3 Must-Ask Questions for Mortgage Shoppers

Before taking out a home loan, make sure you know these answers.

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If you’re shopping for a mortgage and unsure of what type of loan to get, don’t let a loan officer to simply tell you what they think you should choose, hoping that they give you an option that’s in your best interest. Instead, take the time to consider these three questions, thus giving yourself a better chance at finding the right mortgage for you.

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Getting the right mortgage for your individual situation can be a process of elimination by narrowing down the mortgage programs that won’t work for your situation as well as identifying possible ones that will. Ask yourself these three questions:

1. How long do I plan to live in my home?

If you buy a home, but plan on moving in five years or less, chances are an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) may make sense. Many adjustable rate mortgages start with a lower interest rate and have limits in place where the interest rate can change in subsequent years (it can only go up, or down by a certain amount for any 12-month period), as well as limits on how much the rate may go up over the life of the loan. It is common for adjustable rate mortgage limits to allow your interest rate to rise or fall based on an index (e.g., LIBOR) anywhere from 1 to 2 percent per year with a maximum increase of 5 percent over the life of the loan.

2. How big is my down payment going to be?

Each loan program has a different amount of money required for a down payment. How much money you are planning for a down payment will impact which loan programs are available. The current down payment requirements for some of the most popular mortgage programs are:

  • FHA loans, 3.5 percent
  • USDA loans, 0
  • VA loans, 0 
  • Conventional loans, 5 percent
  • HomePath loans, 3 percent
  • With these loan programs, you can obviously put more money down than the minimum requirements and it may save you money over the long term by eliminating mortgage insurance (for example, if you put 20 percent down and get a conventional loan). You can play around with different amounts of down payments and your resulting loan amount using a mortgage calculator.

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    3. Does the house need repairs?

    With the large number of homes available that are either bank-owned or short sales, more buyers are finding that the home they want to purchase is in need of significant repairs prior to moving in. Two popular loan programs designed for purchasing a home in need of repairs are the FHA 203k loan program and the HomePath Renovation loan program.

    The HomePath Renovation program is only available for homes that are currently owned by Fannie Mae and is only available through a limited number of lenders. The FHA 203(k) loan program is offered by more lenders and is available for houses other than those currently owned by Fannie Mae, making it a much more popular option.

    When shopping for a mortgage rate, don’t leave everything up to a loan officer. Do your research and arm yourself with these three questions to help ensure that you get the best possible mortgage program for you.

    Justin McHood works for Academy Mortgage and is based in Chandler, AZ. He is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Twitter: @zillow.