Frequently Asked Mortgage Questions

How do you qualify for a loan?

The idea of meeting with a lender can be intimidating, especially if you’re buying your first home. After all, this is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make!

Take a deep breath and relax—you don’t have to be stressed. Think of your first meeting with a lender as a get-to-know-you session. They’ll simply want to learn a few basics about you and your financial situation.

Then comes the paperwork! Once your loan process gets started, be prepared to provide proof of:

  • Where you work
  • Your income
  • Any debt you have
  • Your assets
  • How much you plan to put down on your home

A good lender will clearly explain your mortgage options and answer all your questions so you feel confident in your decision. 

What’s the difference between being prequalified and preapproved?

A quick conversation with your lender about your income, assets and down payment is all it takes to get prequalified. But if you want to get preapproved, your lender will need to verify your financial information and submit your loan for preliminary underwriting. A preapproval takes a little more time and documentation, but it also carries a lot more weight.

A preapproval takes a little more time and documentation, but it also carries a lot more weight.

Which is better? Think of prequalification as an initial step and preapproval as the green light signaling that you’re ready to start your home search. When sellers review your offer, a preapproval means you’re a serious buyer whose lender has already started the loan process.

How do interest rates affect your mortgage?

High interest rates bring higher monthly payments and increase the overall interest you’ll pay over the life of your loan. A low interest rate saves you money in both the short and long term.

Of course, just like you can’t time the stock market, it’s nearly impossible to time your home purchase with the best interest rates. The past five years have held some of the most affordable interest rates ever, according to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, and their recent forecast predicts the trend will continue.1

It may be hard to time your home purchase with the best interest rates, but there are things you can do to get a lower rate. For example, a benefit of the 15-year, fixed mortgage is that it has a lower interest rate than a 30-year, fixed mortgage. Sometimes a bigger down payment can also help you get a better interest rate.

The money you pay in interest doesn’t ever go toward paying off the principal balance of your home. That’s why it’s a smart move to get a low interest rate on your mortgage and then pay off your house as quickly as you can.

How do you "lock-in" your interest rate?

Because mortgage interest rates can change day to day, locking your rate is an important part of the mortgage process. Locking your interest rate guarantees a certain interest rate for a specific period of time, usually between 30 and 60 days.

In most cases, you can lock your interest rate as soon as your initial loan is approved. However, most buyers wait until they have found a specific home to purchase and are officially under contract.

Like we said earlier, mortgage interest rates go up and down and there’s no way to time it perfectly. You simply don’t know what the future holds. No one does. So don’t spend time trying to time the market; instead, rely on your lender’s expertise. If they say it’s a good time to lock down your rate, trust them.

Some lenders charge a fee to lock your interest rate. Ask questions on the front end so you know what to expect.

What are mortgage points?

Mortgage points, or discount points, are a way to prepay interest to get a lower interest rate on your mortgage.

Each mortgage point equals 1% of your home’s value. That means if you’re getting a $250,000 loan and have two discount points, you’ll pay $5,000. In most cases, a point can reduce your interest rate by one-eighth to one-quarter of a percent.

We don’t recommend discount points because of how long it takes to break even on that cost. In most cases, you’ll sell your house or could even pay it off before you recoup the money you paid up front in points. Skip the points and focus on putting as much money into your down payment as you can.

What does your mortgage payment include?

So what happens when you send in that mortgage payment every month? It’s nice to think the whole amount just reduces your principal, but your monthly payment actually goes toward a lot more.

Here’s what the typical monthly mortgage payment includes:

  • Principal
  • Interest
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI), if you put down less than 20% on your home

If you want to pay more on your mortgage, be sure to specify that you want any extra money to go toward the principal only, not an advance payment that prepays interest.

What is an escrow account, and how does it work?

Your mortgage payment may include additional costs like your homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. These are annual expenses that are part of homeownership, and the lender is at risk if you don’t make those payments.

Your lender can add the monthly portion of each of those accounts to your mortgage payment. That money is held in an escrow account that is managed by a third party to make sure those costs are paid on time.

When should I consider refinancing?

You should definitely think about refinancing if:

  • You can lower your interest rate enough to justify the closing costs.
  • You can refinance from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage.

It’s probably not worth it to refinance if you could lower your interest rate by half a percent. But let’s say it’s going to take another eight years for you to pay off your house and you could lower your interest rate from 6% to 4%.

On a $200,000 mortgage, lowering your interest rate from 6% to 4% could save you about $200 a month. Over the course of eight years, that adds up to more than $19,000. Closing costs to refinance a $200,000 loan cost an average of $2,000. Is it worth it to pay $2,000 in closing costs to save $19,000 over the long term? Probably so!

When it comes to adjustable-rate mortgages, refinancing to a fixed-rate mortgage is almost always a good idea. An adjustable-rate mortgage can go up and down, drastically changing your monthly payment. That’s not a risk we want you to take. A fixed-rate mortgage is your best option, even if you have to write a check for the closing costs.

Don’t refinance to anything longer than a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage. Remember, the goal of refinancing is to pay off your house faster, not stay in debt longer!

If you already have a good interest rate on a 30-year, fixed loan, you don’t have to refinance just to get a shorter term. It’s easy to pay extra on your mortgage. 

What happens after you get preapproved for a home mortgage loan?

Getting preapproved for a mortgage is just the beginning. Once the financial pieces are in place, it’s time to find your perfect home! While it’s one of the most exciting stages of the process, it can also be the most stressful. That’s why it’s important to partner with a buyer’s agent.

A buyer’s agent can guide you through the process of finding a home, negotiating the contract, and closing on your new place. The best part? Working with a buyer’s agent doesn’t cost you a thing! That’s because, in most cases, the seller pays the agent’s commission.

Why not partner with a real estate pro who can save you time, stress and money on your home purchase? We can connect you with a high-octane real estate agent in your area who’s earned our seal of trust.

What happens at closing?

When you close, that new house and mortgage are officially yours. At the closing, you’ll sit down with the professionals involved in your real estate transaction and sign all the legal documents needed to give you ownership of your new place. That’s pretty exciting!

You’ll also be responsible for paying closing costs as part of the closing process. Closing costs are typically 3–4% of your home’s purchase price. You’ll receive a Closing Disclosure three days before closing so you know exactly what you can expect.

If you have questions about the closing process, talk to your real estate agent or lender.