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Crazy to take an adjustable-rate mortgage? Crazy like a fox

November 14th, 2012

Conventional wisdom states: Current mortgage rates are close to record lows and, given that eventually they’re pretty much bound to rise, you’d be mad not to choose a fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) that locks your interest rate for the term of your home loan. True for many, but not for everyone — maybe even fewer people than you’d think.

The alternative is an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), and most of these are “hybrids.” You may have read about 5/1 ARMs or 7/1 ARMs, and that five or seven represents the number of years during which the initial mortgage rate is fixed before it floats up (or, much less likely, sinks down) to whatever rate is then current. It’s a hybrid of an FRM for the first x years, and an ARM after that.

Home loans should match your plans

It’s usually more advantageous to choose the type of home loan that matches your plans. If you want to apply for a mortgage — or refinance an existing one — on a home you plan to remain in indefinitely, then an FRM makes perfect sense. A quick glance at Freddie Mac’s archive of 30-year FRM rates confirms how much they can go up and down over the term of a loan.

It’s a no-brainer for those settling into their home for decades: fix your rate with an FRM. In the unlikely event interest rates fall by a significant amount, you still have the mortgage refinancing option. But what if you’re likely to move in a few years?

ARM yourself if you’re a frequent mover

According to the U.S. Census Bureau: “In 2010, 37.5 million people 1 year and older changed residences in the U.S. within the past year.” That’s 12.5 percent. So even during a recession, Americans moved on average once every eight years. Look online, and you’ll likely find once every five or seven years frequently quoted.

That’s no surprise. People tend to start off in small houses or apartments and buy bigger homes as kids come along, elderly dependents move in, or they become wealthier and trade up. And, of course, many have to relocate frequently for employment. These people should perhaps explore hybrid ARMs.

Current mortgage rates lower for ARMs

That’s because the initial mortgage rates for these home loans tend to be much lower than those for FRMs. Take weekending October 26, 2012. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the rate for 30-year FRMs averaged 3.41 percent, with points of 0.76 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value loans. The equivalent average 5/1 ARM rate was 2.66 percent with points of 0.33.

Of course, if your plans change and you stay put, you might regret opting for an ARM when its initial fixed rate expires. But you may regret even more paying unnecessarily high rates when you’re packing your moving van in five or seven years’ time. Those are risks only you can weigh up.

Peter Andrew

Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He regularly covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com and other personal finance publications including Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money. He also writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans. Peter has spent extended periods living overseas, in the UK, France and Africa. He lives with his partner of 20+ years, and wastes too much of his time on cryptic crosswords.

Getting rid of a troubled home loan

February 11th, 2011

Are you desperate to get rid of your mortgage problems? You are not alone. Zillow recently reported that 27 percent of U.S. homeowners are underwater on mortgage loans. There also were 261,333 foreclosure filings in January, according to RealtyTrac.

But homeowners dealing with foreclosure and underwater home loans aren’t the only one struggling. Some borrowers are struggling to make monthly mortgage payments due to a drop in income, job layoff, illness or some other factor beyond their control. There is no easy solution to dealing with mortgage problems, but there are several options to consider.

Sell your home

Getting rid of a mortgage loan is the best option if you really can’t afford to make the payments. Just because you sell the property you currently live in doesn’t mean you won’t be able to purchase another home in the future. Find out what’s going on in your neighborhood in terms of home sales. If there have been a lot of foreclosures, the value of your home is likely to be affected. But even if you are underwater on a mortgage loan that doesn’t mean you have to give up the idea of selling. But you may have to consider a short sale.

A short sale occurs when the mortgage lender agrees to accept a lower payoff that what you owe on a home loan. The advantage to doing a short sale is that the lender can recover some of what’s owed. You would be able to get out from under a troubled loan and avoid foreclosure. Keep in mind that any mortgage debt that is forgiven by the mortgage lender in such a deal may be taxable, so it’s important to consult with a tax advisor.

Mortgage refinancing

Maybe you are feeling pinched by monthly mortgage payments, but things haven’t gotten so serious that you are about to lose you home. If you still have some home equity and good credit, you might qualify for a mortgage refinance. The more equity you have and the higher your credit score the better. Refinancing could be the right move it you are paying interest that is much higher than current mortgage rates. A mortgage payment calculator can help determine how much money you could actually save by refinancing.

These are just a few ways to get out from under expensive mortgage payments. There may be other solutions that suit your financial needs. Talk with your mortgage lender or a housing counselor to learn more about your options.

Home refinance checklist

October 8th, 2010

Current mortgage rates are super low, and many homeowners are rushing to refinance before they begin to rise again. If you’re thinking of refinancing, remember the following things.

  • Shop around to compare mortgage rates from several lenders. Not all mortgage lenders offer the same type of deals. Among the differences in refinance programs you may find are deals that offer low closing costs and bonuses or other incentives for closing on time. Some mortgage lenders may even be willing to waive certain fees or closing costs.
  • Your credit score does matter. The key to being offered the best mortgage rates lies in your credit score. Mortgage lenders want to see a strong credit report that includes a history of paying bills on time, a low debt-to-income ratio, and no judgments or liens. If you have a spotty credit history, take time to repair your credit before going to a lender to apply for a refinance.
  • A refinance could actually increase your monthly payments. That would be the case if you were to choose a 15-year mortgage loan. A 15-year home loan is going to have a lower interest rate than a 30-year loan, but you’re likely to have significantly higher monthly payments with the shorter term.
  • Refinancing into a 15-year mortgage can help pay off your home faster. If you can afford the monthly payments without it being a financial hardship, this could be the way to own your home free and clear of debt sooner.
  • Refinancing can get you out of an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). Many homeowners with ARMs fear the day mortgage rates begin to rise because that means they would end up with a higher monthly payment when their loan resets.
  • Be ready to provide documentation for everything. Mortgage lenders want to know how much you earn each month and will ask you for recent pay stubs and your most recent tax return. If you are self-employed, expect to provide an income statement or other information about your business. You also may be asked for proof of assets in savings or investment accounts.
  • Make sure you have enough home equity to avoid mortgage insurance (MI) payments. MI is required when you have less than 20% equity in a property.

Depending upon your situation a refinance could allow you to keep a lot more money in your pocket each month. Refinancing also can shave thousands of dollars off the amount of interest paid over the life of a mortgage loan.

3 ways to cut your mortgage costs

September 10th, 2010

Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. Like most people you probably don’t have enough cash on hand to buy a property outright and need to obtain a mortgage loan, which means you are committing to many years of loan payments.

Most mortgage loans are set up to be paid out over a long period of time, such as 30 years, and the interest payments result in paying a whole lot more than the actual purchase price of a property. For instance, if you use a mortgage payment calculator to determine the amount of interest paid on a 30-year fixed mortgage loan for $200,000 at 4.5% interest, you’d pay $164,813.42 in interest over the life of the loan.

Cut Mortgage Costs

So what can you do to decrease the amount of money paid out of your pocket over the life of a home mortgage?

  1. Save up a larger down payment. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this piece of advice, but you really can’t afford to ignore it. Using the scenario described above, assume that the down payment on the mortgage is 20%, or $40,0000. The total amount of interest paid out over the 30 years would be $131,850.74. Boost the down payment to 30% ($60,000) and the amount of interest paid would be $115,369.40. The more you put down the less interest you pay and the smaller the monthly payments are going to be.
  2. Property taxes and homeowners insurance add to monthly mortgage costs. Shop around for the best homeowners insurance policy you can find. Mortgage lenders require insurance premiums to be paid into an escrow account each month. Take time to compare different policies to find the best one for your situation. It may make sense to increase the deductible to have smaller monthly payments. You also may get discounts for being a long-time customer, having multiple policies, or not filing any claims over a certain period of time.
  3. Pay extra toward the principal. Even if you can only spare $50 extra to put toward a mortgage loan each month, do it. Paying down principal faster than the term of the loan can significantly cut your total mortgage bill. If owning your home free and clear of mortgage debt is important, focusing on reducing principal can help.

Refinance to lower payments

Also consider taking advantage of current mortgage rates to refinance out of a high-interest home loan. Decreasing your monthly payments could save hundreds of dollars a month, allowing you to keep more of your take-home pay. You also could refinance and continue paying the same amount each month to reduce principal quicker and cut the total amount of interest paid out over the life of the loan.

Mortgage Rates Are Low, but Confidence Is Down

July 23rd, 2010

Low mortgage rates should bring out a stampede of home buyers looking for a deal with housing prices so much more affordable than a few years back. But that’s not happening as many potential buyers stay on the sidelines or can’t get approved for a home loan.

Mortgage Rates at All-Time Lows

Despite the fact that current mortgage rates are averaging 4.56% for a 30-year fixed loan — the lowest level ever — consumer confidence and home builder confidence have dropped. Mortgages rates for 15-year fixed loans are averaging 4.03%.

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s vice president and chief economist, said in a statement:

The decline in mortgages rates over the past few weeks echoes the recent signs of weakening confidence in the strength of the economy, particularly the housing and consumer sectors. For example, homebuilder confidence declined in July to lows not seen since April 2009, as measured by the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, following the large drop in housing starts reported for June.

Falling Home Values

Home values throughout much of the country have fallen and are expected to show more declines, although some economists say the worst of the housing crisis has passed.

Consumer confidence fell as many folks continued to worry about unemployment and overall conditions in the economy. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 52.9 in June from 62.7 in May.

According to Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center:

Consumer confidence, which had posted three consecutive monthly gains and appeared to be gaining some traction, retreated sharply in June. Increasing uncertainty and apprehension about the future state of the economy and labor market, no doubt a result of the recent slowdown in job growth, are the primary reasons for the sharp reversal in confidence. Until the pace of job growth picks up, consumer confidence is not likely to pick up.

Current Refinance Rates

Despite the concern about the economy, some homeowners are taking advantage of the low mortgage rates to refinance home loans. Doing a home refinance could make sense if it can significantly lower your monthly payments or get you out of a mortgage with adjustable rates.

You can begin gathering quotes for mortgage refinancing here. If you have a stable income, strong credit score, and equity in your home you may be able to qualify for a home refinance despite concern about where the economy is heading. 

Should You Refinance Your Home Loan?

May 16th, 2010

Current mortgage rates are low and it seems like it might be a good time to refinance your home loan. You’ve even begun to gather quotes from several local mortgage lenders advertising competitive mortgage rates. But does it make sense to do a mortgage refinance at this time?

Use a Loan Calculator

It is important to determine the amount of time it’s going to take to recoup any money you put out to refinance. Use the “Is it time to refi?” loan calculator to compare several mortgage quotes. The following example walks you through the steps of using the loan calculator.

Existing Home Mortgage

First, the loan calculator asks for information about your existing mortgage.

  • What is the original term of your home mortgage? For this example let’s use 30 years.
  • What is the original amount of your mortgage loan? Our example uses $250,000.
  • What is the current balance of your home loan?  ($175,000)
  • How long have you had the mortgage? (8 years)
  • What is your current interest rate? (7%)

New Home Loan 

Next, the loan calculator needs information about the new mortgage.

  • What is the amount of the new loan? ($175,000)
  • What is the new mortgage term? (15 years)
  • What is the interest rate on the new loan? (5%)
  • How much are the estimated closing costs? (2%)
  • How long do you plan to remain in the home after doing a mortgage refinance? (10 years)

How Much Would You Save?

When you run the numbers in the loan calculator, you get a report detailing your potential savings. Using the numbers in this example you would go from having a monthly mortgage payment of $1,663 to paying $1,384. Over the 10-year period that you plan to remain in the home you would save $33,524 due to the decreased monthly mortgage payment.

Reducing Mortgage Loan Principal

The loan calculator also gives an analysis of the reduction of loan principal. In this scenario if you refinanced and stayed in the home for 10 years the principal would be reduced by $101,667. However, if you did not refinance your mortgage, the principal would be reduced by $111,194 over the 10-year period.

Total Savings

The last part of the report shows that the estimated cost of refinancing is $3,500, which is based on the 2% closing costs. It also shows that the total amout that would be saved by refinancing would be $20,497.

7 Mistakes People Make When Buying a Home

April 2nd, 2010

Don’t waste time and money when buying a home. Avoid making the following mistakes when purchasing a property.

  1. Not setting a budget. Do you have caviar tastes on a crackers and cheese budget? Run the numbers on your finances before heading out to look for a home.  That way you can shop within your budget and won’t experience delays when applying for a mortgage. It’s also important to buy a home within your means. Bigger may seem better until you’re struggling to make the mortgage payments and keep the heat on.
  2. Not getting pre-approved for mortgage loans. A pre-approval letter shows that a mortgage lender is committing to give you a home loan. This puts you in a better position to negotiate a deal.
  3. Letting emotions take over. Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’re going to make in your life. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. If you see a lot of red flags and feel uncomfortable with a deal, don’t ignore those feelings. While you may think you’ve found your dream home, there are other properties out there. 
  4. Trying to time mortgage rates. When it’s time to get a home loan, compare current mortgage rates from several mortgage lenders to find the best deal. If you’ve done everything you can to clean up your credit, and save up a nice down payment, you should qualify for a competitive mortgage rate regardless of what’s happening with the economy.
  5. Signing contracts without understanding them. Many homeowners caught up in the subprime mortgage mess claim they just didn’t know what they were getting into when they purchased property. You may not be a legal expert, but you must pay one to represent you. Hire a knowledgeable attorney who can review your contract and look out for your interests.
  6. Not getting a home inspection. Even if a house looks perfect, there are bound to be some type of problems lurking about. In fact, some new homes could even have problems that wouldn’t be found without a home inspection. Your housing contract should allow for contingencies related to the home inspection.
  7. Not taking advantage of programs that help you buy a home, such as the government’s homebuyer tax credit of up to $8,000. Many communities also have programs targeted at first-time homeowners or other information sessions.

Becoming a homeowner can be exciting and scary all at the same time. Learn as much as you can about the process and find reliable professionals for your team to make the home buying process as smooth as possible.

Refinance with Low Closing Costs

November 25th, 2009

Some lenders have offered existing mortgage loan customers the chance to refinance with low closing costs. Does that mean you should jump at the chance to do a mortgage refinance if your bank offers such a deal?

Saving Thousands in Mortgage Closing Costs

Depending upon your mortgage loan and the interest rate being offered, there could be the potential to save a lot of money upfront when refinancing. For example, Valley National Bank, based in New Jersey, has been advertising for months a mortgage refinance for a flat fee of $499. Refinancing doesn’t require an appraisal or various other fees common to mortgage closings. The bank says you can save up to $2,000 in fees by refinancing.

Consider Other Factors Before Refinancing

If you’re thinking of refinancing through a similar mortgage program, it’s important to look beyond the closing costs, however. You should factor in how long you have to pay off your current mortgage. Most of the monthly payments go toward interest during the early years of a mortgage. If you’ve been paying on a mortgage loan for many years, it’s important to look at how much money gets put toward interest on a refinanced loan.

Are You Planning to Move?

It may not make sense to refinance if you plan to move soon. Sure the housing market isn’t doing so hot right now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to sell your property in a couple years. It won’t take as long to break even on lower closing costs for a refinance, but getting a new mortgage loan seem like a wise move at this point?

Lower Your Mortgage Payments

Talk to several mortgage lenders to compare deals, even if they involve higher closing costs. Begin searching for mortgage refinance quotes here.

In some cases, refinancings that involve low closing costs may have higher mortgage rates than loans that involve more fees. But if you can significantly lower your monthly payments and are happy with other terms of a mortgage refinance deal, why not go for it? Refinancing into a fixed-rate loan also can give you more financial stability.

Low Mortgage Rates 

Current mortgage rates are very competitive overall. Refinancing could be one way to cut your monthly expenses and save more money in this tough economy. Just make sure you consider a mortgage refinance from all possible angles to avoid any problems later.

Obama Expected to Sign Legislation for Tax Credit Extension

November 6th, 2009

Congress voted this week to extend the tax credit for first-time home buyers, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation today. Here’s what you need to know if you’re hunting for a home loan.

The original tax credit program is set to expire on Nov. 30.  But under the extended program, home buyers will have until April 30, 2010, to sign a purchase agreement. They must close on mortgage loans by June 30.

Tax Credit for More Home Buyers

The tax credit is for first-time home buyers who have not owned a home in the previous three years. The tax credit worth up to $8,000 can be deducted on federal income tax returns. New home buyers are still eligible for that amount under the program.

However, the expanded program is supposed to allow people who have lived in their home for at least five years to receive a tax credit of up to $6,500 when purchasing another home. So if you’ve been looking for a mortgage for a new house, this may be an incentive to get moving on selling your current home.

Higher Income Eligibility

The legislation for the extended program allows people with higher incomes to qualify for the tax credit, according to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times. The credit phases out for individuals who earn above $125,000, up from $75,000. For joint filers the credit phases out if they earn more than $225,000, up from $150,000.

Current Mortgage Rates Are Low

With mortgage rates still so low, buying a home now may be more affordable than waiting until the housing market recovers more. Still, you may experience some tradeoffs for moving now. First, you may not be able to sell your current home at the price you hope to get. It’s a buyer’s market, so you may need to make some concessions or offer some incentives to get your property sold.

Second, if you plan to get a home loan to buy another house, you only have a limited time to close on it to qualify for the credit. If you don’t close by the deadline, you lose out on the tax credit even if you had been counting on it to help with the costs of buying a new home.

Mortgage Quotes

Find mortgage quotes from several lenders to get an idea of how large of a mortgage you can get. Run the numbers carefully to decide if you really want to move at this time. Just because the government is offering a tax credit for home buyers doesn’t mean that purchasing a home is the right choice for you.

Should You Pay Points on a Mortgage Loan?

September 23rd, 2009

Current mortgage rates have declined to an average of about 5% for a 30-year mortgage, pushing some homeowners to refinance or apply for a new home loan. If you have a good credit score you’ll likely qualify for the best mortgage rates. But even if you don’t have that great of a score you can pay points on a loan to lower your mortgage costs.

What Are Points?

Each point equals 1% of the amount of your mortgage. So for a $250,000 mortgage  a point would be equal to $2,500. Depending upon the loan, you could choose to pay several points. How many points you pay usually depends upon things like how much of a down payment you have. Read the rest of this entry »