5 Things to Know if You’re Trying to Get a Mortgage With Bad Credit in 2017

hopping for the right mortgage lender is key to getting the best loan terms, especially if you have less-than-stellar credit.

Believe it or not, your credit doesn’t have to be stellar to get a mortgage. Many banks and lenders will extend a mortgage to applicants with at least a 640 credit score. However, not all lenders are created equal — and, even if you can score a home loan, bad credit is going to seriously cost you in interest.

What Credit Score Do I Need to Get a Mortgage in 2017?

There are two main types of mortgages: conventional and Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, loans.

Some lenders will offer conventional mortgages to consumers with a credit score of just 620. Other lenders will go even lower, but the process for getting that mortgage will be difficult and involve thorough explanations of your credit history.

For FHA loans, some lenders will go as low as 580, with just 3.5% in equity. However some folks can get a new mortgage or even do a cash-out refinance with a credit score as low as 550 — but there’s a catch. You’ll need at least a 10% equity position. This means you need 10% down when buying a home or 10% equity when refinancing.

Keep in mind, though, not all lenders will extend a mortgage to someone with a bad credit score — it has to do with their tolerance for risk. (From an underwriting perspective, poor credit indicates a higher risk of default.) The more risk a bank is willing to take on, the higher your chances of getting approved with a not-so-hot score. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you have a low credit score and are shopping for a mortgage.

1. It’s a Good Idea to Rebuild Your Credit

If you are looking to increase your credit score to have an easier time getting a mortgage, you’ll need to be able to clear the 620 mark to see any significant difference. Hitting that threshold (and beyond) will likely make better mortgage rates and terms available to you, plus keep you from going through the type of scrutiny a lower tier credit score bracket often requires. You can generally improve your credit score by disputing errors on your credit report, paying down high credit card balances and getting any delinquent accounts back in good standing.

2. Down Payment Assistance Will Be Hard to Come By 

Down payment assistance programs are currently quite scarce. Beyond that, to be eligible for down-payment assistance, a borrower would typically need at least a 640 credit score. You can expect this across the board with most banks and lenders. It is reasonable to assume you are ineligible for assistance if your credit score is under 640.

3. Previous Short Sale, Bankruptcy or Foreclosure Are Subject to ‘Seasoning Periods’

If you have one of these items on your credit report, it’s going to impact your ability to get a mortgage. There’s typically a three-year waiting period — also known as a “seasoning period” — before you can qualify for a mortgage after you’ve been through a foreclosure or short sale. The waiting time after a bankruptcy is two years. Note: There are some loan programs that have shorter seasoning periods. For instance, VA loans can get approved at the two-year mark following a foreclosure.

4. Higher Debt-to-Income Ratios Make it Harder

It’s no secret that FHA loans allow debt-to-income ratios in excess of 54%. In order to be eligible for this type of financing, your credit score should be around 640 or higher. That’s not to say your credit score of 620, for example, will not work. It’s almost a guarantee, though, that if your credit score is less than 600 you’re going to have a difficult time getting a loan approved with a debt-to-income ratio exceeding 45%.

5. Cash-Out-Refinancing Is On the Table

This is a big one. If you already own your own home, you could use your equity to improve your credit. How? You could do a cash-out refinance with your home. This would allow you to pay off installment loans and credit cards, which often carry a significantly higher rate of interest than any home loan. Wrapping them into the payment could end up saving you significant money, and it’s still an option for borrowers with lower credit scores. (As I mentioned earlier, some lenders will do a cash-out refinance for borrowers with a credit score as low as 550, so long as they’re in a at least 10% equity position.) However, if this is something you’re considering, be sure to read the print and crunch the numbers to determine if you’ll come out ahead. Cash-out re-fis require you to pay closing costs and your bad credit might not merit a low enough interest rate to make this move worthwhile. You’ll also want to make sure the new monthly mortgage payment is something you can handle.

Remember, just because you can technically get a mortgage with bad credit, doesn’t mean it’s the best move for you. You may want to improve your standing, lower your debt-to-income ratio and bolster your down payment funds before hitting up the housing market. Still, it can be done and if you’re currently looking for a home loan, be sure to ask prospective lenders or mortgage brokers lots of questions to find the best deal you can get. To help you through the process, good credit or bad, here’s 50 full ways to get ready for your house hunt.

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Want to Roll Your Student Loans Into Your Mortgage? Here’s What to Consider

It can be a good option for some people, but for others it's just trading old debt for new.

It’s a question as old as debt itself: Should I pay off one loan with another loan?

“Debt reshuffling,” as it’s known, has garnered a bad reputation because it often amounts to just trading one debt problem for another. So it’s no wonder the news that Fannie Mae would make it easier for homeowners to swap student loan debt for mortgage debt was met with some caution.

It’s awfully tempting to trade a 6.8% interest rate on your federal student loan for a 4.75% interest rate on a mortgage. On the surface, the interest rate savings sound dramatic. It’s also attractive to get rid of that monthly student loan payment. But there are things to consider.

“One thing we stress big time: It worries me, taking unsecured debt and making it secured,” said Desmond Henry, a personal financial adviser based in Kansas.  “If you lose your job, with a student loan, there is nothing they can take away. The second you refinance into a mortgage, you just made that a secured debt. Now, they can come after your house.”

The Cash-Out Refinance

The option to swap student loan debt for home debt has already been available to homeowners through what’s called a “cash-out refinance.” These have traditionally been used by homeowners with a decent amount of equity to refinance their primary mortgage and walk away from closing with a check to use on other expenses, such as costly home repairs or to pay off credit card (or student) debt. Homeowners could opt for a home equity loan also, but cash-out refinances tend to have lower interest rates.

The rates are a bit higher than standard mortgages, however, due to “Loan Level Price Adjustments” added to the loan that reflect an increase in perceived risk that the borrower could default. The costs are generally added into the interest rate.

So what’s changed with the new guidelines from Fannie Mae? Lenders now have the green light to waive that Loan Level Price Adjustment if the cash-out check goes right from the bank to the student loan debt holder, and pays off the entire balance of at least one loan.

The real dollar value savings for this kind of debt reshuffle depends on a lot of variables: The size of the student loan, the borrower’s credit score, and so on. Fannie Mae expressed it only as a potential savings on interest rates.

“The average rate differential between cash-out refinance loan-level price adjustment and student debt cash-out refinance is about a 0.25% in rate,” Fannie Mae’s Alicia Jones wrote in an email. “Depending on profile [it] can be higher, up to 0.50%.”

On $36,000 of refinanced student loan debt — the average student loan balance held by howeowners who have cosigned a loan — a 0.50% rate reduction would mean nearly $4,000 less in payments over 30 years.

So, the savings potential is real. And for consumers in stable financial situations, the new cash-out refinancing could potentially make sense. Like Desmond Henry, though, the Consumer Federation of America urged caution.

“Swapping student debt for mortgage debt can free up cash in your family budget, but it can also increase the risk of foreclosure when you run into trouble,” said Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and former Assistant Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “For borrowers with solid income and stable employment, refinancing can help reduce the burden of student debt. But for others, they might be signing away their student loan benefits when times get tough.”

Risking foreclosure is only one potential pitfall of this kind of debt reshuffle, Henry said.  There are several others. For starters, the savings might not really add up.

Crunch the Numbers. Alllll the Numbers…

“You don’t just want to look at back-of-a-napkin math and say, ‘Hey, a mortgage loan is 2% lower than a student loan.’ You’ve got to watch out for hidden costs,’ Henry said.

Cash-out refinances come with closing costs that can be substantial, for example. Also, mortgage holders who are well into paying down their loans will re-start their amortization schedules, meaning their first several years of new payments will pay very little principal. And borrowers extending their terms will ultimately pay far more interest.

“We live in a society where everything is quoted on a payment. That catches the ears of a lot of people,” Henry said. “People think ‘That’s a no brainer. I’ll save $500 a month.’ But your 10-year loan just went to 30 years.”

There are other, more technical reasons that the student-loan-to-mortgage shuffle might not be a good idea. Refinancers will waive their right to various student loan forgiveness options – programs for those who work public service, for example. They won’t be able to take advantage of income-based repayment plans, either. Any new form of student loan relief created by Congress or the Department of Education going forward would probably be inaccessible, too.

On the tax front, the option is a mixed bag. Henry notes that student loan payments are top-line deductible on federal taxes, while those who don’t itemize deductions wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction. On the other hand, there are caps on the student loan deduction, while there’s no cap on the mortgage interest deduction. That means higher-income student loan debtors who refinanced could see substantial savings at tax time.

In other words, it’s complicated, so if you’re considering your options, it’s probably wise to consult a financial professional like an accountant who can look at your specific situation to see what makes the most sense. (It’s also a good idea to check your credit before considering any refinancing or debt-consolidate options since it’ll affect your rate. You can get your two free credit scores right here on Credit.com.)

As a clever financial tool used judiciously, a cash-out student loan refinance could save a wise investor a decent amount of money. But, as Henry notes, the real risk with any debt reshuffle is that robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t change fundamental debt problems facing many consumers.

“The first thing to take into consideration is you still have the debt,” he said.

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8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding to Rent or Buy a House

Buying a home isn't for everyone. These questions will help you sort out whether it's a good financial move for you.

If you’re at the age when your peers are making major life moves — getting married, having kids and buying homes – you might be feeling it’s time to join them. Or you may simply just be at that stage all on your own.

Either way, plenty of young adults are starting to get the home-buying itch. While there are a lot of appealing benefits to homeownership, taking on that kind of debt is not without risk. The decision to rent vs. buy is one you should make carefully.

If you’re trying to figure out your next move, consider asking yourself these eight questions. The answers should steer you in the right direction.

1. What Is My Top Financial Priority?

Buying a home will slow down your ability to make progress on other financial goals. You’ll need to focus on lowering expenses or increasing your income so you can afford a down payment and monthly mortgage payments. (This guide can help you understand more about how to determine your down payment on a home.)

That extra cash will be funneled toward your mortgage rather than paying off credit cards or student loans if you have them. Other financial goals, such as saving for retirement and building an emergency fund, may also have to take a back seat.

Assess your competing financial goals and decide which ones take priority. Buying a house might come first in your book, or perhaps you’ll decide to work toward other money goals before committing to a mortgage.

2. Do I Have Savings For a Down Payment & Closing Costs?

Renting requires some savings – you’ll need enough cash to cover the first month’s rent and the deposit.

To buy a home, however, the minimum you’ll need to have saved is usually 6% or more of the home’s value. Even FHA loans require a minimum down payment of 3.5%, and closing costs add another 2-3% to the costs.

But that’s the minimum; a 20% down payment is better to give you a decent amount of equity and avoid private mortgage insurance.

If you don’t have sufficient savings, you’ll need to focus on saving for a down payment before you’re in a position to buy. And even if you do have savings, it’s worth it to think through the best use of those savings and whether you’d rather allocate that cash to other goals.

3. How Do Home & Rent Prices Compare?

Housing markets also affect whether it’s a better idea to rent versus buy. If you’re facing sky-high rent prices that climb each year, a mortgage starts making a lot of sense. On the other hand, if you want to live in an expensive area, you could be priced out of buying a home (especially without extensive savings).

4. How Long Do I Plan to Live Here?

The longer you live in a home, the more likely it is that the financial investment of buying a property will pay off.

If you like your city, have a steady job, and are ready to live in the same space for a few years, buying is often more cost effective, but not always. You may want to crunch the numbers to see how long you’d need to live in a home to break even on your initial costs.

5. Will I Qualify for a Good Deal on a Mortgage?

You’ll need a decent income and good credit to qualify for the lowest rates and best terms on mortgage loans. It’s sometimes possible to get a mortgage if you have bad credit, but you’ll pay a lot more over time. (Haven’t checked where your credit stands? Now’s the time. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Think of it this way: most mortgages last 30 years. With that in mind, you may see that it’s financially worth it to spend a few months to a year rebuilding your credit if it means qualifying for a lower interest rate for those 30 years. For example, if you boost your credit score by 50 points – from the mid-600s to over 700 – you could qualify for a mortgage rate that’s 80+ basis points lower, according to MyFICO.com.

6. What Other Costs Will I Be Responsible for as a Homeowner?

When comparing costs of renting versus buying, make sure you’re including home-owning costs beyond mortgage principal and interest.

There are escrow costs, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes. You can expect home maintenance costs to equal 1-3% of your home’s sale price each year. Then there are homeowners’ association fees and new utility costs such as trash collection and water. Meanwhile, renters are usually not responsible for any of these costs.

7. Am I Comfortable with the Risks of Owning a Home?

It’s a popular argument that owning is smarter than renting because you’re investing in a home. But as with any investment, owning a home has its own inherent risks.

There are no guarantees you’ll get a good return on your investment. Just ask the many homeowners who defaulted on their homes after the 2008 mortgage crisis. And even in a strong housing market, there are the everyday risks of unemployment or other financial hardships.

8. How Would Renting vs. Owning Affect my Lifestyle?

Guiding forces in your decision to rent or own are your lifestyle and values. For many, the freedom of choice, privacy, and control that come with owning a home are big selling points. Other people might prefer the convenience, flexibility, and short-term commitment that comes with renting.

Know what you want and choose a housing setup that will help you achieve it. Owning a home can be an admirable accomplishment for some people. Maybe it will be for you, too. Only you know the answer.

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This Common Mistake Can Kill Your Mortgage

If you're thinking about buying a home, you'll want to avoid this common mortgage mistake.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, you need to show your lender that you have a down payment and access to funds for closing. This money needs to come from documentable sources prior to moving it from your bank account to your escrow account. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do this, which can end up creating unnecessary challenges during the underwriting process.

Lenders are going to require at least 60 days of asset documentation from each source that your money comes from. This is required because your mortgage lender will need to verify that the money promised does exist and is eligible for use.

Let’s say you’ve put your money into escrow and, as requested, are doing your best to document the movement of money from the account going to escrow. This entails providing a bank statement specifically showing the money leaving your account and the money being accepted by escrow through an EMD (earnest money deposit).

If you can’t get a bank statement, though — say it’s the middle of the month and new statements are not out yet — the next best thing is to get a bank printout confirming the transaction and confirming the amount of money remaining in the account. (There are literally dozens of other things you also should be thinking about during the home buying process. Here are 50 ways you can get ready for buying your home.)

How a Bank Printout Can Help You Close

The bank printout must show the date of the transaction and the current timestamp of the printout, confirming that the money has been moved prior to the printout date. If the bank printout does not have this information, it will automatically halt the closing process of your loan and delay your loan contingency removal or extend your close of escrow date.

This method can be used for both your down payment and funds for cash to close. This is to provide authenticity for your account and to show clearly on paper that the account is yours and the money is yours to use. Banks and lenders require this information to be clear cut and “in your face.” Never assume that “common sense” will be enough.

Documents & Other Items You’ll Want to Avoid

Providing any of the following items in lieu of the bank printout will not work:

  • A bank statement with someone else’s name on it
  • Bank statement in trust
  • Pictures of bank statements taken from a smartphone or snapshot application
  • Bank printout with no timestamp and date

In addition, the bank printout and timestamp must show the remaining balance that is left in your account. For example, if you had $130,000 in assets and your down payment from this account was $50,000, your account statement should now show $80,000 remaining.

If you are looking to purchase a home, talk to a seasoned loan professional who can walk you through properly documenting the money required to buy your home. Also, take a few minutes to check your credit scores so you’ll know going in what kinds of terms you’re eligible for. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

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Trump’s Mortgage Fee Cut Reversal: What it Really Means for House Hunters

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Almost lost amid all the celebrating and marching this weekend were a set of official actions the Trump administration took soon after the Inauguration. One directly impacts some consumers who are house-hunting right now.

You might have seen headlines suggesting President Donald Trump raised taxes on middle-class homeowners, but that’s not an accurate way to portray what happened. Instead, Trump signed an administrative order to halt a fee rate cut, announced just days earlier by the Obama administration, that would have saved homebuyers who don’t have big down payments and use Federal Housing Administration-backed home loans an average of about $450 annually in their monthly house payments.

The order will make home loans more costly for a large group of buyers — about 40% of millennial buyers use the program targeted by the Trump order. That, in turn, can make life harder on older owners looking to sell their homes and trade up.

What Really Happened

In the hours after he was sworn in, Trump signed an order that stopped a lame-duck step by the Obama administration that would have lowered monthly fees for consumers who buy homes with less than 20% down payments and use a government program operated by the Housing and Urban Development department known as “FHA loans” to insure their mortgages. The decrease would have saved average homeowners about $37 monthly, according to Attom Data Solutions. It would have saved homeowners much more in places where home prices are higher — averaging more than $1,000 annually in 13 counties across the United States.

FHA loan fees were raised during the recession to cover program losses, and Obama’s move would have returned them to about the level they were before the housing bubble burst. For now, they remain above their 2008 levels.

Keeping the fees higher effectively lowers the buying power of home shoppers, as money that could be spent toward mortgage payments is instead shifted to insurance payments.

Help For Less-Liquid Homebuyers

Many homeowners are familiar with the additional fees that come with low-down-payment mortgages. Buyers with less than 20% generally must pay for mortgage insurance in case they cannot make their mortgage payments. That’s because the owners will have so little equity in their homes that banks can’t be sure they’d make their money back if they foreclosed on the home and sold it.

There are several forms of this kind of insurance; the most popular is provided by the Federal Housing Administration through FHA-backed loans. For an upfront fee and an ongoing monthly cost, the FHA will guarantee a loan between a buyer and a bank — that gives banks the ability to lend money to buyers with as little as 3% down.

The program dates back to the 1930s, and helps create first-time homebuyer activity. The FHA has insured 34 million properties since its inception, and the agency says it is the largest insurer or mortgages in the world.

Low-down-payment buyers can opt for private mortgage insurance, or PMI, instead. PMI tends to be less expensive, but buyers with lower credit scores or smaller down payments might not qualify for it.

Without these kinds of insurance programs, a buyer shopping for a median-priced $185,000 home would need at least $37,000 in a cash down-payment to buy a home, or would be required to finance the down payment some other way.

Younger Buyers Could Be Hit Hardest

FHA loans are particularly popular with millennials; 38% of new loans closed by younger buyers are FHA loans, according to mortgage data firm Ellie Mae.

FHA insurance isn’t cheap. At closing, buyers pay 1.75% of the loan in an upfront fee. For a $185,000 mortgage, that’s an extra $3,238 in cost; it’s usually financed as part of the loan. The ongoing monthly fee on that mortgage is about $126 per month — a rate of .085% of the loan annually, paid in monthly installments. The fee is known as the MIP, or mortgage insurance premium. The MIP was targeted by Trump’s order.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the FHA announced it would drop the fee from 0.85% to 0.60% — a 0.25% drop. That would have provided $37 in monthly savings for a buyer with a median-priced home, or about $446 annually, Attom says. An FHA buyer in Santa Clara County, California, would have saved much more— $1,448 annually.

The fees collected from consumers go into the fund used to support the FHA loan program.

Before the recession, ongoing FHA fees were 0.55%. Not surprisingly, the FHA fund collapsed in the face of massive defaults during the collapse of the housing bubble. To restore the fund, FHA fees were raised steadily, beginning in January 2008, reaching a high of 1.35% in January 2013.

When the fund reached Congressionally-mandated reserve levels, the premiums were reduced, down to 0.85% in January 2015

A drop that would have returned FHA monthly fee levels to their 2008 levels, announced Jan. 9, was set to take effect on Jan. 27.

On the eve of HUD nominee Ben Carson’s confirmation hearings, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, was critical of the fee cut.

Greater Risk of Another Bailout?

“It seems the Obama administration’s parting gift to hardworking taxpayers is to put them at greater risk of footing the bill for yet another bailout,” Hensarling said. Carson then said he would “really examine” the premium cut at his hearing.

Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, says the rate cut two years ago triggered a short-term jump in home sales to FHA buyers. On the other hand, the impact of the rate cut wasn’t as dramatic as hoped, in part because fast-rising prices gobbled up much of the anticipated increased buying power.

“This decision not too surprisingly reflects the Trump administration’s fiscally conservative philosophical bent, favoring not putting taxpayers at risk — or at least what they perceive as risk — for the sake of a government program that helps people buy homes,” Blomquist said to me. “This is not to say that the Trump administration won’t take policy steps to help the homeownership rate rebound, but the levers pulled will more likely involve trying to allow the market to address the situation with deregulation rather than addressing the situation through government programs that potentially put taxpayers at risk.”

HUD did not immediately respond to Credit.com’s request for comment as to why the fee cut was suspended.

Buyers might be tempted to wait and see what the Trump administration does with FHA fees — some observers think they could ultimately be lowered — but that might be a mistake. If home prices continue to rise, those increases would quickly eat up any savings from lower FHA fees.

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How to Get a Loan for a Manufactured Home

If you're looking to purchase a manufactured home, or if you already own one and want to refinance, here are some things to keep in mind.

If you’re looking to purchase a manufactured home, or if you already own one and want to refinance, here are some things to keep in mind.

Manufactured homes are not the same thing as modular homes. Manufactured homes are constructed, purchased at a dealer, and then moved to their final destination where they are permanently attached to the earth. If you’re looking to purchase a manufactured home, many mortgage lenders will deny you because it is a risky financing vehicle. This is due to the fact that, technically, you could detach the dwelling and move it to another property.

If you are able to secure financing, manufactured home loans often contain higher rates and fees due to the associated risk that comes with this type of property. Some lenders will allow you to secure financing for a manufactured home without the need for mortgage insurance, meaning you can avoid a Federal Housing Administration mortgage, which contains a monthly mortgage insurance payment and can end up costing you more. An FHA mortgage can be an option for you, however, if you have no alternatives.

Conventional Mortgages

To get a conventional mortgage without mortgage insurance, you need to have at least 20% as a down payment (or in equity if you’re refinancing) and have a credit score of 640 or more. It can be used for purchasing or refinancing without pulling cash out under certain circumstances, but you should consult your mortgage lender about the requirements specific to manufactured homes before assuming the home will qualify for a conventional mortgage.

If you are looking to purchase a manufactured home for the first time, conventional mortgages will allow you to do that type of financing so long as you find a property with the real estate included. In other words, the house is already affixed to the earth and is being sold as real estate. Financing to secure the land and attach the unit is an entirely different animal that typically comes with higher rates and fees. These loans are more difficult to come by. If you are looking to get a manufactured home, get pre-approved to purchase a house with the expectation that the manufactured home is already attached to the real estate and is going to be sold as one property. This will give you the best outcome for success in this particular type of property arena.

FHA Mortgages

Another outlet for this type of financing is FHA. FHA contains two forms of mortgage insurance; an upfront mortgage insurance fee and a monthly mortgage insurance payment that is otherwise avoided when you go with a conventional mortgage. No matter what your financial situation is, look at getting qualified for both types of financing. It is helpful to know that if you can use conventional financing and avoid PMI, you will have an easier time handling the payment. The payment will be lower which can increase your buying power while you remain under the 20% equity margins.

Remember, before you begin the mortgage lending process — or even start your search for a new home — it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to see where you stand. Doing so will let you know exactly how much loan you’ll qualify for and what terms will be associated with that loan. Also, it’s a good time to pull your credit reports to ensure there aren’t any mistakes, which could hurt your ability to get the best loan terms. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

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Yes, There’s a Special Mortgage Loan Just For Doctors

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One of the more unique ways borrowers in the health care industry can get a mortgage is the doctor’s loan. Yes, there’s special mortgage financing options available just for doctors.

One of the benefits of being a physician is being able to get a mortgage even with a lot of debt. That’s because doctors can get a little bit more flexibility than traditional underwriting otherwise allows. This can help bridge the gap between renting and owning a home. This financing vehicle allows physicians to borrow money more easily.

Here’s how this program works.

Most mortgage loan programs take the minimum payment on a student loan and apply that into the qualifying ratios when computing the debt to income ratio for the homebuyer. This can limit borrowing power, especially if the payments are several hundred dollars per month. If you have a student loan that is in deferment for year or longer, the doctor loan allows you to have that student loan payment not count in your debt-to-income ratio, allowing you to borrow more on a mortgage. To have monthly debts not hurt your borrowing chances, you’ll need $2 of income per every $1 of monthly debt. For example, if your student loan payment is $500 per month, you need $1000 per month of income to offset $500 per month on a student loan payment or any other monthly payment other than mortgage loans.

The program also allows you use just 5% down and allows gift funds to be used for closing costs. This program is good all the way up to the maximum county conforming high balance loan limit in the county in which you’re looking to buy a home. So, in Sonoma County, California, for example, $554,300 is the maximum high balance loan limit which is eligible for this program.

The basis of the doctor’s loan is to allow doctors, specialty doctors, and dentists to have an easier time with securing financing to purchase or refinance a home.

Doctors Can Also Use Future Income

The program also allows doctors to use future income to qualify. For example let’s say you’re in your residency. Within 30 days you have an employment contract to earn substantially more. Lenders that offer the program will allow you to use the future income to qualify to buy the house. This is something FHA, Conventional, VA and Jumbo financing do not allow.

The doctor’s loan requires a minimum credit score of 680 and supporting income and asset documentation certainly will be required. If you don’t know what your credit scores are, you can get two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. It’s completely free and you’ll never be asked for your credit card information.

If you’re a physician and are looking for some mortgage options, the doctor’s loan is flexible choice. Ask your lender if they have this program. If they do not offer it, find a mortgage company that does. Remember, it’s incumbent on you as the homebuyer to make sure you’ve done your research as to what’s available in the marketplace to tip the scales in your favor for securing the best type of mortgage financing available.

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How to Tell If You’re Really Ready to Buy a Home

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Buying a home is no easy feat. There’s a lot of paperwork you need to be on top of to secure the big-ticket purchase. Here’s how do determine if you should pull the trigger or wait until your finances are in better shape.

Banks will let you take on a mortgage payment at no greater than 45% of your monthly income. This means if you’re earning $8,000 per month, your lender will allow you to take on approximately half of this on a monthly basis for a mortgage payment, with other monthly liabilities. The reality is 45% of your monthly income is a huge percentage of your income going toward a housing payment and other monthly obligations, excluding childcare, college savings, savings in general, other household bills and retirement planning. So if you find you’re unable to make those ends meet, chances are you may not be ready to buy a home.

What follows are some ways to keep your mortgage payment as manageable as possible.

Pay Off Debts to Qualify

If you have a workable down payment, but you have debt payments such as a car loan that are pushing you above that 45% mark, you may want to pick the debts that have the greatest balance with the highest monthly payments, and pay those off in full. Doing so will allow you to not only buy more house but, more importantly, to afford a new mortgage payment.

Keep Your Debts in Check

Car payments, credit card payments — whatever payments you are currently making will limit your buying power. These debts should be as absolutely low as possible.

Don’t Focus on High-Interest Debts First

It’s not what you owe, it’s what you pay that counts. The minimum payment that you’re obligated to make on credit obligations independent of whatever interest rate you have is what lenders will look at to qualify you. Yes, that 0% auto loan could adversely affect your ability to borrow, especially if that payment is a few hundred dollars per month.

Just because you qualify for a mortgage does not automatically mean you should pull the trigger. The ideal approach is to purchase a house in the following way: Make the mortgage payment low enough so you can pay off other obligations, have the ability to save and contribute to retirement.

If buying a home prevents you from being able to save or from getting out of higher-interest rate debt such as credit cards, student loans, personal loans, etc., put the housing project on hold or pause and ask yourself whether buying a house is really the best financial move for you right now. In some cases, buying a house — despite the obligations — might still make financial sense. In other cases, it might make sense to just say no.

Remember, only you will be making your mortgage payment. So buy a home when it financially makes sense for you. Low rates are an attractive reason to buy a home, but exercising financial prudence should be your number one objective when buying a home.

Also keep in mind that your credit score will impact your ability to qualify for a mortgage with reasonable terms. If you’re not sure where you stand — or want to see what you need to improve — a good place to start your research is by getting ahold of your credit reports. You can view a free snapshot of your credit report, updated regularly, by signing up for an account on Credit.com.

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Should I Use the Value of My House as My Emergency Fund?

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Q. I don’t have an emergency fund, but I have always felt very secure knowing I have a zero balance, low-interest home equity line of credit that would allow me to get, on an emergency basis, close to three times my annual salary. Is this a legitimate substitute for a separate emergency fund? — Curious

A. A home equity line of credit is one kind of backup plan, but it’s not a foolproof kind of backup plan.

traditional emergency fund covers anywhere from 3 months to a year’s worth of expenses, depending on your personal needs. The money is usually kept in a safe and liquid account.

Chip Wieczorek, a certified financial planner with Tradition Capital Management in Summit, N.J., said it’s not advisable or realistic to keep two or three years of living expenses in a savings account with a near 0% yield.

However, he said, home equity lines have pitfalls.

“I advise clients to maintain three to six months of living expenses in a savings account in addition to establishing a home equity line of credit (HELOC) for large unexpected expenses,” he said.

Wieczorek said when using a line of credit as an emergency fund, you must be aware that lines have a draw period and a principal pay down period.

A typical HELOC has a seven- to 10-year draw period during which the client can access funds and make interest only payments based on a 20- to 30-year amortization schedule. After the draw period expires, funds can no longer be drawn from the line of credit and both principal and interest payments are required.

“You may think you have two to three years of salary accessible from your line of credit but if the draw period expires, your emergency fund has dried up, Wieczorek said. “Most people do not realize this and should review their HELOC terms on an annual basis.”

Also keep in mind that home equity lines are variable and can be frozen by a bank. The interest rate for the line is generally based on an index, such as the prime rate, Wieczorek said.

“This means that the interest rate can increase over time, which would increase your monthly payment as well,” he said.

Also, in 2008, major home equity lenders began informing borrowers that their home equity lines of credit had been frozen or restricted.

“Falling housing prices led to reduced equity for borrowers, which was perceived as an increased risk of foreclosure in the eyes of lenders,” he said. “Courts have held that a bank may freeze a HELOC in instances where a home’s value decreases substantially.”

Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton, also referenced 2008 as a problem for many home equity line borrowers.

“It is very possible that the condition that requires you to tap into that credit line — you lost your job or got hurt — may make the bank close the credit line,” he said.

Lynch said a mortgage and a home equity line is not a loan on a home, but instead is a loan on your income.

“If that can be shut down, and that was your plan, you need a better plan,” he said. “Plan A never works. What’s your plan B and C?”

Consider going a more traditional route over time and build the kind of emergency fund you can always count on.

[Editor’s Note: If you plan on opening a home equity line of credit, make sure your credit score is in good shape, as it will be a major factor in determining the interest rate you’ll pay. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.]

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How to Buy a House When You Have Too Much Debt

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When you fill out a mortgage application, lenders look for income to offset debt. If your monthly debt payments consume too much of your income, you may have a tough time qualifying for a home loan.

Underwriting, which is the decision-making of whether or not to grant credit, determines what your income is with supporting documentation like pay stubs, W-2s and tax returns. (It also looks at your credit scores to decide whether you qualify. You can get your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

Fortunately, a lender may be willing to look at more than just your regular salary when it comes time to calculate your debt-to-income ratio. Here are various forms of income most mortgage banks will sign off on.

1. Annuities

If you’re eligible, you can purchase an annuity, a contract sold by a life insurance company that provides regular monthly income in return for an initial lump-sum deposit.

The income derived from this annuity will be used to determine how much mortgage and/or house you can qualify for. An annuity can be brand new — you need not have a long history of this income as long as it’s set to continue for the next 36 months or longer.

2. Social Security Income

If you’re eligible for Social Security, you might want to consider taking it early as this income can easily be used to help you qualify for a mortgage. You may be also able to “gross up” this income by up to 1.25%, depending on whether or not you pay taxes on it.

3. Notes Receivable 

Generally, you’ll need to earn income from a note receivable (a credit extended to a business) for at least 6 months for it to count on a mortgage application. Notes receivable income has to be based on the market rate and it’s the interest on the note that is used to determine your eligibility for your desired borrowed amount. For example, if you have a note receivable at 5.5% based on a principal balance at $50,000 that income would be $229.16 per month used for a mortgage.

4. Purchasing a Rental Property

If you are looking to purchase a rental property, you’re in luck. You can use projected fair market rents to qualify for its mortgage. Lenders will use up to 75% of gross market rents to offset the mortgage payment. In other words, because the renters are making the mortgage payment, you don’t need to earn as much to get a green light on your loan application.

5. Renting Your Current Home

If you are trying to buy a new primary residence, but don’t have enough income to support two mortgage payments, you can rent out the property. A rental agreement and tenant security deposit allows you to offset the mortgage payment on your current home to qualify for a mortgage on a new home. The concept is almost identical to purchasing a rental property, with the exception of needing to have a rental agreement in place for your current home.

6. Self-Employment Income

A history of self-employment income is required for it to count on your mortgage application. Generally, Schedule C Sole Proprietor income needs to be in place for at least 12 months in order for that income to count. Note: If you have been self-employed for the past two years and you had one bad year, followed by a good year, your income will be averaged by your lender.

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