7 Simple Steps to a Dirt-Cheap Mortgage

How to get today's lowest financing costs for home buying or mortgage refinancing.

By + More

4. Clean and polish: Don't panic if you don't meet these requirements; there are steps you can take to improve your credit profile. Reduce your debt load by paying down credit cards or student loans. Consider putting off your home purchase for a couple of months as you save up for a down payment. To boost your credit score, obtain your credit reports from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. By law, consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of these bureaus during any 12-month period, which can be obtained through annualcreditreport.com. Examine each report thoroughly to ensure that everything is accurate. "If you are a junior and your father is a senior who's got rotten credit habits, make sure that your report is distinguished from his," says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. If you discover any inaccurate material, contact the appropriate credit bureau about filing a dispute. Next, take care of any unpaid obligations and, in the future, make sure to pay all of your bills on time.

5. Shop around: Since rates and fees vary widely among lenders in today's market, consumers intent on getting the best mortgage deal will have to do some digging, says Rick Allen, director of strategic initiatives for Mortgage Marvel. "It comes down to shopping around," Allen says. "The market is pretty efficient, but different lenders are looking for different levels of profitability." Allen suggests consumers check out from three to 20 different mortgage providers and compare their mortgage rates, fees, and closing costs. "Those three factors together ... really go to determine whether or not you are getting the best deal," he says.

6. Be patient: Because the Fed-engineered drop in mortgage rates was so unexpected—and occurred just as the industry was slashing jobs—many lenders have been inundated with applications. "In the beginning of the year, it was hard to find a lender who would even answer the phone and take an application," says Guy Cecala, publisher of the trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance. And although lenders have recently been beefing up their staffs, an average mortgage refinancing can still take about six weeks to close, Cecala says. That means borrowers should be persistent but patient. There are, after all, only so many phone calls that a lender can return in a day.

7. Be prepared: One way consumers can help improve the efficiency of the mortgage application process is to have all of their paperwork in order before speaking with a lender. "There is no excuse for not being prepared," Gumbinger says. "Go ahead and get your paperwork, get your documentation in order, go through your credit reports, do all of your prep work [beforehand]."