First-Time Home Buyer Credit Checklist

Getting a new mortgage for a First-Time Home Buyer can be a little overwhelming with all of the important details, guidelines and potential speed bumps.

Since there are so many rules and steps to follow, here is a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind throughout the mortgage approval process:

DO:

  • Continue working at your current job
  • Stay current on all your accounts
  • Keep making your house or rent payments
  • Keep your insurance payments current
  • Continue to maintain your credit as usual
  • Call us if you have any questions

DON’T

  • Make any major purchases (Car, Boat, Jet Ski, Home Theater…)
  • Apply for new credit
  • Open new credit cards
  • Transfer any balances from one credit or bank acct to another
  • Pay off any charge-off accts or collections
  • Take out furniture loans
  • Close any credit cards
  • Max out your credit cards
  • Consolidate credit debt

Basically, while you are in the process of getting a new mortgage, keep your financial status as stable as possible until the loan is funded and recorded.

Any number of minor changes could easily raise a red flag or cause a negative impact on a credit score that may result in a denied loan.

Most importantly, check with your loan officer on even the simplest questions to make sure your loan approval is successful.

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Understanding An Amortization Schedule

By committing to a mortgage loan, the borrower is entering into a financial agreement with a lender to pay back the mortgage money, with interest, over a set period of time.

The borrower’s monthly mortgage payment may change over time depending on the type of loan program, however, we’re going to address the typical 30 year fixed Principal and Interest loan program for the sake of breaking down the individual payment components for this particular article about an amortization schedule.

On each payment that is made, a certain amount of interest is taken out to pay the lender back for the opportunity to borrow the money, and the remaining balance is applied to the principal balance.

It’s common to hear industry professionals and homeowners talk about a mortgage payment being front-loaded with interest, especially if they’re referencing an amortization chart to show the numbers. Since there is more interest being paid at the beginning of a mortgage payment term the amount of money applied to interest decreases over time, while the money applied to the principal increases.

We can better understand mortgage payments by looking at a loan amortization chart, which shows the specific payments associated with a loan.

The details will include the interest and principal component of each periodic payment.

For example, let’s look at a scenario where you borrowed a $100,000 loan at 7.5% interest rate, fixed for 30 year term. To ensure full repayment of principal by the end of the 30 years, your payment would need to be $699.21 per month. In the first month, you owe $100,000, which means the interest would be calculated on the full loan amount. To calculate this, we start with $100,000 and multiply it by 7.5% interest rate. This will give you $7,500 of annual interest. However, we only need a monthly amount. So we divide by 12 months to find that the interest equals $625. Now remember, you are paying $699.21. If you only owe interest of $625, then the remainder of the payment, $74.21, will go towards the principal. Thus, your new outstanding balance is now $99,925.79.

In month #2, you make the same payment of $699.21. However, this time, you now owe $99,925.79. Therefore, you will only pay interest on $99,925.79. When running through the calculator in the same process detailed above, you will find that your interest component is $624.54. (It is decreasing!) The remaining $74.68 will be applied towards principal. (This amount is increasing!)

Each month, the same simple mathematic calculation will be made. Because the payments are remaining the same, each month the interest will continue to be reduced and the remainder going towards principal will continue to increase.

An amortization chart runs chronologically through your series of payments until you get to the final payment. The chart can also be a useful tool to determine interest paid to date, principal paid to date, or remaining principal.

Another frequent use of amortization charts is to determine how extra payments toward principal can affect and accelerate the month of final payment of the loan, as well as reduce your total interest payments.

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How Do I Calculate My Mortgage Payment Without Using A Mortgage Calculator?

Calculating an exact mortgage payment without a calculator on a loan is no small task, but there are some simple rules-of-thumb you can use to get a close estimate.

With the exception of the MIT Blackjack Team, performing this type of complex math in your head often leads to frustrating rants.

When coming up with a rough estimate, it is important to understand the individual components that factor into the overall monthly mortgage payment.

Yes, the thousands of dollars you send to your lender every year may cover more than just the mortgage, but referring to one simple formula will help you gauge what the new payment will be as you’re out looking for new properties that may be in your price range.

What’s In A Mortgage Payment?

A mortgage consists of 4-6 parts:

  • Principal – the balance of the loan
  • Interest – the fee paid to borrow the mortgage money
  • Property Taxes – based on county assessed value and residence type
  • Hazard Insurance – in the case of fire or property damage (may include a separate flood policy)
  • Mortgage Insurance – more than 80% LTV on conventional loans, or with FHA financing

Most lenders use the acronym (PITI), which includes Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance.

And in the case where a separate Mortgage Insurance Premium is required, we add another “I” to the end of that creative series of letters.

Another monthly expense that you have to consider is the monthly dues that come with properties that have a homeowner’s association (common in condominiums and other developments). This isn’t a payment made to your lender, but you will have to qualify with that payment and it is also best practice for you to factor that in the monthly cost of your new home.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, this is slightly easier than most state bar exams.

The Mortgage Payment Cheat Sheet:

Ok, you’ve made it this far and haven’t closed your browser, so that is a good thing.

Please keep in mind, this top secret formula will by no means be exact.

Mortgage Payment Formula:

For every $1000 you borrower, your TOTAL monthly mortgage payment will be $8.

So, if you purchase a home for $250,000 with a $50,000 down payment – borrowing a total of $200,000, then a good estimated total monthly PITI payment would be roughly $1600.

But don’t forget to add your homeowners association dues to that monthly payment.

What If I Pay Taxes and Insurance Separately?

Well now we’re at the easy part. If you elect to pay taxes separate from your mortgage, the cheat sheet is reduced from $8 per $1000 down to $6 per $1000.

So there you have it. $8 for every $1000 borrowed.

Again, please keep in mind that this is not going to give you an EXACT payment. You may be purchasing a property with higher real estate taxes or your insurance premiums may be higher than average depending on the state you live in.

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Do I Have To Continue Making My Mortgage Payment If My Lender Goes Bankrupt?

When mortgage lenders go out of business and are essentially taken over by the FDIC, homeowners are left wondering if they still need to make a monthly payment.

Great thought, and a very common question for many borrowers in the 2006-2010 timeframe.

The short answer is YES, you still have to continue making mortgage payments if your current lender files for bankruptcy or disappears over the weekend.

In order to give a more thorough answer to this popular topic, we’ll need to address the relationship between mortgage loans as liens and mortgage servicers who make money by handling payments.

To put this topic in perspective, 381 banks actually filed bankruptcy between 2006 and 2010 forcing them to cease their mortgage lending activities. And a common misconception borrowers have about their mortgage company is that their agreement should become obsolete once the lender files for bankruptcy or goes out of business.

Based on the way mortgage money is made, packaged and sold on the secondary market as a mortgage backed security, the promissory note (agreement) is actually spread between many investors who rely on a servicing company to collect and manage the monthly payments.

A mortgage is considered a secured asset, where the collateral is real estate.  And, the mortgage note has a separate value to investors and servicers based on the interest and servicing fees they have wrapped up in the monthly payments.

This is why many mortgage notes get sold to other servicers who pay for the rights to service your loan. So basically, even if a mortgage company is bankrupt, someone else is willing to take on the job of collecting payments.

Also, by signing a mortgage note, the borrower is committing to continue making the required payments, regardless of what happens to the mortgage company servicing your loan.

Bullets:

  • Your house is an asset
  • The mortgage note has a separate value to investors
  • Regardless what happens to your mortgage company, you need to make your payments

Also, it’s important to continue making your mortgage payments on time, regardless of which servicing company is sending a monthly statement.  Obviously, keep a good paper trail of those mortgage payments in case there is a mix-up between transitions.

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Alternate Sources For Establishing Credit

While the basic Rule-of-Thumb for acceptable credit history is a minimum of four trade lines documented on a credit report, there are alternative methods of building a credit picture that an underwriter can use to make a decision for a loan approval.

For potential home buyers with little or no credit history, keeping records for 12 months of paying bills on time is essential for mortgage loan approval. In fact, loan officers will appreciate receiving proof that you have paid a variety of accounts regularly and on time. Even if you do not have a credit history, or your credit report isn’t as good as it could be, this may enable you to get a mortgage.

The industry term for this is “thin credit.”

Some loan types, namely FHA and USDA, will accept alternative credit sources in order to establish proof of financial responsibility.

Alternative credit is unreported to the bureaus, but will still be verified and can be instrumental in a home loan approval.

Those with thin credit don’t usually have bad credit, but have just not had an opportunity to build enough traditional credit, such as bank/store credit cards, auto loans, etc.

Alternative Sources for Building Credit:

  • Rental History – Canceled checks and letter from property management company
  • Medical Bills – 12 months of statements from medical billing company showing paid as agreed
  • Utilities – power, gas, water, cable, cell phone
  • Auto Insurance
  • Health / Life Insurance – as long as it’s not auto-deducted from pay check

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What’s The Difference Between A Primary Residence, Second Home and Investment Property?


When applying for a mortgage, a borrower’s “Occupancy Type” is a major factor in the amount of down payment required, loan program available and mortgage interest rate.

Whether you are purchasing, doing a rate/term refinance or taking equity out of your property through a cash out refinance, occupancy type is always considered by the underwriter.

Three Types of Occupancy:

Owner Occupied / Primary Residence -

According to HUD, a principal residence is a property that will be occupied by the borrower for the majority of the calendar year.

At least one borrower must occupy the property and sign the security instrument and the mortgage note for the property to be considered owner-occupied.

Second Home -

To qualify as a second home, the property typically must be at least 50 miles from the primary residence, and it cannot appear that the real estate is being purchased for rental investment purposes.

Investment Property -

A property that is not occupied by the owner and is typically utilized for rental income purposes.

Down Payment Requirements:

Owner Occupied / Primary Residence -

Purchases for VA and USDA can go up to 100% financing, while FHA requires 3.5% of the purchase price as a down payment.  Conventional financing may require anywhere from 5% – 25% depending on the credit score, county, property type and loan amount.

Second Home -

Average 10% down for a purchase, and 25% equity for a refinance.

Investment Property -

Down payment requirements will range from 20-25% depending on the number of units.  When doing a cash-out refinance on an investment property with 2-4 units, the required loan to value will need to be 70% or lower to qualify.

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*It should be noted that on any high balance loan amount the above mentioned Loan-to-Value (LTV) requirements will change. Credit score requirements also apply.

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What’s My Debt-to-Income (DTI) Ratio?

Debt-to-Income (DTI) is one of the many new mortgage related terms many First-Time Home Buyers will get used to hearing.

DTI is a component of the mortgage approval process that measures a borrower’s Gross Monthly Income compared to their credit payments and other monthly liabilities.

Debt-to-Income Ratios are designed to give guidance on acceptable levels of debt allowed by particular lenders or programs.

There are actually two different Debt-to-Income Ratios that underwriters will review in order to determine if a borrower’s monthly income is sufficient to cover the responsibility of a mortgage according to the particular lender / mortgage program guidelines.

Most loan programs allow for a Total DTI of 43% and a Housing DTI of 31%.

Two Types of DTI Ratios:

a) Front End or Housing Ratio:

  • Should be 28-31% of your gross income
  • Divide the estimated monthly mortgage payment by the gross monthly income

b)  Back End or Total Debt Ratio:

  • Should be less than 43% of your gross monthly income
  • Divide the estimated house payment plus all consumer debt by the gross monthly income

Remember, the DTI Ratios are based on gross income before taxes.  Lenders also prefer to use W2’s or tax returns to verify income and employment.

However, the adjusted gross income is used to calculate DTI for self-employed borrowers on most loan programs.  Since there is room for interpretation on these guidelines, it’s important to review your personal income / employment scenario in detail with your trusted mortgage professional to make sure everything fits within the guidelines.

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Calculating Loan-to-Value (LTV)

Understanding the definition of Loan-to-Value (LTV), and how it impacts a mortgage approval, will help you determine what type of loan amount and program you may qualify for.

Since the LTV Ratio is a major component of getting approved for a new mortgage, it’s a good idea to learn the simple math of calculating the amount of equity you may need, or down payment to budget for in order to qualify for a particular loan program.

The LTV Ratio is calculated as follows:

Mortgage Amount divided by Appraised Value of Property = Loan-to-Value Ratio

*On a purchase transaction for a residential property, the LTV is calculated using the lesser of either the purchase price or appraised value.

For Example:

Sally qualifies for a 96.5% Loan-to-Value FHA program, which means she’ll have to bring in 3.5% as a down payment.

If the purchase price is $100,000, then a 96.5% LTV would = $96,500 loan amount. And, the 3.5% down payment would be $3,500.

$96,500 (Mortgage Amount) / $100,000 (Purchase Price) = .965 or 96.5%

In addition to determining what mortgage programs are available, LTV also is a key factor in the amount of mortgage insurance required to protect the lender from default.

On a conventional loan, mortgage insurance is usually required if you have an LTV over 80% (one loan is more than 80% of the home’s appraised value). On that point, if you are currently paying mortgage insurance and think that your LTV is less than 80%, then it may be time to refinance, or call your lender to restructure the payment.

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Frequently Asked LTV Questions:

Q:  Why do the lenders care about Loan to Value?

Lenders care about the LTV because it helps determine the exposure and risk they have in lending on a certain property. Statistics show that borrowers with a lower LTV are less likely to default on their mortgage.  Also, with a lower LTV the lender will lose less money in case of a foreclosure.

Q:  Can I drop my mortgage insurance on an FHA loan?

The mortgage insurance on an FHA loan is structured differently than a conventional loan. On a 30 year fixed FHA loan, the monthly mortgage insurance can be removed after five years, as well as when the borrower’s loan is 78% LTV.

Q:  What does CLTV stand for?

CLTV stands for Combined Loan To Value. The CLTV calculation is as follows:
(1st Mortgage Amount + 2nd mortgage amount) / Appraised Value of Property = CLTV

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Common Documents Required For A Mortgage Pre-Approval

Even though many lenders are still quoting quick 10 minute pre-qualifications over the phone or online, a true mortgage approval that holds any weight is one that has been issued by an underwriter who has had an opportunity to review all of the necessary documents.

With a constant stream of new lending guidelines, volatile mortgage rates and tightening regulation from Washington, very few real estate agents will show new homes to a First-Time Home Buyer without at least a pre-qualification letter.

A Pre-Approval Letter will help you in three ways:

It’s obviously a good idea to get your paperwork prepared ahead of time so that the pre-approval process is as thorough as possible.

In order to get a pre-approval letter, you’ll start by filling out a loan application and submitting a few documents for the loan officer and / or underwriter to review.

Common Loan Pre-Approval Documents:

Income / Assets for Wage Earner:

  • Last 2 year W2s and Tax Returns
  • 2 most recent Pay Stubs
  • 2 most recent Bank Statements, 401(K), Liquid Assets, Investment Accounts

Income / Assets for Self-Employed:

  • Last 2 year Tax Returns – Business and Personal
  • Last Quarter P&L Statement

Letter of Explanation For:

  • Employment Gap or New Line of Work
  • Late Payments / Judgments / Bankruptcy on Credit Report

Other:

  • Bankruptcy Discharge
  • Child Support Documentation
  • Lease Agreements (If own other Rental Properties)
  • Mortgage Payment Coupons (If own other Real Estate)

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Most borrowers also want an opportunity to learn more about the loan officer before digging up all of these personal documents. Spend 15 minutes on the phone asking the loan officer to explain how mortgage rates work, quizzing them on some basic industry vocab or just to see if they know what to prepare your agent for ahead of time. The Q&A session can be more than just a lender qualifying you, as long as you’re prepared to ask the right questions.

Either way, you’ll definitely want to have the above list of approval documents ready once you’ve decided on the right loan officer that you trust will meet your expectations.

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Top 8 Things To Ask Your Lender During The Application Process

Knowing what questions to ask your lender during or before the loan application process is essential for making your mortgage approval process as smooth as possible.

Many borrowers fail to ask the right questions during the mortgage pre-qualification process and end up getting frustrated or hurt because their expectations were not met.

Here are the top eight questions and explanations to make sure you are fully prepared when taking your next mortgage loan application:

1. What documents will I need to have on hand in order to receive a full mortgage approval?

An experienced mortgage professional will be able to uncover any potential underwriting challenges up-front by simply asking the right questions during the initial application and interview process.

Residence history, marital status, credit obligations, down payment seasoning, income and employment verifications are a few examples of topics that can lead to stacks of documentation required by an underwriter for a full approval.

There is nothing worse than getting close to funding on a new home just to find out that your lender needs to verify something you weren’t prepared for.

2. How long will the whole process take?

Between processing, underwriting, title search, appraisal and other verification processes, there are obviously many factors to consider in the overall time line, which is why communication is essential.

As long as all of the documents and questions are addressed ahead of time, your loan officer should be able to give you a fair estimate of the total amount of time it will take to close on your mortgage.

The main reason this question is important to ask up-front is because it will help you determine whether or not the loan officer is more interested in telling you what you want to hear vs setting realistic expectations.

You should also inquire about anything specific that the loan officer thinks may hold up your file from closing on time.

3. Are my taxes and insurance included in the payment?

This answer to this question affects how much your total monthly payment will be and the total amount you’ll have to bring to closing.

If you include your taxes and insurance in your payment, you will have a higher monthly payment to the lender but then you also won’t have to worry about coming up with large sums of cash to pay the taxes when they are due.

4. Will my payment increase at any point after closing?

Most borrowers today choose fixed interest rate loans, which basically means the loan payment will never increase over the life of the loan.

However, if your taxes and insurance are included in your payment, you should anticipate that your total payment will change over time due to changes in your homeowner’s insurance premiums and property taxes.

5. How do I lock in my interest rate?

It’s good to know what the terms are and what the process is of locking in your interest rate.

Establishing whether or not you have the final word on locking in a specific interest rate at any given moment of time will alleviate the chance of someone else making the wrong decision on your behalf.

Most loan officers pay close attention to market conditions for their clients, but this should be clearly understood and agreed upon at the beginning of the relationship, especially since rates tend to move several times a day.

6. How long will my rate be locked?

Mortgage rates are typically priced with a 30 day lock, but you may choose to hold off temporarily if you’re purchasing a foreclosure or short sale.

The way the lock term affects your pricing is as follows: The shorter the lock period, the lower the interest rate, and the longer the lock period the higher the interest rate.

7. How does credit score affect my interest rate?

This is an important question to get specific answers on, especially if there have been any recent changes to your credit scenario.

There are a few key factors that can influence a slight fluctuation in your credit score, so be sure to fill your loan officer in on anything you can think of that may have been tied to your credit.

8. How much will I need for closing?

*The 2010 Good Faith Estimate will essentially only reflect what the maximum fees are, but will not tell you how much you need to bring to closing.

Ask your Loan Officer to estimate how much money you should budget for so that you are prepared at the time of closing.

Your earnest money deposit, appraisal fees and seller contributions may factor into this final number as well, so it helps to have a clear picture to avoid any last-minute panic attacks.

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Now that you have the background to these eight important questions, you should feel more confident about finding a mortgage company that can serve your personal needs and unique scenario.

Remember, the more you understand about the entire loan process, the better your experience will be.

Most frustration that is experienced during the home buying and approval process is largely due to unclear expectations.

You can never ask too many questions…

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