#8 Mortgage Loan Options

Unless you have enough money to pay for a house yourself, you'll need a mortgage loan. A mortgage is a loan you take out to finance the purchase of your home. It is also a legal contract stating that you promise to make a monthly payment until your loan is paid off.

Today, there are hundreds of different programs to choose from, but don't let that overwhelm you. Most of the home loans are variations of a fixed-rate mortgage and adjustable-rate mortgage. Knowledge of how these mortgage programs work will help you to understand the majority of available loan options. You may qualify for a new loan without even selling your current home. It's simple to run the numbers for yourself on our Mortgage Calculator.


Home equity mortgage

A home equity mortgage, like a second mortgage, lets you tap into a percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. Like a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs.

Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home. 

Reverse Annuity Mortgages (RAMs)

A reverse annuity mortgage is a special type of loan available only to older homeowners with full or nearly full equity in their homes. Such owners can borrow against the equity they have built up over the years, but no repayment is necessary until the borrower sells the property or moves elsewhere. If the borrower dies before the property is sold, the estate repays the loan (plus any interest that has accrued). These loans have become increasingly popular. If you believe you qualify for such a loan, be sure to have the document reviewed by an attorney or financial advisor. 

Home equity line of credit

A home equity line of credit is a form of revolving credit in which your home serves as collateral. Because the home is likely to be a consumer's largest asset, many homeowners use their credit lines for major expenses such as education or medical bills.

With a home equity line, you will be approved for a specific amount of credit, and this is the maximum amount you may borrow at any one time under the plan. The interest rates on these loans are usually variable.

Bridge Loan

A bridge loan is short-term loan that is used until a person or company secures permanent financing or removes an existing obligation. This type of financing allows the user to meet current obligations by providing immediate cash flow. The loans are short-term (up to one year) with relatively high interest rates and are backed by some form of collateral such as real estate or inventory. Bridge loans are also known as interim financing, gap financing or a swing loan.

As the term implies, these loans "bridge the gap" between times when financing is needed. They are used by both corporations and individuals and can be customized for many different situations. For example, let's say that a company is doing a round of equity financing that is expecting to close in six months. A bridge loan could be used to secure working capital until the round of funding goes through. For an individual, bridge loans are common in the real estate market. As there can often be a time lag between the sale of one property and the purchase of another, a bridge loan allows a homeowner some flexibility. 

Wrap-Around Loans

A wrap-around mortgage is a loan transaction in which the lender assumes responsibility for an existing mortgage. A seller will usually incorporate a late charge to encourage the buyer to make monthly loan payments on time.

A wrap-around is attractive to lenders because they can leverage a lower interest rate on the existing mortgage into a higher yield for themselves. Usually, but not always, the lender is the seller. In general, only assumable loans are wrappable.

Fanny Mae

Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly referred to as "Fannie Mae” is a congressionally chartered secondary-mortgage market company that buys loans from private lenders. Because the firm is so big and has been involved in purchasing packages of loans from lenders for 25 years, it has enormous influence on the mortgage market.

Fannie Mae's [Community Home Buyers Program] allows first-time buyers with little cash to obtain 95 percent financing. Participants may put down as little as 3 percent of their own money, with the remainder permitted in the form of a gift from family members, a government program or nonprofit agency. Mortgage Insurance is required on all loans above 80 percent loan-to-value ratio when borrowers do not use their own funds for at least 5 percent down.

The program is administered through participating lenders, and there are income limits in different states. However, the income restriction is waived when borrowers participate in the Fannie Neighbors program. Fannie Neighbors also has lower income requirements for borrowers who want to buy in designated central cities. Fannie Mae's Community Home Buyers program has an income cap of 120 percent of the area's median income. In addition, the borrower must attend a seminar on home ownership and the home buying process. It is not geared only for first-time homebuyers, unlike many of the other low-down -payment programs on the market.

Fannie Mae is expanding the availability of low-down-payment loans in an effort to help more people nationwide qualify for a mortgage. Two new programs will help potential buyers overcome two of the most common obstacles to home ownership, low savings and a modest income.

To address many first-time buyers' struggles to save the down payment, Fannie Mae developed Fannie 97. The program provides 97 percent financing on a fixed-rate mortgage with either a 25- or 30-year loan term through Fannie Mae's Community Home Buyers Program.

Fannie Mae's Start-Up Mortgage assists buyers with a 5 percent down payment who are at any income level. Yet applicants do not need as much income to qualify and less cash for closing than with traditional mortgages. Borrowers receive a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a first-year monthly payment that is lower than the standard fixed-rate loan.  Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae's counterpart, also offers low-down-payment loan programs.

For a list of participating lenders, call Fannie Mae at (800) 732-6643. 

Alternative (A,B,C,D) Loans

Traditional lenders who offer conforming loans are extremely competitive. They must offer desirable terms or lose their share of the market. Meanwhile, hopeful home buyers who were rejected often turn to mortgage brokers and specialized mortgage lending businesses.  Alternative lending sources not only offer a variety of loan products but also are more willing to deal with higher debt-to-income ratios, credit problems and other credit challenges.

In cases where negative information on a credit report may be due to disappear in the next few years, or a borrower expects their income to increase significantly, non-conforming loans without excessive prepayment penalties can be excellent. The borrower can obtain a conventional loan as soon as they qualify, yet enjoy the benefits of home ownership and establish equity in the meantime. Many homebuyers engaged in this process look at these unconventional loans as a penalty while others are grateful for a second chance. 

Easy-Qualifier Loans (No-Doc Loans)

Generally, lenders will not make loans to unemployed persons because someone without an income would seemingly have no way of making monthly mortgage payments. However, there are home loans for which lenders require very little loan documentation as long as the borrower puts down a sizable down payment, generally 25 percent or more. These "no-doc" loans are common among self-employed people who say they earn a certain amount of money but whose income tax returns show that their earnings are much lower. Borrowers should check directly with lenders when seeking a no-doc loan. 

Negative Amortization

Negative amortization occurs when the monthly payments on a loan are insufficient to pay the interest accruing on the principal balance. The unpaid interest is added to the remaining principal due. When home prices are appreciating rapidly, negative amortization is less of a possibility than when prices are stable or dropping, particularly for the borrower who has made a small cash down payment to begin with. The combination of negative amortization and depreciation in home prices can result in a loan balance that is higher than the market value of the home.  Adjustable rate mortgages with payment caps and negative amortization are usually re-amortized at some point so that the remaining loan balance can be fully paid off during the term of the loan. This could necessitate a substantial increase in the monthly payment. Most ARMs have a limit on the amount of negative amortization allowed, usually 110 to 125 percent of the original loan amount. If the loan balance exceeds this amount, the borrower has to start paying off the excess. 

Balloon Mortgage

A Balloon Mortgage is a loan in which the entire unpaid principal becomes due and payable on a given date, five, ten, or any number of years in the future. The borrower must pay up, refinance, or lose the property. Interest rates on balloon mortgages are lower than for fixed-rate mortgages. So the monthly mortgage payments will be lower than the monthly payments for conventional mortgages. 

Low-Cost Loans

There isn’t really such a thing as a low-cost loan. The term “no-cost” loan is misleading because borrowers are actually paying a higher interest rate in exchange for not having to pay fees or closing costs up front when the loan is secured. While some lenders may promote “no-cost” loans, regulators have tightened restrictions on this. Advertised "no-fee" loans may actually cost the borrower more because these costs are rolled into the new note through higher interest or more principal.  

A typical no-fee loan is one in which the points charged and all fees are included in the loan principal, meaning that the borrower does not pay these expenses at the close of escrow, but instead ends up paying them over the life of the loan. The loan is called a no-fee loan because the borrower is not charged any fees up front.

A “no-points” loan is one that the lender does not charge points (one point is equal to 1 percent of the loan amount). But there are other fees involved in no-point loans, as with most loans.


Fixed-Rate Mortgages

A fixed-rate mortgage keeps the same interest rate for the life of the loan. For most people, especially first time homebuyers, this is the best option because you pay the same monthly principal and interest rate.  A fixed-rate mortgage means the interest rate and the payments remain the same for the entire life of the loan (taxes, of course, may change.) Advantages include consistent principal and interest payments, making this loan stable. In other words, your rate won't change, so you don't need to worry about market fluctuations.

Disadvantages include a possibly higher cost. These loans are usually priced higher than an adjustable-rate mortgage. Keep in mind that, on average, most people move or refinance within seven years. If rates in the current market are high, you're likely to get a better price with an adjustable-rate loan.

  • 30 Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages offer consistent monthly payments for the entire 30 years you have the mortgage. So if the market is good, you can benefit from locking in a lower rate for the full term of the loan.
  • 20 Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages allow you to make a consistent monthly payment throughout the 20 years you have the mortgage. The shorter term means you pay the loan off more quickly, and therefore pay less interest. And you'll build equity faster than you would with a 30-year loan. (But remember the shorter term means higher payments, when compared to the 30 year fixed-rate mortgage.)
  • 15 Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages provide consistent monthly payments for the 15 years you have the mortgage. By building equity even more quickly than with a 30 year or 20 year loan, and paying less interest, you'll save money in the long run. It's an ideal option if you can handle the higher payments and if you'd like to have the loan paid off in a shorter period of time - for instance, if you plan to retire.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is one that the interest rate changes over the life of the loan - according to the terms specified in advance. The interest rate fluctuates based on several money market indexes, which cause the cost of funds for lenders to vary. All ARMs are amortized (paid down) over 30 years.

With ARMs:

  • The initial interest rate is usually lower than with a fixed-rate mortgage.
  • The monthly repayment would also be lower.
  • The interest rate may be adjusted (up or down) at predetermined times.
  • The monthly payment will then increase or decrease.

ARMs are usually priced lower than fixed-rate mortgages so you can increase your buying power and lower your initial monthly payments. If interest rates go down, you'll enjoy lower payments. Usually an ARM is the best choice for homeowners who plan to relocate (for example, with their company or the military), or for those who are purchasing their first home and plan to be in the property only for three to five years. Remember that, on average, most people move or refinance within seven years.

Conversely, monthly payments could increase if monthly payments if interest rates go up. Keep in mind that ARMs are best for homeowners who aren't planning on staying with a property for a long period. If you're on a fixed income, an ARM (especially a short-term ARM) may not be your best choice.

10/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortgages provide a fixed initial rate of the loan for the first ten years of repayment. After 10 years, the rate adjusts every year thereafter for the remaining life of the loan. The loan is amortized over 30 years.

7/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortgages offer an initial rate that is fixed for the first seven years of repayment, then the rate adjusts every year thereafter for the remaining life of the loan.

5/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortgages mean the initial rate remains fixed for the first five years of repayment, and then adjusts every year thereafter.

3/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortgages provide three years at the initial fixed-rate, then the rate adjusts every year for the remaining life of the loan. A good choice if you expect to move or refinance in a relatively short period of time. But a much shorter fixed-rate period means your interest rate (and therefore monthly payments) may begin to fluctuate after three years. 

New Construction Loan

If you are working with a builder in a sub-division or development you may be able to obtain a standard mortgage loan. But if you're hiring contractors, electricians, plumbers, and painters, you will probably need a construction loan, which provides funds to pay subcontractors as work progresses. 

Assumable Loans

Assumable loans permit one borrower to take over a loan from another borrower without any change in the loan terms. Such loans still exist but they aren't very common or popular (for buyers) in a low-interest-rate environment. Plus, today new assumable loans are almost always adjustable rate mortgages. To find out if a loan is assumable, look to the loan agreement to determine if it is assumable by someone else, then talk to the lender about specific requirements based on the value of the home