Joyce Crommett's Blog
There are a number of programs, government-sponsored and otherwise, that are designed to help aspiring homeowners find and get approved for a mortgage that works for them.
Among these are first-time homeowner loans insured by the Housing and Urban Development Department, mortgages and loans insured by the USDA designed to help people living in urban and rural areas, and VA loans, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In today’s post, I’m going to give you a basic rundown of VA loans, who is eligible for them, and how to apply for one. That way you’ll feel confident knowing you’re getting the best possible deal on your home mortgage.
What is a VA Loan?
VA loans can provide soon-to-be homeowners who have served their country with low-interest rates and no private mortgage insurance (PMI).
If you’re hoping to buy a home soon and don’t have at least a 20% down payment, you typically have to take out private mortgage insurance. This means paying an extra insurance bill on top of your monthly mortgage payments. The downside of PMI is that it never turns into equity that you can then use when you decide to move again or sell your home.
Loans that are guaranteed by the VA don’t require PMI because the bank knows your loan is a safer investment than if it wasn’t guaranteed
VA loans may also help you secure a lower interest rate, or give you some negotiating power when it comes to discussing your interest rate.
Finally, VA loans set limits on the number of closing costs you can pay in your mortgage. And, if you’ve ever bought a home before, you’ll know how quickly closing costs can add up.
Who is eligible?
There are some common misconceptions about who can apply for a VA loan? So, we’ll cover all the bases of eligibility.
If you meet one of the following criteria, you may be eligible for a VA loan:
You’ve served 90 consecutive days during wartime
You’ve served 181 days during peacetime
You’ve served six or more years in the Reserves or National Guard
Your spouse died due to their work in the military
There are some restrictions to these eligibilities. For example, your chosen lender may still have credit score minimums.
Applying for a VA Loan
There are two main steps for applying for a VA Loan. First, you’ll have to ensure your eligibility. You can do this by checking the VA’s official website. Be sure to call them with any questions you may have.
Next, you’ll need a certificate of eligibility. The easiest way to acquire one is through your chosen lender. If you haven’t chosen a lender, you can also apply online through the eBenefits portal, or by mailing in a paper application.
Once you have a certificate, you can apply for your mortgage and you’ll be on your way to buying a home.
Most homeowners would love to be able to pay off their mortgage early. However, few see it as a possibility when they take into account their earnings and other bills.
There are, however, a few ways to pay down your mortgage earlier than planned. But first, let’s talk about when it makes sense to try and pay off your mortgage.
When to consider paying off your mortgage early
If you recently got a promotion, have someone move in with you who contributes to paying the bills, or recently got a secondary form of income, you might want to consider making extra payments on your mortgage.
However, having extra money doesn’t always mean you should spend it immediately on your home loan.
First, consider if you have a large enough emergency savings fund. It might be tempting to try and throw any extra money at your mortgage as soon as possible, but there are other financial commitments you should plan for as well.
If you have kids who will be applying to college soon, remember that student aid takes into account their parents’ finances. If your children plan on applying to institutions with high tuition, then your equity will be counted against you.
Refinancing to pay your mortgage early
Refinancing your home loan is one option if you’re considering increasing the payments on your mortgage. If you can refinance a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan with a lower interest rate, you’ll save money in two ways--your lower interest rate and the fact that you’ll be accruing interest for less time.
There is a downside to refinancing. Once you refinance, you’re locked into your new payment amount. So, if your higher income isn’t dependable, it might not make sense to commit to a higher monthly payment that you aren’t sure you’re going to be able to keep paying.
There’s also the matter of refinancing costs. Just like the costs associated with signing on your mortgage, you’ll have to pay closing costs on refinancing. You’ll need to weigh the cost of refinancing against the amount you’ll save on interest over the term of your mortgage to see if it truly makes sense to go through the refinancing process.
Paying more on your current loan
Even if you aren’t sure that refinancing is the best option, there are other ways you can make payments on your mortgage to pay it off years sooner than your term length.
One of the common methods is to simply make thirteen payments each year instead of twelve. To do this, homeowners often use their tax returns or savings to make the thirteenth payment. Over a thirty year mortgage, this could save you over full two years of added interest.
A second option is to make two bi-weekly payments rather than one monthly payment. By making biweekly payments you have the ability to make 26 payments in a year. If you were to just make two payments per month then you would make 24 total payments. Over time, those two extra payments per year add up.
As happens in any industry, there are professionals who work in the real estate industry who don't mind cutting corners. Protections against working with inexperienced realtors and mortgage brokers comes through local and state realtor licensing requirements.
You may not be real estate savvy, but you deserve to be heard
The realtor licensing requirements vary from state to state, but generally mandate that realtors complete educational training and pass a state approved licensing examination. Ethical and legal issues may be covered during the training. What training seminars, study guides and tests may not give realtors are strong communication skills.
A study guide may not show realtors how to respect mortgage borrowers and house hunters. This training may fall into your lap. To be effective when dealing with realtors and mortgage brokers, you need to be confident. When you are confident while house hunting, you can increase the likelihood that you will:
- Search for houses that fit within your financial range (confidence can help you to communicate to realtors the importance of not wasting your time and only showing you houses that are below your maximum budget)
- Avoid giving into realtor or mortgage broker requests to buy houses that have amenities that you don't really want or need
- Stick to looking for houses that are located in areas that match your personal tastes
- Get the chance to buy houses that your entire family will appreciate (this means that you won't be talked into buying a house that may be great for adults but injury provoking for children)
- Steer clear of attending open houses where former pet owners lived if you don't want to live in a house that was once home to several dogs or cats
- Receive a thorough explanation of each expense associated with owning a house. For example, if you're confident, you could clearly and respectfully communicate to a realtor that you want all costs associated with a house to be level with or below your budget. In this case, expenses like your mortgage principal and interests, homeowners association fees,closing costs, broker fees, title fees and loan fees and insurances will not exceed your maximum budget.
- Work with a realtor who takes the initiatives to update you on the status of the house shopping process.
House hunter confidence yields its own rewards
Reliable and respectable realtors and mortgage brokers are honest. They value house hunters and borrowers, whether these adults are their clients or not. They research directories, conduct smart marketing for their clients and look for quality houses that match their clients' requests. Sharp realtors and mortgage brokers aren't pushy or demanding. They listen to their clients.
If they exhibit enough respect and self-confidence, smart house hunters could help to sharpen realtors and increase their chances of working with realtors who find them houses that they will afford and appreciate. They could also help realtors gain the very skills that strengthen and lengthen realtor careers, skills like active listening, focused question asking, thorough research and welcomed communication skills.