Because people often don't have enough cash to purchase a home outright, they usually take out a loan when buying real estate. A bank or mortgage lender agrees to provide the funds, and the borrower agrees to pay it back over a specific period, say 30 years.
Read on if you're shopping for a new home and planning on taking out a loan to finance the purchase.
Depending on where you live, you'll likely either sign a mortgage or deed of trust when you take out a loan to purchase your home. This document provides security for the loan evidenced by a promissory note, and creates a lien on the property.
Some states use mortgages, while others use deeds of trust or a similarly-named document. The mortgage or deed of trust gives the loan owner the right to sell the secured property through the foreclosure process if you don't make the payments or breach the loan contract in another way.
While most people call a home loan a "mortgage" or "mortgage loan," it's actually the promissory note that contains the promise to repay the amount borrowed.
Most mortgage borrowers get an FHA, VA, or conventional loan.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insures some home loans. If you default on the loan and your house isn't worth enough to fully repay the debt through a foreclosure sale, the FHA will compensate the lender for the loss.
A borrower with a low credit score might want to consider an FHA-insured loan because other loans usually aren't available to those with bad credit.
As you might guess, a VA-guaranteed loan is a loan that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guarantees. This type of loan is only available to specific borrowers through VA-approved lenders. The guarantee means the lender is protected against loss if the borrower fails to repay the loan.
A current or former military servicemember might want to consider getting a VA-guaranteed loan, which could be the least expensive of all three loan types.
Conventional loans aren't insured or guaranteed by the federal government. So, unlike federally insured loans, conventional loans carry no guarantees for the lender if you fail to repay the loan.
Homebuyers sometimes think that if a lender pre-qualifies them for a mortgage loan, they've been pre-approved for a home loan. But the terms "pre-qualified" and "pre-approved" have very different definitions.
Pre-qualifying for a loan is the first step in the mortgage process. Typically, it's a pretty easy one.
You can pre-qualify quickly for a loan over the phone or Internet (at no cost) by providing the lender with an overview of your finances, including your income, assets, and debts. The lender then reviews the information—based on your word—and gives you a figure for the loan amount you can probably get.
The main reason to get pre-qualified for a loan is to get an idea of how much you can afford when shopping for a new home. It's important to understand that the lender makes no assurance that you'll be approved for this amount.
With a pre-approval, you provide the mortgage lender with information on your income, assets, and liabilities, and the lender verifies and analyzes that information. The pre-approval process is a much more involved process than getting pre-qualified for a loan.
Once the lender completes the analysis, you'll receive a conditional commitment in writing. You can then look for a home at or below that price level.
As you might guess, being a pre-approved buyer carries much more weight than being a pre-qualified buyer when it comes to making an offer to purchase a home; once you find the home you want and make an offer, your offer isn't contingent on obtaining financing.
After taking out a mortgage loan to buy a home, the borrower typically has to make monthly payments of principal and interest, as well as taxes and insurance if the loan is escrowed. Collectively, these items are called "PITI."
Federal laws protect homeowners who have new and existing mortgages. Under these federal laws, loan servicers have to:
Mortgage servicers must give borrowers certain information about their loan so they're not caught off guard when an interest rate adjusts or they're charged various fees. The law requires servicers to:
Periodic Billing Statements. A servicer must provide a written statement to the borrower each billing cycle, usually monthly. (12 C.F.R. § 1026.41). The statement must show:
Though, if you have a fixed-rate mortgage and your servicer sends you a book of coupons to send in with your payments, then a monthly statement isn't required.
Interest-Rate Adjustment Notices. If a mortgage loan has an adjustable interest rate, the servicer must provide the borrower with a notice containing the new rate and new payment (or an estimate):
In most cases, servicers must promptly credit a borrower for the full payment the day it is received. (12 C.F.R. § 1026.36).
If the borrower only makes a partial payment, that amount may be held in a special account (called a "suspense account"), but the servicer must inform the borrower on the monthly statement. Once the suspense account has sufficient funds to make a full payment of principal, interest, and any escrow, the servicer must credit that payment to the account. (12 C.F.R. § 1026.36, 12 C.F.R. § 1026.41).
The servicer generally must provide an accurate payoff balance to a borrower no later than seven business days after receiving a written request asking how much it will cost to pay off the mortgage. (12 C.F.R. § 1026.36). In some instances, the servicer must provide the statement within a "reasonable time."
Mortgages require homeowners to have adequate homeowners' insurance on the property to protect the lender's interest in case of fire or another casualty. If a borrower lets the insurance lapse, the servicer can buy coverage and add the cost to the loan payment. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.37). This type of coverage is called "force-placed insurance" or "lender-placed insurance."
Under the law, the servicer:
If a borrower gives the servicer proof of hazard insurance coverage, the servicer must, within 15 days:
A servicer must, in most cases, acknowledge receiving a written information request or complaint of errors, like if a borrower complains that the servicer misapplied a payment or charged improper fees, within five days (excluding legal public holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays) and respond within 30 days.
The servicer may generally extend the 30-day period for an additional 15 days if the servicer notifies the borrower within the 30-day period of the extension and provides the reasons for the delay in responding. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.35, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36).
If you need more information about mortgages, are having trouble deciding what loan type is best for your circumstances, or need other home-buying advice, consider contacting a HUD-approved housing counselor, a mortgage lender, or a real estate attorney.