Finance Tools

What is a credit score and how will my credit score affect my application?
Will the inquiry about my credit affect my credit score?
What is title insurance and why do I need it?
I've heard that some lenders require flood insurance on properties. Will you?
What is an appraisal and who completes it?
I'm purchasing a home, do I need a home inspection AND an appraisal?
What types of things will an underwriter look for when they review the appraisal?
Are there any special requirements for condominiums?
If my property's appraised value is more than the purchase price can I use the difference towards my down payment?
If I have income that's not reported on my tax return, can it be considered?
I am retired and my income is from pension or social security. What will I need to provide?
I have income from dividends and/or interest. What documents will I need to provide?
Will my second job income be considered?
Do I have to provide information about my child support, alimony or separate maintenance income?
I'm getting a gift from someone else. Is this an acceptable source of my down payment?
I am selling my current home to purchase this home. What type of documentation will be required?
What happens at the loan closing?
Tell me more about closing fees and how they are determined.
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A credit score is one of the pieces of information that we'll use to evaluate your application. Financial institutions have been using credit scores to evaluate credit card and auto applications for many years, but only recently have mortgage lenders begun to use credit scoring to assist with their loan decisions.

Credit scores are based on information collected by credit bureaus and information reported each month by your creditors about the balances you owe and the timing of your payments. A credit score is a compilation of all this information converted into a number that helps a lender to determine the likelihood that you will repay the loan on schedule. The credit score is calculated by the credit bureau, not by the lender. Credit scores are calculated by comparing your credit history with millions of other consumers. They have proven to be a very effective way of determining credit worthiness.

Some of the things that affect your credit score include your payment history, your outstanding obligations, the length of time you have had outstanding credit, the types of credit you use, and the number of inquiries that have been made about your credit history in the recent past.

Credit scores used for mortgage loan decisions range from approximately 300 to 900. Generally, the higher your credit score, the lower the risk that your payments won't be paid as agreed.

Using credit scores to evaluate your credit history allows us to quickly and objectively evaluate your credit history when reviewing your loan application. However, there are many other factors when making a loan decision and we never evaluate an application without looking at the total financial picture of a customer.

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An abundance of credit inquiries can sometimes affect your credit scores since it may indicate that your use of credit is increasing.

But don't overreact! The data used to calculate your credit score doesn't include any mortgage or auto loan credit inquiries that are made within the 30 days prior to the score being calculated. In addition, all mortgage inquiries made in any 14-day period are always considered one inquiry. Don't limit your mortgage shopping for fear of the effect on your credit score.

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If you've ever purchased a home before, you may already be familiar with the benefits and terms of title insurance. But if this is your first home loan or you are refinancing, you may be wondering why you need another insurance policy.

The answer is simple: The purchase of a home is most likely one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. You, and especially your mortgage lender, want to make sure the property is indeed yours: That no individual or government entity has any right, lien, claim, or encumbrance on your property.

The function of a title insurance company is to make sure your rights and interests to the property are clear, that transfer of title takes place efficiently and correctly, and that your interests as a homebuyer are fully protected.

Title insurance companies provide services to buyers, sellers, real estate developers, builders, mortgage lenders, and others who have an interest in real estate transfer. Title companies typically issue two types of title policies:

1) Owner's Policy. This policy covers you, the homebuyer.

2) Lender's Policy. This policy covers the lending institution over the life of the loan.

Both types of policies are issued at the time of closing for a one-time premium, if the loan is a purchase. If you are refinancing your home, you probably already have an owner's policy that was issued when you purchased the property, so we'll only require that a lender's policy be issued.

Before issuing a policy, the title company performs an in-depth search of the public records to determine if anyone other than you has an interest in the property. The search may be performed by title company personnel using either public records or, more likely, the information contained in the company's own title plant.

After a thorough examination of the records, any title problems are usually found and can be cleared up prior to your purchase of the property. Once a title policy is issued, if any claim covered under your policy is ever filed against your property, the title company will pay the legal fees involved in the defense of your rights. They are also responsible to cover losses arising from a valid claim. This protection remains in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property.

The fact that title companies try to eliminate risks before they develop makes title insurance significantly different from other types of insurance. Most forms of insurance assume risks by providing financial protection through a pooling of risks for losses arising from an unforeseen future event, say a fire, accident or theft. On the other hand, the purpose of title insurance is to eliminate risks and prevent losses caused by defects in title that may have happened in the past.

This risk elimination has benefits to both the homebuyer and the title company. It minimizes the chances that adverse claims might be raised, thereby reducing the number of claims that have to be defended or satisfied. This keeps costs down for the title company and the premiums low for the homebuyer.

Buying a home is a big step emotionally and financially. With title insurance you are assured that any valid claim against your property will be borne by the title company, and that the odds of a claim being filed are slim indeed.

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Federal Law requires all lenders to investigate whether or not each home they finance is in a special flood hazard area as defined by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The law can't stop floods. Floods happen anytime, anywhere. But the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 help to ensure that you will be protected from financial losses caused by flooding.

We use a third party company who specializes in the reviewing of flood maps prepared by FEMA to determine if your home is located in a flood area. If it is, then flood insurance coverage will be required, since standard homeowner's insurance doesn't protect you against damages from flooding.

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To determine the value of the property you are purchasing or refinancing, an appraisal will be required. An appraisal report is a written description and estimate of the value of the property. National standards govern not only the format for the appraisal; they also specify the appraiser's qualifications and credentials. In addition, most states now have licensing requirements for appraisers evaluating properties located within their states.

The appraiser will create a written report for us and we will promptly give you a copy, even if your loan does not close. If you'd like to review it earlier, your Loan Officer would be happy to provide it to you.

Usually the appraiser will inspect both the interior and exterior of the home. However, in some cases, only an exterior inspection will be necessary based on your financial strength and the location of the home. Exterior-only inspections usually save time and money, but if you're purchasing a new home, your Loan Officer will contact you to determine if you'd be more comfortable with a full inspection.

After the appraiser inspects the property, they will compare the qualities of your home with other homes that have sold recently in the same neighborhood. These homes are called "comparables" and play a significant role in the appraisal process. Using industry guidelines, the appraiser will try to weigh the major components of these properties (i.e., design, square footage, number of rooms, lot size, age, etc.) to the components of your home to come up with an estimated value of your home. The appraiser adjusts the price of each comparable sale (up or down) depending on how it compares (better or worse) with your property.

As an additional check on the value of the property, the appraiser also estimates the replacement cost for the property. Replacement cost is determined by valuing an empty lot and estimating the cost to build a house of similar size and construction. Finally, the appraiser reduces this cost by an age factor to compensate for depreciation and deterioration.

If your home is for investment purposes, or is a multi-unit home, the appraiser will also consider the rental income that will be generated by the property to help determine the value.

Using these three different methods, an appraiser will frequently come up with slightly different values for the property. The appraiser uses judgment and experience to reconcile these differences and then assigns a final appraised value. The comparable sales approach is the most important valuation method in the appraisal because a property is worth only what a buyer is willing to pay and a seller is willing to accept.

It is not uncommon for the appraised value of a property to be exactly the same as the amount stated on your sales contract. This is not a coincidence, nor does it question the competence of the appraiser. Your purchase contract is the most valid sales transaction there is. It represents what a buyer is willing to offer for the property and what the seller is willing to accept. Only when the comparable sales differ greatly from your sales contract will the appraised value be very different.

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Both a home inspection and an appraisal are designed to protect you against potential issues with your new home. Although they have totally different purposes, it makes the most sense to rely on each to help confirm that you've found the perfect home.

The appraiser will make note of obvious construction problems such as termite damage, dry rot or leaking roofs or basements. Other obvious interior or exterior damage that could affect the salability of the property will also be reported.

However, appraisers are not construction experts and won't find or report items that are not obvious. They won't turn on every light switch, run every faucet or inspect the attic or mechanicals. That's where the home inspector comes in. They generally perform a detailed inspection and can educate you about possible concerns or defects with the home.

Accompany the inspector during the home inspection. This is your opportunity to gain knowledge of major systems, appliances and fixtures, learn maintenance schedules and tips, and to ask questions about the condition of the home.

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In addition to verifying that your home's value supports your loan request, we'll also verify that your home is as marketable as others in the area. We'll want to be confident that if you decide to sell your home, it will be as easy to market as other homes in the area.

We certainly don't expect that you'll default under the terms of your loan and that a forced sale will be necessary, but as the lender, we'll need to make sure that if a sale is necessary, it won't be difficult to find another buyer.

We'll review the features of your home and compare them to the features of other homes in the neighborhood. For example, if your home is on a 20-acre lot, or has a large accessory building, we'll want to make sure that there are other homes in the area on similar size lots or with similar outbuildings. It is hard to place a value on such unique features if we can't see what other buyers are willing to pay for them. In some areas, additional acreage or outbuildings could actually be a detriment to a future sale. Finding comparable properties can be more challenging in rural areas where it is more difficult to find homes that have similar features.

We'll also make sure that the value of your home is in the same range as other homes in the area. If the value of your home is substantially more than other homes in the neighborhood, it could affect the market acceptance of the home if you decide to sell.

We'll also review the market statistics about your neighborhood. We'll look at the time on the market for homes that have sold recently and verify that values are steady or increasing.

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Since the value and marketability of condominium properties is dependent on items that don't apply to single-family homes, there are some additional steps that must be taken to determine if condominiums meet our guidelines.

One of the most important factors is determining if the project that the condominium is located in is complete. In many cases, it will be necessary for the project, or at least the phase that your unit is located in, to be complete before we can provide financing. The main reason for this is, until the project is complete, we can't be certain that the remaining units will be of the same quality as the existing units. This could affect the marketability of your home.

In addition, we'll consider the ratio of non-owner occupied units to owner-occupied units. This could also affect future marketability since many people would prefer to live in a project that is occupied by owners rather than renters.

We'll also carefully review the appraisal to insure that it includes comparable sales of properties within the project, as well as some from outside the project. Our experience has found that using comparable sales from both the same project as well as other projects gives us a better idea of the condominium project's marketability.

Depending on the percentage of the property's value you'd like to finance, other items may also need to be reviewed.

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Unfortunately, if you are purchasing a home, we'll have to use the lower of the appraised value or the sales price to determine your down payment requirement.

It's still a great benefit for your financial situation if you are able to purchase a home for less than the appraised value, but our investors don't allow us to use this "instant equity" when making our loan decision.

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Generally, only income that is reported on your tax return can be considered when applying for a mortgage. Unless, of course, the income is legally tax-free and isn't required to be reported.

Some lenders may offer a stated income program, which means that you can be qualified for a loan based on the income you state rather than that which can be verified. Usually these programs require larger down payments and offer interest rates that are substantially higher than regular mortgage rates. We do not offer stated income programs at this time.

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We will ask for copies of your recent pension check stubs, or bank statement if your pension or retirement income is deposited directly in your bank account. Sometimes it will also be necessary to verify that this income will continue for at least three years since some pension or retirement plans do not provide income for life. This can usually be verified with a copy of your award letter. If you don't have an award letter, we can contact the source of this income directly for verification.

If you're receiving tax-free income, such as social security earnings in some cases, we'll consider the fact that taxes will not be deducted from this income when reviewing your request.

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Generally, two years personal tax returns are required to verify the amount of your dividend and/or interest income so that an average of the amounts you receive can be calculated. In addition, we will need to verify your ownership of the assets that generate the income using copies of statements from your financial institution, brokerage statements, stock certificates or Promissory Notes.

Typically, income from dividends and/or interest must be expected to continue for at least three years to be considered for repayment.

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Typically, income from a second job will be considered if a one-year history of secondary employment can be verified.

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Information about child support, alimony, or separate maintenance income does not need to be provided unless you wish to have it considered for repaying this mortgage loan.

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Gifts are an acceptable source of down payment, if the gift giver is related to you or your co-borrower. We'll ask you for the name, address, and phone number of the gift giver, as well as the donor's relationship to you.

If your loan request is for more than 80% of the purchase price, we'll need to verify that you have at least 5% of the property's value in your own assets.

Prior to closing, we'll verify that the gift funds have been transferred to you by obtaining a copy of your bank receipt or deposit slip to verify that you have deposited the gift funds into your account.

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If you're selling your current home to purchase your new home, we'll ask you to provide a copy of the settlement or closing statement you'll receive at the closing to verify that your current mortgage has been paid in full and that you'll have sufficient funds for our closing. Often the closing of your current home is scheduled for the same day as the closing of your new home. If that's the case, we'll just ask you to bring your settlement statement with you to your new mortgage closing.

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The closing will take place at the office of a title company or attorney in your area who will act as our agent. If you are purchasing a new home, the seller may also be at the closing to transfer ownership to you, but in some states, these two events actually happen separately.

During the closing you will be reviewing and signing several loan papers. The closing agent or attorney conducting the closing should be able to answer any questions you have or you can feel free to contact your Loan Officer if you prefer.

Just to make sure there are no surprises at closing, your Loan Officer will contact you a few days before closing to review your final fees, loan amount, first payment date, etc.

The most important documents you will be signing at the closing include:

HUD-1 Settlement Statement

This document provides an itemized listing of the final fees charged in connection with your loan. If your loan is a purchase, the settlement statement will also include a listing of any fees related to the transaction between you and the seller. If this loan will be a refinance, the settlement statement will show the pay off amounts of any mortgages that will be paid in full with your new loan. Most items on the statement are numbered according to a standardized system used by all lenders. These numbers will correspond to the numbers listed on the Good Faith Estimate that will be provided in your Application Package. This document is also commonly known as the closing statement and both the buyer and seller must sign this document.

Truth-in-Lending Statement (TIL)

This document provides full written disclosure of the terms and conditions of a mortgage, including the annual percentage rate (APR) and other fees. It is exactly the same as the TIL that you received immediately after your initial application, except it has been updated to reflect the final rate and fee information. Federal law requires that all lenders provide you with this document at closing.

Note

This is the document you sign to agree to repay your mortgage. The note will provide you with all of the details of your loan including the interest rate and length of time to repay the loan. It also explains the penalties that you may incur if you fall behind in making your payments.

Mortgage / Deed of Trust

This document pledges a property to the lender as security for repayment of a debt. Essentially this means that you will give your property up to the lender in the event that you cannot make the mortgage payments. The Mortgage restates the basic information contained in the note, as well as details the responsibilities of the borrower. In some states, the document is called a Deed of Trust instead of a Mortgage.

If your loan is a refinance, Federal Law requires that you have three days to decide positively that you want a new mortgage after you sign the documents. This means that the loan funds won't be disbursed until three business days have passed. The closing agent will provide more details at the closing.

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A home loan often involves many fees, such as the appraisal fee, title charges, closing fees, and state or local taxes. These fees vary from state to state and also from lender to lender. Any lender or broker should be able to give you an estimate of their fees, but it is more difficult to tell which lenders have done their homework and are providing a complete and accurate estimate. We take quotes very seriously. We've completed the research necessary to make sure that our fee quotes are accurate to the city level - and that is no easy task!

To assist you in evaluating our fees, we've grouped them as follows:

Third Party Fees

Fees that we consider third party fees include the appraisal fee, the credit report fee, the settlement or closing fee, the survey fee, tax service fees, title insurance fees, flood certification fees, and courier/mailing fees.

Third party fees are fees that we'll collect and pass on to the person who actually performed the service. For example, an appraiser is paid the appraisal fee, a credit bureau is paid the credit report fee, and a title company or an attorney is paid the title insurance fees.

Typically, you'll see some minor variances in third party fees from lender to lender since a lender may have negotiated a special charge from a provider they use often or chooses a provider that offers nationwide coverage at a flat rate. You may also see that some lenders absorb minor third party fees such as the flood certification fee, the tax service fee, or courier/mailing fees.

Taxes and other unavoidables

Fees that we consider to be taxes and other unavoidables include: State/Local Taxes and recording fees. These fees will most likely have to be paid regardless of the lender you choose. If some lenders don't quote you fees that include taxes and other unavoidable fees, don't assume that you won't have to pay it. It probably means that the lender who doesn't tell you about the fee hasn't done the research necessary to provide accurate closing costs.

Lender Fees

Fees such as points, document preparation fees, and loan processing fees are retained by the lender and are used to provide you with the lowest rates possible.

This is the category of fees that you should compare very closely from lender to lender before making a decision.

Required Advances

You may be asked to prepay some items at closing that will actually be due in the future. These fees are sometimes referred to as prepaid items.

One of the more common required advances is called "per diem interest" or "interest due at closing." All of our mortgages have payment due dates of the 1st of the month. If your loan is closed on any day other than the first of the month, you'll pay interest, from the date of closing through the end of the month, at closing. For example, if the loan is closed on June 15, we'll collect interest from June 15 through June 30 at closing. This also means that you won't make your first mortgage payment until August 1. This type of charge should not vary from lender to lender, and does not need to be considered when comparing lenders. All lenders will charge you interest beginning on the day the loan funds are disbursed. It is simply a matter of when it will be collected.

If an escrow or impound account will be established, you will make an initial deposit into the escrow account at closing so that sufficient funds are available to pay the bills when they become due.

If your loan requires mortgage insurance, up to two months of the mortgage insurance will be collected at closing. Whether or not you must purchase mortgage insurance depends on the size of the down payment you make.

If your loan is a purchase, you'll also need to pay for your first year's homeowner's insurance premium prior to closing. We consider this to be a required advance.