Helping Yourself Qualify for a Home Loan
There are a fair number of specific helpful suggestions to make in helping you purchase a home. All of them revolve around the loan. Let's face it, the loan is far and away the most hypothetical and uncertain part about most real estate transactions. If there is a non-loan related problem, chances are that you really didn't want to buy that particular property anyway. Most of the time, these problems mean that you would be buying into trouble, and nothing but. Unless you have specialized knowledge in sorting out that particular problem, it's likely to be more expensive than any money you saved through reduced purchase price.
A poor loan officer can always botch a loan, of course, and even the best may not be able to push it through if you are a marginal enough case. So how do you improve your case standing?
The first thing is to get a credit score above 720. If you're there already, keep doing what you're doing. Even if you're not there yet, it's easier to improve than most people think, although it takes time. Make all of your credit payments on time, especially any mortgages and rental payments. These are the most important things to mortgage lenders. Note that you make a payment a few days later than it is due, and you may even pay a penalty, but the lender will not report it as late until 30 days later, and that's when it counts as late to everyone else. In order to qualify for the A paper loan, at the top of the market, the general rule is no more than two 30 day late payments on revolving debts within two years, or one 30 day late on mortgages or rent.
Most lenders want you to have three lines of credit, and a twenty-four month credit history. Not all of them need to be still open, but if you don't have at least two open lines of credit, a given reporting bureau may not report a score, and if you don't have two different scores from the three big bureaus, only a few sub-prime lenders will give you a loan. The longer your particular lines of credit are open, the higher your score will be. So if you keep opening new lines of credit, expect your score to be low.
Revolving credit balances should be kept low, less than half of their limit. There is a significant hit if your credit line is more than half its limit, and the higher you go, the worse it is. If you have two $5000 limit credit cards, it is much better to have $1500 on each than $3000 on one and nothing on the other. It make even more difference if you have $2000 balance on each as opposed to $4000 on one. And if you're one of those people who keeps doing the "transfer your balance to a new card and get zero interest for six months" thing, it will really impact your credit in a negative way, because if your credit balances sum to $8000, that's usually what the limit on the new card will be, and so you've got a brand new credit card that's maxed out, which is a major hit on your credit.
One of the best ways to improve your credit score relatively quickly is to use your credit regularly but pay it off every time you get a bill. Once per month, charge something small that you know you will be able to pay off when the bill arrives. This may still take some months to improve your score, but better months than years.
The next way to improve your ability to afford a house is not to have any large monthly payments. The best rates are for full documentation loans, where you prove to the lender that you make enough money to be able to afford all of your payments. "A paper" lenders will allow you to have total monthly payments of 38 to 45 percent of your gross monthly income. Some sub-prime lenders will go to 55 percent. If your family makes $6000 per month, this means that total payments can be up to $2700 for certain A paper loans, up to $3300 for sub-prime and still qualify full documentation. This also means that the more income you can document, the more house you can afford.
This number includes not only the amount of the mortgage, but also the property taxes, homeowners insurance, association dues (if applicable), and anything else you may need to pay in order to keep the home, as well as car payments, credit card payments, and any other debts you may have. This means that somebody with other payments of $80 per month can afford a lot more house than somebody with other payments of $900 per month. This should be intuitive, but you'd be surprised how often people don't realize it.
The final thing that is helpful is a down payment. The larger your down payment, the less you have to borrow. Lending money is a risk-based business. Up to a point, the lower the ratio of loan balance to value of the property will help you get a lower interest rate and more favorable terms, because the bank will be more certain of getting all of their money back. A 5% down payment is better than none. 10% is better than 5%. The first 5% makes the most difference, but every bit helps. Of course the larger your down payment, the less you have left over for other purposes. It seems to be a phenomenon today that people don't want to risk any more of their own money than they have to, and 100% loans can be done right now, although how much longer that will be the case is anyone's guess. Still, people who make a habit of saving money are always in a stronger position that those who do not.
Now just because you are missing one or more of these does not mean you do not qualify for a mortgage. People in much worse situations than this get mortgages all the time. The vast majority of the time, somebody claiming you're a difficult loan is only looking to pad their pocket at your expense. Loans much worse than I'm talking about here are done on a routine basis. But making yourself a better prospect can certainly save you a lot of money.
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