As you start your search for a mortgage, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself in order to narrow your search and know what you're looking for. Unfortunately, the answers to those questions aren't always easy. For some honest mortgage advice on the answers to your mortgage questions, keep reading.
Fixed Rate Mortgage or ARM?
If you plan to stay in the house you're planning to purchase for longer than 7 years or simply want stability in your monthly payments, pick the fixed rate mortgage if you can afford it. A fixed rate will allow you consistent payments month-after-month for the duration of the mortgage loan.
Alternatively, an ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) is great for families who know they'll be out of their house in less than 7 years. Before you take on an ARM, ask your lender what your worst case scenario would be based on your annual rate adjustment cap. Make sure you could financially handle a potential sharp spike in your monthly mortgage payments.
How Large Should My Down Payment Be?
Ask yourself how much of an interest rate reduction you'll get with a higher down payment and whether a lower down payment will result in having to pay expensive private mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance is often required by the lender to cover their risks when the buyer's down payment is too low.
Typically, investing in a larger down payment results in a return on the investment that's equal to the mortgage interest rate. Now, if dropping your down payment puts you in a different category (for example, below 20% or below 5%) that can affect the return significantly.
Do I Want an Interest-Only Mortgage?
An interest only mortgage offers homeowners an option to pay only interest, but for a specified period of time. This results in a lower required monthly payment and the buyer is still free to make payments on the principal.
Interest only mortgages should only be used though by borrowers who actually need them. For example, a good candidate might be a freelancer or contractor who has a fluctuating income and wants the freedom to make extra payments on the principal while still having a smaller monthly commitment.
Other examples include individuals who need the cash flow for high-yielding investments (earning more than 9% over the long term) or families who are expecting to make higher incomes in a few years, at which point they can begin making some significant principal payments.
Should I Accept a Pre-Payment Penalty?
A pre-payment penalty is a clause in your mortgage agreement that says you'll pay a penalty if you pay off the mortgage too early or seek to make extra payments. On the surface, you might assume the lending institution would welcome the faster repayment of its loan. However, doing so actually results in some financial loss through lost interest payments.
Typically, prepayment penalties disappear after a few years. If you opt for a fixed rate mortgage and plan to remain in the house for a long time, you can often exchange a pre-payment penalty for a lower rate!