Are you a borrower with a down payment wondering how to shop for a mortgage? We know: Looking for loan products is not exactly what most people would think of as a fun shopping project. Still, your ability to sniff out a great mortgage rate is crucial to your financial well-being as a future homeowner, because the decision you make could stick with you for a very long time, maybe even 30 years. Gulp.
No pressure, right? All we’re trying to say is, it pays to learn how best to compare your mortgage options—which is where this latest installment in our Stress-Free Guide to Getting a Mortgage will come in handy.
How to shop for a mortgage
Like your most trusted shopping buddy, our guide on how to shop for a mortgage lender and a mortgage rate will show you how to hone your bargain-hunting skills and get the most for your money.
Let’s get started mortgage shopping, shall we?
Step 1. Shop for a mortgage that fits your needs
Ideally, you should start shopping for a mortgage three to six months before you plan to buy a home after you have a down payment. This lengthy lead time is important because you may have to invest time in boosting your credit score. You’ll need a credit score on your credit report of 760 or higher to qualify for the best mortgage rates, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” You’ll need a minimum credit scoring of around 660 on your credit report to qualify for any mortgage at all.
If your score isn’t up to par, mortgage lenders can tell you what you need to do to improve it. (They can also help you save for a larger down payment.) This could involve getting an error removed from your credit report and FICO score, which is a real possibility, given that one in four Americans reported spotting errors on their reports in a 2013 Federal Trade Commission survey.
Step 2. Find low mortgage interest rates
As you probably know, one of a borrower’s main goals while shopping around for a mortgage lender is to secure a low fixed interest rate on a home loan. The mortgage rates different lenders charge, after all, are basically a service fee charged by lenders and are not always apples-to-apples. The lower your mortgage rate, the less money you’ll pay back each monthly payment—and every quarter of a percent counts!
On a 30-year $200,000 mortgage with a 4% fixed rate, for instance, you’ll end up paying back not only that $200,000 loan amount in your monthly payment, but an extra $143,739 in interest over the life of the loan, by the time those 30 years are up. That massive mountain of money on your home loan will end up higher or lower depending on the mortgage interest rate you get. Shorter-term loans for 15 years mean you’ll pay less in interest. You may also be able to refinance your mortgage down the road with your mortgage company.
You can compare fixed rate interest mortgage rates at realtor.com/mortgage/rates, but keep in mind the rates listed here may not necessarily apply to you. What rates you qualify for depend on several factors from your debt-to income ratio to your credit score. Better (meaning higher) credit scores merit better (meaning lower) interest rates.
But there are exceptions. Some first-time buyers may have access to lower interest mortgage rates through the Federal Housing Administration. Mortgages through lenders like the government-backed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which are available to active or retired military personnel, enable borrowers to buy homes with lower interest rates than conventional loans as well. Buyers can also check out Freddie Mac, a government-owned company that funds banks so it can make new mortgage loans to homebuyers. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) also approves and insures FHA loans with mortgage lenders.
Step 3. Analyze your closing costs
A low mortgage interest rate and a nice down payment may win you bragging rights as a borrower, but this is hardly your only goal. That’s because mortgage quotes come with sizable closing costs, totaling an additional 2% to 7% of the sales price of your home. Some of these extra lender fees are nonnegotiable, such as state transfer taxes, but some fees are negotiable, says Katie Miller, vice president of mortgage lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.
As such, aim to meet with three mortgage lenders—which could be banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, or any combination thereof—and get what’s called a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the mortgage’s terms, including the interest rate and fees. Your real estate agent can typically recommend different mortgage lenders.
Also find out from each home loan officer or mortgage broker what lender fees are government-regulated and what fees the lender prices—then haggle on the latter, says Sylvia Gutierrez, a mortgage loan officer in South Florida and author of “Mortgage Matters: Demystifying the Loan Approval Maze.”
If you don’t have a 20% down payment, you may have to get mortgage insurance, which will add to your monthly costs.
A caveat: When a mortgage lender processes your loan application, it runs a “hard inquiry” on your credit score, which can dock your score by up to 5 points, says Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” Your score will recover over time, but it may take a few months. As a result, you should limit your loan shopping to three lenders.
Step 4. Be mindful of interest rate fluctuations
Once you commit to a particular mortgage lender, the lender will underwrite and process your loan application. Then you’ll receive a pre-approval letter, which is a commitment to lend you the money for the mortgage you need to buy a home. Although getting pre-approved from a lender is typically good for 90 days, a borrower’s pre-qualified interest rate isn’t guaranteed until you sign a purchase agreement with a seller, so you’ll want to keep an eye on changes in the mortgage market. However, you can opt to lock in your mortgage rate for a period of 30, 45, 60, or even 90 days, depending on your lender.
Soon you’ll be a home owner making monthly mortgage payments.
For this and related articles, visit Realtor.com