do I have a good record of paying my bills?
  • Do I have few outstanding long-term debts, like car payments?
  • Do I have money saved for a down payment?
  • Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus additional costs?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are probably ready to buy your own home.

You can find out by asking yourself some questions:

• Do I have a steady source of income (usually a job)?
• Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last 2-3 years?
• Is my current income reliable?
• Do I have a good record of paying my bills?
• Do I have few outstanding long-term debts, like car payments?
• Do I have money saved for a down payment?
• Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus additional costs?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are probably ready to buy your own home.

Finding Your Home

There isn't a set number of houses you should see before you decide. Visit as many as it takes to find the one you want. On average, homebuyers see 15 houses before choosing one. Just be sure to communicate often with your real estate agent about everything you're looking for. It will help avoid wasting your time.

If possible, take photographs of each house: the outside, the major rooms, the yard, and extra features that you like or ones you see as potential problems. And don't hesitate to return for a second look. Use the HUD Home Scorecard to organize your photos and notes for each house.

Many of your questions should focus on potential problems and maintenance issues. Does anything need to be replaced? What things require ongoing maintenance (e.g., paint, roof, HVAC, appliances, carpet)? Also ask about the house and neighborhood, focusing on quality of life issues. Be sure the seller's or real estate agent's answers are clear and complete. Ask questions until you understand all of the information they've given. Making a list of questions ahead of time will help you organize your thoughts and arrange all of the information you receive. The HUD Home Scorecard can help you develop your question list.

In addition to comparing the home to your minimum requirements and wish lists, use the HUD Home Scorecard and consider the following:

  • Is there enough room for both the present and the future?
  • Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms?
  • Is the house structurally sound?
  • Do the mechanical systems and appliances work? ï Is the yard big enough?
  • Do you like the floor plan?
  • Will your furniture fit in the space?
  • Is there enough storage space? (Bring a tape measure to better answer these questions)
  • Does anything need to be repaired or replaced?
  • Will the seller repair or replace the items?
  • Imagine the house in good weather and bad, and in each season.
  • Will you be happy with it year-round?

Take your time and think carefully about each house you see. Ask your real estate agent to point out the pros and cons of each home from a professional standpoint.

There isn't a definitive answer to this question. You should look at each home for its individual characteristics. Generally, older homes may be in more established neighborhoods, offer more ambiance, and have lower property tax rates. People who buy older homes, however, shouldn't mind maintaining their home and making some repairs. Newer homes tend to use more modern architecture and systems, are usually easier to maintain, and may be more energy efficient. People who buy new homes often don't want to worry initially about upkeep and repairs.

Keep in mind that your mortgage interest and real estate taxes will be deductible. A qualified real estate professional can give you more details on other tax benefits and liabilities.

The total amount of the previous year's property taxes is usually included in the listing information. If it's not, ask the seller for a tax receipt or contact the local assessor's office. Tax rates can change from year to year, so these figures may be approximate.

Your real estate agent can give you a ballpark figure by showing you comparable listings. If you are working with a Realtor, they may have access to comparable sales maintained on a database.

Contact the local chamber of commerce for promotional literature or talk to your real estate agent about welcome kits, maps, and other information. You may also want to visit the local library. It can be an excellent source for information on local events and resources, and the librarians will probably be able to answer many of the questions you have.

You can get information about school systems by contacting the city or county school board or the local schools. Your real estate agent may also be knowledgeable about schools in the area.

Immediately contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if you ever feel excluded from a neighborhood or particular house. Also, contact HUD if you believe you are being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, nationality, familial status, or disability. HUD's Office of Fair Housing has a hotline for reporting incidents of discrimination: 1-800-669-9777 (and 1-800-927-9275 for the hearing impaired).

Select a community that will allow you to best live your daily life. Many people choose communities based on schools. Do you want access to shopping and public transportation? Is access to local facilities like libraries and museums important to you? Or do you prefer the peace and quiet of a rural community? When you find places that you like, talk to people who live there. They know the most about the area and will be your future neighbors. More than anything, you want a neighborhood you feel comfortable living in.

You've Found It

Home warranties offer you protection for a specific period of time (e.g., one year) against potentially costly problems, like unexpected repairs on appliances or home systems, which are not covered by homeowner's insurance. Warranties are becoming more popular because they offer protection during the time immediately following the purchase of a home, a time when many people find themselves cash-strapped.

Earnest money is money put down to demonstrate your seriousness about buying a home. It must be substantial enough to demonstrate good faith, and is usually between 1-5% of the purchase price (though the amount can vary with local customs and conditions). If your offer is accepted, the earnest money becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If the offer is rejected, your money is returned to you. If you back out of a deal, you may forfeit the entire amount.

Unless you have a buyer's agent, remember that the agent works for the seller. Make a point of asking him or her to keep your discussions and information confidential. Listen to your real estate agent's advice, but follow your own instincts when deciding on a fair price. Calculating your offer should involve several factors: what homes sell for in the area, the home's condition, how long it's been on the market, financing terms, and the seller's situation. By the time you're ready to make an offer, you should have a good idea of what the home is worth and what you can afford. Be prepared for give-and-take negotiation, which is very common when buying a home. The buyer and seller may often go back and forth until they can agree on a price.

Your real estate agent will assist you in making an offer, which will include the following information:

  • Complete legal description of the property
  • Amount of earnest money
  • Down payment and financing details
  • Proposed move-in date
  • Price you are offering
  • Proposed closing date
  • Length of time the offer is valid
  • Details of the deal

Remember that a sale commitment depends on negotiating a satisfactory contract with the seller, not just making an offer.Other ways to lower insurance costs include insuring your home and car(s) with the same company, increasing home security, and seeking group coverage through alumni or business associations. Insurance costs are always lowered by raising your deductibles, but this exposes you to a higher out-of-pocket cost if you have to file a claim.

Your real estate agent or lender can help you answer this question. If you live in a flood plain, the lender will require that you have flood insurance before lending any money to you. But if you live near a flood plain, you may choose whether or not to get flood insurance coverage for your home. Work with an insurance agent to construct a policy that fits your needs.

Always check to see if the house is in a low-lying area, in a high-risk area for natural disasters (like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), or in a hazardous materials area. Be sure the house meets building codes. Also consider local zoning laws, which could affect remodeling or making an addition in the future. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with these questions.

Be sure to shop around among several insurance companies. Also, consider the cost of insurance when you look at homes. Newer homes and homes constructed with materials like brick tend to have lower premiums. Think about avoiding areas prone to natural disasters, like flooding. Choose a home with a fire hydrant or a fire department nearby.

Yes. A paid homeowner's insurance policy (or a paid receipt for one) is required at closing, so arrangements will have to be made prior to that day. Plus, involving the insurance agent early in the home buying process can save you money. Insurance agents are a great resource for information on home safety and they can give tips on how to keep insurance premiums low.

Laws vary by state. Some states require a lawyer to assist in several aspects of the home buying process while other states do not, as long as a qualified real estate professional is involved. Even if your state doesn't require one, you may want to hire a lawyer to help with the complex paperwork and legal contracts. A lawyer can review contracts, make you aware of special considerations, and assist you with the closing process. Your real estate agent may be able to recommend a lawyer. If not, shop around. Find out what services are provided for what fee, and whether the attorney is experienced at representing homebuyers.

There are no definitive research findings that indicate exposure to power lines results in greater instances of disease or illness.

If the house you're considering was built before 1978 and you have children under the age of seven, you will want to have an inspection for lead-based paint. It's important to know that lead flakes from paint can be present in both the home and in the soil surrounding the house. The problem can be fixed temporarily by repairing damaged paint surfaces or planting grass over affected soil. Hiring a lead abatement contractor to remove paint chips and seal damaged areas will fix the problem permanently.

If your home inspector discovers a serious problem, a more specific inspection may be recommended. It's a good idea to consider having your home inspected for the presence of a variety of health related risks like radon gas, asbestos, or possible problems with the water or waste disposal systems.

It's not required, but it's a good idea. Following the inspection, the home inspector will be able to answer questions about the report and any problem areas. This is also an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on the home you'd I like to purchase and it is a good time to ask general maintenance questions.

An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home. Home Inspectors focus especially on the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the house and will make you aware of only repairs that are needed. 

The Inspector does not evaluate whether or not you're getting good value for your money. Generally, an inspector checks (and gives prices for repairs on): the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof. Be sure to hire a home inspector that is qualified and experienced. 

It's a good idea to have an inspection before you sign a written offer since, once the deal is closed, you've bought the house "as is". You may want to include an inspection clause in the offer when negotiating for a home. An inspection clause gives you an 'out' on buying the house if serious problems are found, or gives you the ability to renegotiate the purchase price if repairs are needed. An inspection clause can also specify that the seller must fix the problem(s) before you purchase the house.

General Financing Questions: The Basics

Established by your lender, an escrow account is a place to set aside a portion of your monthly mortgage payment to cover annual charges for homeowner's insurance, mortgage insurance (if applicable), and property taxes. Escrow accounts are a good idea because they assure money will always be available for these payments. If you use an escrow account to pay property tax or homeowner's insurance, make sure you are not penalized for late payments since it is the lender's responsibility to make those payments.

Discount points allow you to lower your interest rate. They are essentially prepaid interest, with each point equaling 1% of the total loan amount. Generally, for each point paid on a 30-year mortgage, the interest rate is reduced by 1/8 (or .125) of a percentage point. When shopping for loans, ask lenders for an interest rate with 0 points and then see how much the rate decreases with each point paid. Discount points are smart if you plan to stay in a home for some time since they can lower the monthly loan payment. Points are tax deductible when you purchase a home and you may be able to negotiate for the seller to pay for some of them.

If interest rates drop significantly, you may want to investigate refinancing. Most experts agree that if you plan to be in your house for at least 18 months and you can get a rate 2% less than your current one, refinancing is smart. Refinancing may, however, involve paying many of the same fees paid at the original closing, plus origination and application fees.

A lower interest rate allows you to borrow more money, with the same monthly payment, than a high rate. Interest rates can fluctuate as you shop for a loan, so ask lenders if they offer a rate "lock-in" which guarantees a specific interest rate for a certain period of time. Remember that a lender must disclose the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of a loan to you. The APR shows the cost of a mortgage loan by expressing it in terms of a yearly interest rate. It is generally higher than the interest rate because it also includes the cost of points, mortgage insurance, and other fees included in the loan.

The amount of the down payment, the size of the mortgage loan, the interest rate, the length of the repayment term and the payment schedule will all affect the size of your mortgage payment.

The monthly mortgage payment mainly pays off principal and interest. But most lenders also include local real estate taxes, homeowner's insurance, and mortgage insurance (if applicable).

There are mortgage options now available that only require a down payment of 5% or less of the purchase price. But the larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow, and the more equity you'll have. Mortgages with less than a 20% down payment generally require a mortgage insurance policy to secure the loan. When considering the size of your down payment, consider that you'll also need money for closing costs, moving expenses, and - possibly - repairs and decorating.

Yes. Lenders now offer several affordable mortgage options which can help first-time homebuyers overcome obstacles that made purchasing a home difficult in the past. Lenders may now be able to help borrowers who don't have a lot of money saved for the down payment and closing costs, have no - or a poor - credit history, have quite a bit of long-term debt, or have experienced income irregularities.

Yes. By sending in extra money each month or making an extra payment at the end of the year, you can accelerate the process of paying off the loan. When you send extra money, be sure to indicate that the excess payment is to be applied to the principal. Most lenders allow loan prepayment, though you may have to pay a prepayment penalty to do so. Ask your lender for details.

15-year:

Loan is usually made at a lower interest rate
Equity is built faster because early payments pay more principal

30-Year:

In the first 23 years of the loan, more interest is paid off than principal, meaning larger tax deductions
As inflation and costs of living increase, mortgage payments become a smaller part of overall expenses

An ARM may make sense if you are confident that your income will increase steadily over the years, or if you anticipate a move in the near future and aren't concerned about potential increases in interest rates.

Fixed Rate Mortgages: Payments remain the same for the the life of the loan.

Types:

15-year
30-year 39

Advantages:

Predictable
Housing cost remains unaffected by interest rate changes and inflation.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS): Payments increase or decrease on a regular schedule with changes in interest rates; increases subject to limits.

Types:

Balloon Mortgage - Offers very low rates for an initial period of time (usually 5, 7, or 10 years); when time has elapsed, the balance is due or refinanced (though not automatically)
Two-Step Mortgage - Interest rate adjusts only once and remains the same for the life of the loan
ARMS linked to a specific index or margin 41.

Advantages:

Generally offer lower initial interest rates
Monthly payments can be lower
May allow borrower to qualify for a larger loan amount

The loan-to-value ratio is the amount of money you borrow compared with the price or appraised value of the home you are purchasing. Each loan has a specific LTV limit. For example: With a 95% LTV loan on a home priced at $50,000, you could borrow up to $47,500 (95% of $50,000), and would have to pay $2,500 as a down payment.

 
The LTV ratio reflects the amount of equity borrowers have in their homes. The higher the LTV, the less cash homebuyers are required to pay out of their own funds. So, to protect lenders against potential loss in case of default, higher LTV loans (80% or more) usually require a mortgage insurance policy.

Generally speaking, a mortgage is a loan obtained to purchase real estate. The "mortgage" itself is a lien (a legal claim) on the home or property that secures the promise to pay the debt. All mortgages have two features in common: principal and interest.

First Steps

There are no easy ways to improve your credit score, but you can work to keep it acceptable by maintaining a good credit history. This means paying your bills on time and not overextending yourself by buying more than you can afford.

A credit bureau score is a number, based upon your credit history, that represents the possibility that you will be unable to repay a loan. Lenders use it to determine your ability to qualify for a mortgage loan. The better the score, the better your chances of getting a loan. Ask your lender for details.

Simple mistakes are easily corrected by writing to the reporting company, pointing out the error, and providing proof of the mistake. You can also request to have your own comments added to explain problems. For example, if you made a payment late due to illness, explain that for the record. Lenders are usually understanding about legitimate problems.

There are three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. Obtaining your credit report is as easy as calling and requesting one. Once you receive the report, it's important to verify its accuracy. Double check the 'high credit limit', 'total loan', and 'past due' columns. It's a good idea to get copies from all three companies to assure there are no mistakes, since any of the three could be providing a report to your lender. Fees, ranging from $5 - $20, are usually charged to issue credit reports but some states permit citizens to acquire a free one. Contact the reporting companies at the numbers listed for more information.

CREDIT REPORTING COMPANIES

Experian 1-888-524-3666
Equifax 1-800-685-1111
Trans Union 1-800-916-8800

Pre-qualification is an informal way to see how much you may be able to borrow. You can be 'pre-qualified' over the phone with no paperwork by telling a lender your income, your long-term debts, and how much down payment you can afford. Without any obligation, this helps you arrive at a ballpark figure of the amount you may have available to spend on a house.

 
Pre-approval is a lender's actual commitment to lend to you. It involves assembling the financial records mentioned in Question 47 (without the property description and sales contract) and going through a preliminary approval process. Pre-approval gives you a definite idea of what you can afford, and shows sellers that you are serious about buying.

Choose your lender carefully. Look for financial stability and a reputation for customer satisfaction. Be sure to choose a company that gives helpful advice and that makes you feel comfortable. A lender that has the authority to approve and process your loan locally is preferable, since it will be easier for you to monitor the status of your application and ask questions. Plus, it's beneficial when the lender knows home values and conditions in the local area. Do research and ask family, friends, and your real estate agent for recommendations.

The first step in securing a loan is to complete a loan application. To do so, you'll need the following information:

  • Pay stubs for the past 2-3 months
  • W-2 forms for the past 2 years
  • Information on long-term debts
  • Recent bank statements
  • Tax returns for the past 2 years
  • Proof of any other income
  • Address and description of the property you wish to buy
  • Sales contract

During the application process, the lender will order a report on your credit history and a professional appraisal of the property you want to purchase. The application process typically takes between 1- 6 weeks.

Finding the Right Loan

To ensure you won't fall victim to loan fraud, be sure to follow all of these steps as you apply for a loan:

  • Be sure to read and understand everything before you sign
  • Refuse to sign any blank documents
  • Do not buy property for someone else
  • Do not overstate your income
  • Do not overstate how long you have been employed
  • Do not overstate your assets
  • Accurately report your debts
  • Do not change your income tax returns for any reason
  • Tell the whole truth about gifts
  • Do not list fake co-borrowers on your loan application
  • Be truthful about your credit problems, past and present
  • Be honest about your intention to occupy the house
  • Do not provide false supporting documents

Lenders are not allowed to discriminate in any way against potential borrowers. If you believe a lender is refusing to provide his or her services to you on the basis of race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, contact HUD's Office of Fair Housing at 1-800-669-9777 (or 1-800-927-9275 for the hearing impaired).

It's an estimate that lists all fees paid before closing, all closing costs, and any escrow costs you will encounter when purchasing a home. The lender must supply it within three days of your application so that you can make accurate judgments when shopping for a loan.

RESPA stands for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. It requires lenders to disclose information to potential customers throughout the mortgage process. By doing so, it protects borrowers from abuses by lending institutions. RESPA mandates that lenders fully inform borrowers about all closing costs, lender servicing and escrow account practices, and business relationships between closing service providers and other parties to the transaction. 

For more information, call 1-800-569-4287 for a local counseling referral.

First, devise a checklist for the information from each lending institution. You should include the company's name and basic information, the type of mortgage, minimum down payment required, interest rate and points, closing costs, loan processing time, and whether prepayment is allowed. 

Speak with companies by phone or in person. Be sure to call every lender on the list the same day, as interest rates can fluctuate daily. In addition to doing your own research, your real estate agent may have access to a database of lender and mortgage options. Though your agent may primarily be affiliated with a particular lending institution, he or she may also be able to suggest a variety of different lender options to you.

Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you. By asking yourself a few questions, you can help narrow your search among the many options available, and discover which loan suits you best.

  • Do you expect your finances to change over the next few years?
  • Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time?
  • Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount?
  • Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement?

Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs.

Yes. When you turn in your application, you'll be required to pay a loan application fee to cover the costs of underwriting the loan. This fee pays for the home appraisal, a copy of your credit report, and any additional charges that may be necessary. The application fee is generally non-refundable.

Closing

Settlement Statement, HUD-1 Form (itemizes services provided and the fees charged; it is filled out by the closing agent and must be given to you at or before closing)

  • Truth-in-Lending Statement
  • Mortgage Note
  • Mortgage or Deed of Trust
  • Binding Sales Contract (prepared by the seller; your lawyer should review it)
  • Keys to your new home

You'll present your paid homeowner's insurance policy, or a binder and receipt showing that the premium has been paid. The closing agent will then list the money you owe the seller (remainder of down payment, prepaid taxes, etc.), and then the money the seller owes you (unpaid taxes and prepaid rent, if applicable). The seller will provide proof of any inspection, warranties, etc. 

Once you're sure you understand all the documentation, you'll sign the mortgage - agreeing that if you don't make payments the lender is entitled to sell your property and apply the sale price against the amount you owe, plus expenses. You'll also sign a mortgage note, promising to repay the loan. The seller will give you the title to the house in the form of a signed deed. 

You'll pay the lender's agent all closing costs and, in turn, he or she will provide you with a settlement statement of all the items for which you have paid. The deed and mortgage will then be recorded in the state Registry of Deeds, and you will be a homeowner.

There may be closing costs customary or unique to a certain locality, but closing costs are usually made up of the following:

  • Attorney's or escrow fees (yours and your lender's if applicable)
  • Property taxes (to cover the tax period to date)
  • Interest (paid from date of closing to 30 days before first monthly payment)
  • Loan origination fee (covers lender's administrative cost)
  • Recording feesSurvey fee
  • First premium of mortgage insurance (if applicable)
  • Title insurance (yours and lender's)
  • Loan discount points
  • First payment to escrow account for future real estate taxes and insurance
  • Paid receipt for homeowner's insurance policy (and fire and flood insurance if applicable)
  • Any documentation preparation fees

This will likely be the first opportunity to examine the house without furniture, giving you a clear view of everything. Check the walls and ceilings carefully, as well as any work the seller agreed to do in response to the inspection. Any problems discovered previously that you find uncorrected should be brought up prior to closing. It is the seller's responsibility to fix them.

It usually takes a lender between 1- 6 weeks to complete the evaluation of your application. It's not unusual for the lender to ask for more information once the application has been submitted. The sooner you can provide the information, the faster your application will be processed. Once all the information has been verified, the lender will call you to let you know the outcome of your application. If the loan is approved, a closing date is set up and the lender will review the closing with you. After closing, you'll be able to move into your new home.

How HUD and the FHA can help me become a homeowner

Yes. Talk to your lender or a HUD-approved counseling agency for details. Listed below are a few options that may help you get back on track.

For FHA loans:

Keep living in your home to qualify for assistance. Contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency (1-800-569-4287 or TDD: 1-800-483-2209) and cooperate with the counselor/lender trying to help youHUD has a number of special loss mitigation programs available to help you:
Special Forbearance: Your lender will arrange for a revised repayment plan which may include temporary reduction or suspension of payments; you can qualify by having an involuntary reduction in your income or increase in living expenses
Mortgage Modification: Allows refinancing debt and/or extending the term of your mortgage loan, which may reduce your monthly payments; you can qualify if you have recovered from financial problems, but net income is less than beforePartial Claim: Your lender may be able to help you obtain an interest-free loan from HUD to bring your mortgage current
Pre-Foreclosure Sale: Allows you to sell your property and pay off your mortgage loan, to avoid foreclosure
Deed-In Lieu of Foreclosure: Lets you voluntarily "give back" your property to the lender; it won't save your house but will help you avoid the costs, time, and effort of the foreclosure process

If you are having difficulty with an un-cooperative lender or feel your loan servicer is not providing you with the most effective loss mitigation options, call the FHA Loss Mitigation Center at 1-888-297-8685 for additional help

For Conventional Loans:

Talk to your lender about specific loss mitigation options. Work directly with him or her to request a "workout packet." A secondary lender, like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, may have purchased your loan. Your lender can follow the appropriate guidelines set by Fannie or Freddie to determine the best option for your situation.
Fannie Mae does not deal directly with the borrower. They work with the lender to determine the loss mitigation program that best fits your needs.
Freddie Mac, like Fannie Mae, will usually only work with the loan servicer. However, if you encounter problems with your lender during the loss mitigation process, you can coil customer service for help at 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343).

In any loss mitigation situation, it is important to remember a few helpful hints. Explore every reasonable alternative to avoid losing your home, but beware of scams. For example, watch out for:

  • Equity skimming: a buyer offers to repay the mortgage or sell the property if you sign over the deed and move out
  • Phony counseling agencies: offer counseling for a fee when it is often given at no charge
  • Don't sign anything you don't understand

Call or write to your lender as soon as possible. Clearly explain the situation and be prepared to provide him or her with financial information.

Yes. You can assume an existing FHA-insured loan, or, if you are the one deciding to sell, allow a buyer to assume yours. Assuming a loan can be very beneficial, since the process is streamlined and less expensive compared to that for a new loan. Also, assuming a loan can often result in a lower interest rate. The application process consists basically of a credit check and no property appraisal is required - and you must demonstrate that you have enough income to support the mortgage loan. In this way, qualifying to assume a loan is similar to the qualification requirements for a new one.

No. Though you can't roll closing costs into your FHA loan, you may be able to use the amount you pay for them to help satisfy the down payment requirement. Ask your lender for details.

Except for the addition of an FHA mortgage insurance premium, FHA closing costs are similar to those of a conventional loan outlined in Question 63. The FHA requires a single upfront mortgage insurance premium equal to 2.25% of the mortgage to be paid at closing (or 1.75% if you complete the HELP program - see Question 91). This initial premium may be partially refunded if the loan is paid in full during the first seven years of the loan term. After closing, you will then be responsible for an annual premium - paid monthly - if your mortgage is over 15 years or if you have a 15-year loan with an LTV greater than 90%.

Yes. If you prefer to pay debts in cash or are too young to have established credit, there are other ways to prove your eligibility. Talk to your lender for details.

The FHA is generally more flexible than conventional lenders in its qualifying guidelines. In fact, the FHA allows you to re-establish credit if:

  • Two years have passed since a bankruptcy has been discharged
  • All judgments have been paid
  • Any outstanding tax liens have been satisfied or appropriate arrangements have been made to establish a repayment plan with the IRS or state Department of Revenue
  • Three years have passed since a foreclosure or a deed-in-lieu has been resolved

Besides your own funds, you may use cash gifts or money from a private savings club. If you can do certain repairs and improvements yourself, your labor may be used as part of a down payment (called "sweat equity"). If you are doing a lease-purchase, paying extra rent to the seller may also be considered the same as accumulating cash.

You must have a down payment of at least 3% of the purchase price of the home. Most affordable loan programs offered by private lenders require between a 3%-5% down payment, with a minimum of 3% coming directly from the borrower's own funds.

You may qualify to exceed if you have:

  • A large down payment
  • A demonstrated ability to pay more toward your housing expenses
  • Substantial cash reserves
  • Net worth enough to repay the mortgage regardless of income
  • Evidence of acceptable credit history or limited credit use
  • Less-than-maximum mortgage terms
  • Funds provided by an organization
  • A decrease in monthly housing expenses

The FHA allows you to use 29% of your income towards housing costs and 41% towards housing expenses and other long-term debt. With a conventional loan, this qualifying ratio allows only 28% toward housing and 36% towards housing and other debt.

Yes. Short-term debt doesn't count as long as it can be paid off within 10 months. And some regular expenses, like child care costs, are not considered debt. Talk to your lender or real estate agent about meeting the FHA debt-to-income ratio.

Seasonal pay, child support, retirement pension payments, unemployment compensation, VA benefits, military pay, Social Security income, alimony, and rent paid by family all qualify as income sources. Part-time pay, overtime, and bonus pay also count as long as they are steady. Special savings plans - such as those set up by a church or community association - qualify, too. Income type is not as important as income steadiness with the FHA.

There is no minimum income requirement, but you must prove steady income for at least three years and demonstrate that you've consistently paid your bills on time.

With the exception of a few additional forms, the FHA loan application process is similar to that of a conventional loan (see Question 47). With new automation measures, FHA loans may be originated more quickly than before. And, if you don't prefer a face-to-face meeting, you can apply for an FHA loan via mail, telephone, the internet, or video conference.

FHA loan limits vary throughout the country, from $115,200 in low-cost areas to $208,800 in high-cost areas. The loan maximums for multi-unit homes are higher than those for single units and also vary by area.

Because these maximums are linked to the conforming loan limit and average area home prices, FHA loan limits are periodically subject to change. Ask your lender for details and confirmation of current limits.

Anyone who meets the credit requirements, can afford the mortgage payments and cash investment, and who plans to use the mortgaged property as a primary residence may apply for an FHA-insured loan.

Lender claims paid by the FHA mortgage insurance program are drawn from the Mutual Mortgage Insurance fund. This fund is made up of premiums paid by FHA-insured loan borrowers. No tax dollars are used to fund the program.

The FHA works to make homeownership a possibility for more Americans. With the FHA, you don't need perfect credit or a high-paying job to qualify for a loan. The FHA also makes loans more accessible by requiring smaller down payments than conventional loans. In fact, an FHA down payment could be as little as a few months rent. And your monthly payments may not be much more than rent.

Now an agency within HUD, the Federal Housing Administration was established in 1934 to advance opportunities for Americans to own homes. By providing private lenders with mortgage insurance, the FHA gives them the security they need to lend to first-time buyers who might not be able to qualify for conventional loans. The FHA has helped more than 26 million Americans buy homes.

HUD helps people by administering a variety of programs that develop and support affordable housing. Specifically, HUD plays a large role in homeownership by making loans available for lower and moderate income families through its FHA mortgage insurance program and its HUD Homes program. HUD owns homes in many communities throughout the U.S. and offers them for sale at attractive prices and economical terms. HUD also seeks to protect consumers through education, Fair Housing Laws, and housing rehabilitation initiatives.

Also known as HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was established in 1965 to develop national policies and programs to address housing needs in the U.S. One of HUD's primary missions is to create a suitable living environment for all Americans by developing and improving the country's communities and enforcing fair housing laws.

Mortgage Insurance

PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance or Private Mortgage Insuror. Privately-owned companies provide this mortgage insurance. They offer both standard and special affordable programs for borrowers. These companies provide guidelines to lenders that detail the types of loans they will insure. Lenders use these guidelines to determine borrower eligibility. PMI's usually have stricter qualifying ratios and larger down payment requirements than the FHA, but their premiums are often lower and they insure loans that exceed the FHA limit.

Ask your real estate agent or lender for information on the HELP program from the FHA. HELP - Homebuyer Education Learning Program - is structured to help people begin the homebuying process. It covers such topics as budgeting, finding a home, getting a loan, and home maintenance. In most cases, completion of this program may entitle you to a reduction in the initial FHA mortgage insurance premium from 2.25% to 1.75% of the purchase price of your new home.

You need mortgage insurance only if you plan to make a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home. The FHA offers several loan programs that may meet your needs. Ask your lender for details.

Like home or auto insurance, mortgage insurance requires payment of a premium, is for protection against loss, and is used in the event of an emergency. If a borrower can't repay an insured mortgage loan as agreed, the lender may foreclose on the property and file a claim with the mortgage insurer for some or most of the total losses.

Mortgage insurance is a policy that protects lenders against some or most of the losses that result from defaults on home mortgages. It's required primarily for borrowers making a down payment of less than 20%.

FHA Products

Visit the web site at http://www.hud.gov or look in the phone book "blue pages" for a listing of the HUD office near you.

Contact an FHA-approved lender such as a participating mortgage company, bank, savings and loan association, or thrift. For more information on the FHA and how you can obtain an FHA loan, visit the HUD web site at http://www.hud.gov or call a HUD-approved counseling agency at 1-800-569-4287 or TDD: 1-800-877-8339.

The FHA also insures loans for the purchase or rehabilitation of manufactured housing, condominiums, and cooperatives. It also has special programs for urban areas, disaster victims, and members of the armed forces. Insurance for ARMS is also available from the FHA.

Given by a lender and insured by the FHA, a Title I loan is used to make non-luxury renovations and repairs to a home. It offers a manageable interest rate and repayment schedule. Loans are limited to between $5,000 and 20,000. If the loan amount is under $7,500, no lien is required against your home. Ask your lender for details.

The Energy Efficient Mortgage allows a homebuyer to save future money on utility bills. This is done by financing the cost of adding energy-efficiency features to a new or existing home as part of an FHA-insured home purchase. The EEM can be used with both 203(b) and 203(k) loans. Basic guidelines for EEMs are as follows:

  • The cost of improvements must be determined by a Home Energy Rating System or by an energy consultant. This cost must be less than the anticipated savings from the improvements
  • One and two-unit new or existing homes are eligible; condos are notThe improvements financed may be 5% of property value or $4,000, whichever is greater
  • The total must fall within the FHA loan limit

This is a loan that enables the homebuyer to finance both the purchase and rehabilitation of a home through a single mortgage. A portion of the loan is used to pay off the seller's existing mortgage and the remainder is placed in an escrow account and released as rehabilitation is completed. Basic guidelines for 203(k) loans are as follows:

  • The home must be at least one year old
  • The cost of rehabilitation must be at least $5,000, but the total property value - including the cost of repairs - must fall within the FHA maximum mortgage limit
  • The 203(k) loan must follow many of the 203(b) eligibility requirements
  • Talk to your lender about specific improvement, energy efficiency, and structural guidelines

This is the most commonly used FHA program. It offers a low down payment, flexible qualifying guidelines, limited lender's fees, and a maximum loan amount.