Where do you begin to secure finances for purchasing a new home, refinancing an existing home, or
obtaining a real estate equity line of credit? Loan acquisition can get confusing, but you can simplify
the process and avoid a lot of potential headaches by getting off to a good start. Here are a couple of
ways to do so:
Build your green file.
Organizing and compiling all pertinent financial documents into a green file is an absolute must for
any potential borrower. Think of the green file as a resume or profile that will give lenders an idea of
what kind of debtor you might be. The typical green file should contain:
• Financial statements
• Bank accounts
• Credit card
• Auto loans
• Recent pay stubs
• Tax returns for two years
Consider your credit rating.
Another means by which lenders gauge your trustworthiness as a borrower is through your credit
rating. These indicate your credit history, which includes such crucial information as the number of
your open loans and the punctuality of your past payments.
• Treat your credit like gold.
Credit ratings are important because they often determine whether or not you will be approved for a
loan and what your interest rate will be. Thus, you cannot take your credit seriously enough! We
suggest checking your credit reports at least once a year or before making any major purchase to
ensure the accuracy of the information contained there.
• What the scores mean.
Ratings usually vary between 400 and 800. Anything above 620 is good. If you exceed 680, you are
considered premium and may even get a lower interest rate.
• Determine your credit rating.
You can do this by contacting a credit reporting agency such as Equifax, Experian or Trans Union.
Above all, don’t hesitate to consult with your lender if you need to improve your rating.
Prioritize your costs and savings.
Buying real estate wisely is all about choosing what to spend for first.
• Prioritize your costs.
Down payments, closing costs and additional expenses (such as inspections) should be at the top
of your list. On the other hand, be sure to pay down on your current revolving and high-interest rate
debts, such as credit cards.
• Remember: lenders like stability.
Instill confidence in your potential lender by avoiding any big, sudden moves both in your career and
your finances. If that job change or big budget purchase absolutely cannot be postponed, check with
your lender first and consider the consequences.
Choose a Lender
Securing finances requires a decision that you may have to live with for thirty years—so spend time
comparing different lenders before making your choice. There are a number of ways to find one,
whether through traditional print ads, Realtor referrals or Internet sources. There are also several
considerations to keep in mind when shopping for the right lender and program:
Consider the competitiveness of a lender’s prices with that of others, especially for mortgage rates,
interest rates, and additional costs.
• Diversity of products.
Price is important but by no means should it be your only determining factor. How extensive is the
lender’s range of offered loan programs? Check the availability of the program most appropriate to
your credit profile and property.
Do your lenders and brokers communicate effectively and thoroughly? Are they attentive and prompt?
You are not looking for just a guide but a partner—someone you can work with and trust every step of
Check whether the lender has access to local loan approval committees that understand your goals
as a borrower.
Choose a Loan
Though there are many different kinds of loans available today, these three are the most commonly
• Fixed loan.
This long-term option requires monthly payments that will remain the same throughout the duration
of the loan, which may vary from fifteen to thirty years. Though it’s the most affordable short-term
solution, it may cost more than shorter term mortgages over the life of the loan.
• Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).
The loan rate here will be determined by factors such as index, readjustment intervals, and
capitalization rate. The initial interest rate can be as much as 2 to 3 percent lower than a comparable
fixed rate mortgage, which can make home ownership more affordable. However you should first
examine variant factors and downside risks before seriously considering this option.
• Hybrid loan.
Also known as an intermediate or convertible ARM, it offers a fixed interest rate for a specified initial
period before it ‘switches’ to an ARM and adjusts with the market every six months or every year.
Consult with your lender to assess which loan type and program would best correspond with your
resources and needs.
Don’t be intimidated by the jargon used in financing. Here are a number of key terms you’ll see
frequently in your process.
• Credit report.
Request your lender to order one from a third party credit agency such as Equifax, Experian or Trans
Union. A credit report should contain information on all your outstanding loans and repayment
history, and will typically cost under fifty dollars.
• Application/processing fee.
This is the lender’s fee for the assessment of your capacity for repayment as a borrower and will
usually be charged upon closing of the loan. Expect a price tag of a couple of hundred dollars.
• Annual percentage rate (APR).
The APR expresses the sum total of all your borrowing costs as a percentage interest rate charged
on the loan balance.
For Example: After fees, the original interest rate quote of 5.875% might work out to a 6% APR loan,
where the interest costs about $6,000 per year for every $100,000 borrowed, and the principal
payments are calculated based on the length of the loan term (for example 15, 20, or 30 years).
Changes in indexes such as the Federal Funds Rate (link to http://www.federalreserve.
gov/fomc/fundsrate.htm) and the Treasury Bill are used to periodically readjust the interest rates in
adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).
When mortgage companies are competing by offering lower interest rates, they may charge you a
“point,” a one-time pre-paid interest fee, calculated as a percentage of the loan. Points are
considered part of the cost of credit to the borrower, and part of the investment return to the lender.
They may range from 0.25% to 2% of the loan balance, and are usually paid up front.
• Appraisal cost.
This is the fee given to an independent appraiser who may be hired by your lender to evaluate the
property’s purchase price, condition and size in relation to similar recent neighborhood sales. This
is useful to the lender because it ensures repayment in case the borrower defaults, forcing them to
sell the property.
• Miscellaneous fees.
Various costs will be incurred during the processing of your loan request, such as notary, courier,
and county recording fees.
• Pre-payment penalties.
A prepayment penalty is a provision of your contract with the lender that states that in the event you
pay off the loan entirely, you will pay a penalty. Penalties are usually expressed as a percent of the
outstanding balance at time of prepayment, or a specified number of months of interest. They often
decline or disappear altogether with the passage of time.
How is pre-approval different from pre-qualification? What are the advantages of each and which
option would be the best for you?
This is an assessment by the lender, based on certain basic information given by the borrower (e.g.
employment, income, asset information, current monthly debt, and credit worthiness). Based on this
quick evaluation the lender makes a tentative decision to pre-qualify the borrower for a certain loan
amount. This does not commit the lender at all to the applicant, being only an opinion of the lender.
Like a pre-qualification, a pre-approval involves a lender making an assessment of a borrower’s
buying capacity based on her or his income. But unlike a pre-qualification, a pre-approval letter also
checks the applicant’s credit and is a surer verification of a borrower’s income. It takes longer to
process and will require more comprehensive documentation, but gives a clearer and more
definitive guarantee of the loan amount a borrower is entitled to.
Why Choose Pre-Approval?
It’s advisable to go straight to a pre-approval for several reasons. A pre-approval can strengthen your
purchasing power: as a far more accurate evaluation of how much house or real estate you are
capable of buying, it will be more appealing and thus perform better than a pre-qualification in a
competitive sellers’ market. It’s also more time-effective since it reduces the time your lender will
need to process and fund your loan.
Brokers and lenders: telling the difference
The lender or creditor is the party who 1) disburses or provides funds to the borrower at the end of a
successful loan application process, and 2) receives the note attesting the borrower’s obligation to
repay. The broker, meanwhile, acts as an intermediary between the borrower and the lender and
serves as the applicant’s main contact throughout the process. The mortgage broker usually
receives a service fee from the lender for customer services rendered.
Loan application forms: where to find them
Most forms can be downloaded from a lender’s website. Fill out all forms accurately and completely,
and contact your lender for any questions or clarifications.
Documentation: keeping your papers in order
It’s highly recommended to keep an organized dossier containing both originals and copies of all
documents accumulated throughout the entire application process. These will include:
• 2 years of W-2 forms from the employer, or 2 years of tax returns for those who are self-employed
• Recent pay stubs
• 3 months of bank and money market statements
• Brokerage, mutual fund and retirement account statements
• Proof of other income sources (alimony, trusts, rental income, etc.)
• Credit card statements
• Auto /boat / student / miscellaneous loans
• Drivers’ license or form of ID
• Copies of visa or green card (for non-US citizens)
• Copies of existing mortgage debts (for those applying for a home equity line of credit or another
Underwriting: keeping in touch
Underwriters, hired by lenders, are analysts who examine all the data from a borrower’s property
and transaction, and ultimately determine whether or not mortgages should be issued to the
applicant. Loan approval committees will use underwriters’ reports during their deliberations to
evaluate the property and the applicants’ creditworthiness. Your broker may contact you frequently in
the course of this process, so prompt communication is necessary to keep the process running
Here comes the best part. Once your lender has agreed to close or fund your loan, the signing can
begin. Before this happens, however, be sure to verify and finalize all the documents, and to supply
any additional requirements (such as photo IDs or cashiers’ checks). The final loan documents are
usually signed in the presence of an escrow officer or a notary.
Your payment is either automatically deducted or wired—in the latter case, the money is
electronically transferred between financial companies. Make sure that the wiring instructions as
well as all important numbers must be clarified and checked for accuracy by both parties.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Your loan is now funded! Tie up any loose ends by confirming the
money transfer with your broker and filing all pertinent documents of the transaction.
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