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Every year, millions of first-time homebuyers set out on a search for the perfect piece of property. They scour advertisements; they search through real estate apps; they go on countless tours and stop by untold open houses. Then, when they finally find the home of their dreams, they are utterly unprepared to make an offer.
Buying a home is more than comparing cabinet styles and deciding whether a pool is worthwhile. You must understand your mortgage options before you even consider whether you need or want granite countertops. This guide will help you determine what features you need from your home loan, so you can find and afford your dream home in no time.
Fixed vs. Adjustable
Mortgages last a long time ― typically between 15 and 30 years. Since that is such a significant amount of time for a loan, most lenders offer two options to help you manage your interest rate: fixed or adjustable. Which option you choose depends on your current income, your credit score, and a few other factors.
Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common. With these, you can expect the same interest rate for the entire duration of the mortgage loan. The primary benefit of having a fixed rate is knowing exactly what your mortgage payment will be each and every month; your home payment will never be a financial surprise. However, fixed-rate mortgages tend to have a higher interest rate ― at least initially.
Adjustable-rate mortgages are less common but more accessible if you have poor credit. The opposite of fixed rates, adjustable rates will change over time. Most often, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are actually a hybrid product, as lenders will promise a brief fixed period before adjusting your rate.
Some buyers find ARMs preferable because they seem to have lower interest rates. However, over time, those interest rates will rise, and you likely won’t be able to predict when or how much. Therefore, you can expect financial irregularity for the duration of your loan.
Jumbo vs. Conforming
The cost of your home will also determine the type of mortgage you can obtain. Though you might not realize it, most home loans have a size cap, and not all lenders offer conforming loans, which are the standard size, and jumbo loans, which are substantially larger.
Conforming loans earn their name because they conform to the guidelines of the appropriate government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.
In 2013, these enterprises determined that the size of home loans should be limited to $417,000 for a single-family home in the United States. The GSE can do this because it purchases and sells mortgage-backed securities, which form the foundation of the housing market. In 2007, the unreliability of these securities incited the Great Recession, so adhering to the size cap for home loans should keep the economy more stable.
Conversely, jumbo loans are available from some lenders for those looking to purchase a home worth more than $417,000. However, such sizeable loans represent a marked increase in a lender’s risk, which means you must have impeccable credit, high income, and a large down payment to qualify. As long as you are prepared for the financial responsibilities of a more expensive home, a jumbo loan is an excellent mortgage option.
Conventional vs. Government-Insured
Finally, not all potential homebuyers have the credit history or liquid assets to purchase a home. Fortunately, the government offers unconventional, government-insured loan programs to help less-advantaged citizens buy property.
The benefit of having a government-insured home loan is that the government promises to pay your mortgage if you default, so lenders see the loan as no-risk. There are three main types of government-insured mortgages:
Typically available only to veterans or their partners, VA loans require no down payment, offer competitively low interest rates, and do not require mortgage insurance. These loans do conform to GSE guidelines, but they are incredibly easy to qualify if you or your spouse served in the Armed Forces.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also offers a mortgage program to low-income, low-credit homebuyers. Unlike VA loans, FHA loans require a down payment ― though it can be as low as 3.5 percent ― and mortgage insurance. However, interest rates are low.
If you are willing to move to a rural community, the United States Department of Agriculture will help you secure a mortgage. Your qualification for this program depends on your income; it can be no more than 115 percent of the regional average. However, by participating, you earn exceedingly low interest rates and the opportunity to bypass a down payment, as long as you pay mortgage insurance.