Most people are intimidated by the mortgage application process so they only go to one lender for a loan. Yet you know instinctively that shopping around gets you the best price on most anything you buy. So toughen up and take on the task of getting the best deal on the biggest expense in your life—your home!
3 ways to compare mortgage offers
I recommend that you get mortgage quotes from at least three sources. Start with the lender you are referred to by your real estate agent. Go to the bank or credit union you do business with. And ask friends or people at work for the name of a mortgage broker or banker they used that they were happy with.
Once you have you offers in hand, take out a piece of blank paper. I want you to make your own crib sheet to compare the offers apples-to-apples.
Each offer you receive from each source should have three columns. So draw up three columns on your crib sheet. In the first, list the interest rate. (Most people stop right there. But that is only part of how you compare one loan offer to another.)
Second, list whether you have to pay points and how much that will cost. Each point is 1% of the amount you are borrowing. This is simply a junk fee to line the pocket of the lender.
Third, look at your closing costs. Lenders now have to give you an estimate of the maximum you will have to pay. This makes it much easier for you to figure out which loan is actually your best deal.
Unless you know you will stay in a home less than seven years, keep your mortgage shopping simple by comparing 30 year-fixed rate offers.
If you’re looking for a refinance, shopping is much easier. The choice of lenders is much greater and that competition gives you lower costs. Don’t forget to check online lenders as well for refis.
The key thing to remember when looking for the best mortgage rates is once you start, keep going. All mortgage applications in a 30-day period are treated as just one hit on your credit score. If you stop and start your shopping and extend the search beyond 30 days, you will hurt your credit and credit score.
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How do I get a mortgage if I have bad credit?
Just because you have bad credit, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a mortgage.
Many potential home-buyers with bad credit scores would be well served by checking out the Federal Housing Administration’s FHA loan program. The down payment required in the FHA program is very low and the credit score requirements are around a 620 or possibly lower in some situations.
Bad credit is repairable
There are two factors that are most likely to hurt your credit score—you haven’t been paying your bills on time or you have too much debt. Those two things combine to make up two-thirds of your credit score.
Whether or not you’re paying your bills on time makes up 35% of your score—because lenders want to know whether you’re going to pay them on time. But a weak payment record is totally repairable. All you have to do is start paying your bills on time, and you can improve your credit score pretty quickly. Your score will increase every 60 days. At myFICO.com, there is a score simulator that shows you how changes in your behavior can improve your credit score.
The second big factor in your credit score—30% of it—is how much credit you are using. If you’re maxed out on a card, charging up to the limit, it’s going to damage your credit score. Try using 30% or less of your total available credit each month.
Having a healthy credit ratio—how much of your available credit you’re using from month to month—is one reason you should never close a credit card after you’ve paid it off. You might think that would help your credit score, but by reducing your available credit, it likely would make your credit score go down.
And if you know you’re going to be buying a house soon, please take heed of this advice: Never buy a new car in the months before you buy a new house. Doing so will take a real bite out of your credit score.
Read more: How to raise your credit score