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How to Access Mortgages in the US

Getting a home loan or mortgage is an important step for many Americans. Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, looking to refinance an existing home, or interested in an investment property, understanding the mortgage process is key.

In this article, punchyinfo.com will explain everything you need to know to access mortgages in the US.

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How Ready are you for Mortgages

Before applying for a mortgage, it’s important to assess your financial situation and determine if you are ready for the responsibilities of homeownership. Some things to consider include:

Your Credit Score and History

Lenders will check your credit report and look at factors like your payment history, credit card balances, and occurrences of missed or late payments. Most conventional loans require a minimum credit score of 620, but the higher your score the better your interest rate will be. You can check your credit report for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Lenders will calculate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) by taking your total monthly debt payments and dividing them by your gross monthly income. Generally, you’ll need a DTI of 36% or less to qualify, but going lower is better. High debt loads can disqualify you.

Your Down Payment Savings

Most conventional loans require a minimum down payment of 3-5% of the home’s purchase price. FHA loans allow 3.5% down, while VA and USDA loans have no minimum down payment requirements for qualified buyers. Make sure you have enough savings set aside.

Your Employment History

Lenders like to see at least 2 years of stable employment in your current career. Consider whether your current job and income level will be reliable sources that allow you to afford monthly mortgage payments.

If you need to improve your credit score, pay down debts, or increase savings, focus on those areas first before applying for a loan. Being financially ready will improve your approval odds.

Choosing a Mortgage Loan Type

With various mortgage loan programs and types available, selecting the right one for your needs can seem overwhelming. Here are brief explanations of the most common options:

Conventional Loans

Conventional loans are the most frequently used in the US. They are not insured by FHA, VA, or USDA and require a credit score of 620 or higher. Down payments can vary from 3-20% of the purchase price.

FHA Loans

Insured by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans require a minimum 3.5% down payment and a 580 minimum credit score. They offer more flexible guidelines than conventional loans.

VA Loans

For eligible military veterans and active duty personnel, VA loans are insured by the Department of Veterans Affairs and have no required down payment.

USDA Loans

The US Department of Agriculture insures these loans, which are for low-to-moderate-income buyers in designated rural areas. They do not require a down payment.

Jumbo Loans

For homes valued above conventional loan limits (over $765,600 in most areas), jumbo loans are non-conforming loans usually offered by private banks with higher interest rates and down payment requirements.

I advise speaking to a few lenders to understand which program fits your individual profile best based on factors like credit, income, and home location/value. Don’t limit your search – explore all your options.

Gathering Required Documents

To submit a complete loan application, lenders will require documentation of your finances, employment, and identification. Here are the main items to have prepared:

Financial Documents

  • W-2 forms and tax returns from the past 2 years
  • Pay stubs covering the most recent 30 day period
  • Bank/retirement account statements for the past 2-3 months

Identification Documents

  • Valid driver’s license or state ID
  • Social Security card or number verification letter
  • Birth certificate or US passport

Employment Documents

  • Letters of employment verification
  • If self-employed – 2 years of tax returns with all schedules

You may also need proof of homeowner’s insurance and letters of explanation for any credit issues or large deposit sources. Gathering everything upfront saves time during the approval process.

Applying for Preapproval

Obtaining preapproval before home shopping helps prove you are a qualified buyer and gives guidance on an appropriate home price range. Here’s how to get preapproved:

Select & Contact Lenders

Find 3-5 reputable lenders local to where you want to buy and request quotes from each.

Schedule Appointments

Meet with lenders in person or virtually to discuss your finances and goals in detail. Bring all documents.

Receive Loan Estimates

You will receive Loan Estimates from each lender to compare interest rates, fees, and programs.

Provide Final Documentation

Turn in all required documentation so lenders can verify employment, income, and assets, and finalize your preapproval amount.

Get Preapproval Letter

With a positive review, a lender will provide you with a preapproval letter stating your maximum approved loan amount. This letter is needed when making purchase offers.

The pre-approval process usually takes 1-2 weeks. Staying preapproved keeps your loan options open as you search for the perfect home.

Making an Offer and Going Under Contract

Once you find a home you love, here are the typical next steps to go under contract:

Write an Offer

Work with your real estate agent to draft an offer, specifying things like price, financing contingencies, and expected closing date.

Submit the Offer

Deliver the signed purchase agreement and earnest money deposit to the listing agent. Negotiations may take place.

Agree on a Contract

If the offer is accepted, sign counteroffer and finalize the purchase contract with all negotiated terms committed to paper.

Order Inspections

Schedule and complete any requested inspections like home, septic, well, and roof inspections during the inspection period.

Remove Contingencies

Based on satisfactory inspection results, remove financing and inspection contingencies by the agreed deadline.

Get Under Contract!

Once all contingencies are cleared, you are officially under contract to purchase the home within the agreed period.

The Mortgage Approval & Underwriting Process

Provided all initial loan documentation was accurate and you have removed contingencies, the next step is for the lender to fully approve and underwrite your loan file:

Loan Processing Begins

Your loan file is assigned to a processor who requests any additional documentation needed.

Credit Report & Verifications

The lender will pull your credit report and verify your employment, income, and bank balances through third parties.

Appraisal is Ordered

A licensed appraiser assesses the home’s market value. The appraised value must match or exceed the purchase price.

Underwriting Review

An underwriter analyzes all file components to determine if you qualify based on income, credit score, assets, and ratios as per agency guidelines.

Clear to Close!

If approved, your lender will issue clear-to-close conditions and projected closing details. You are formally cleared for closing.

This entire approval process usually takes 30 days from start to finish. With full transparency, it can go smoothly. Reach out with any questions!

Closing on the Home Purchase

Nearly there! Once underwritten and clear to close, the final settlement and closing procedures begin. Here are the last key steps:

Closing Disclosure Issued

You receive a revised disclosure of the final loan and closing cost amounts from the lender at least 3 days before closing.

Schedule the Closing

Coordinate the date, time, and location of the closing meeting with the settlement agent. It typically happens 1-2 weeks from clear to close.

Closing Meeting

Bring ID, cashier’s check for a down payment and closing costs to meet with the settlement agent to review and sign final documents and forms.

Funds are Disbursed

Upon signing, the settlement agent will disburse funds to the seller on your behalf using proceeds from your new mortgage loan.

Get the Keys!

After closing, you will receive the final signed documents in the mail. Congratulations, the home is now yours!

Maintaining Your Home and Mortgage

Owning a home comes with ongoing responsibilities to keep both your property and financing in good standing. Here are some best practices:

Build Emergency Savings

Maintain a fund for unexpected repairs like appliances, roof issues, or plumbing problems. Budget 1-3% of the home’s value annually.

Insure Your Property

Keep homeowner’s insurance active at all times to protect your investment from events like fire, theft or severe weather damage.

Pay Your Mortgage on Time

Set up autopay or calendar reminders. Even mild delinquencies hurt your credit and incur lender fees. Aim for early payments if possible.

Monitor Your Escrow Account

If taxes and insurance are escrowed by the lender, review statements for accuracy. Contact the lender with any discrepancies.

Consider Refinancing

If rates drop significantly, refinancing could lower your monthly payment. But factor in closing costs – it’s best with at least 5 years remaining on the original loan term.

Taking proactive care of your property and mortgage finances is key to successful long-term homeownership. Reach out if you need any guidance along the way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most common mortgage questions:

What is the average credit score needed for a conventional loan?

Most lenders require a minimum score of 620. But higher scores of 700+ will give you a much better interest rate.

How much money do I need for a down payment and closing costs?

For a conventional loan, plan on 5-10% of the home’s purchase price for a down payment, plus 2-5% of the loan amount for prepaid closing fees and escrow reserves.

Can I take out a mortgage if I’m self-employed?

Yes, but you may need 2 years of personal and business tax returns along with a profit/loss statement to verify income. Plan on stronger documentation.

What’s the longest term available for a mortgage?

Most conventional loans offer 10-30-year terms. Occasionally some lenders offer 40-50-year terms as well, but interest rates are higher as you extend repayment timelines.

When should I consider an FHA vs conventional loan?

If you have lower credit, a small down payment, wish to gift funds from family, or a non-traditional income source, an FHA loan may be your best option given its flexible guidelines.

I hope this article has provided you with a thorough overview of the US mortgage process from start to finish. If you have any other specific questions, let us know in the comments section below.