Shopping for a house can be stressful, but choosing a loan has the potential to be just as bad. There’s a lot to know, a small window in which to figure it all out and a 30 year commitment to a loan product that might just not be right for you for to worry about. All in all, it might be easier to remove your own inflamed appendix than to pick a mortgage.
The Loan Estimate Form and You
If you’ve already been to see one or more mortgage bankers or brokers and received a Loan Estimate form that explains your loan options, grab those now. If not, you can follow along with this dummied up copy provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is definitely a blog that needs some real life props.
There are a lot of things to see on this form, but it’s a million times easier than the form that was its predecessor. The goal with the new Loan Estimate form was to make it more accessible for more people and, hopefully, easier to compare apples to apples. Let’s see what’s in your orchard.
The Big Question: What’s This Loan Cost?
One of the most important variables for many buyers is the monthly cost of their home loan. After all, the monthly payment is immediate and pressing. If you can’t make it, you have nowhere to live and bad things happen. Check out these items to figure your immediate costs:
- Monthly Principal and Interest. You can find information on your monthly payment on the front page of the Loan Estimate form. Under the “Loan Terms” section, you’ll find the “Monthly Principal and Interest” line. That’s the base payment for your loan — and if there’s a big, fat “No” next to it, this is always going to be the base payment for your loan, until you sell, refinance or pay it off.
- Balloon Payment. Two lines down is the “Balloon Payment” option. You want this to say “No” unless you have a plan to pay the loan off before the balloon hits. A balloon payment is an amount of money you still owe on the loan when the term is up. So, if you have a loan that has payments calculated like it’s a 30 year loan, but the balloon is expected in five, you essentially have to pay 25 years worth of payments all at once when that five year term is up.
- Projected Payments. Pop on down to the section called “Projected Payments.” This section breaks your payment down into more parts. Not only is your base payment included, you’ll see a line for mortgage insurance and escrowed items (usually this includes taxes and homeowner’s insurance). If there’s a planned change in your loan payment, like the removal of mortgage insurance, your “Projected Payments” section will have more than one column for payment information. You’ll read this left to right to see how your payment changes over time.
- Estimated Taxes, Insurance and Assessments. The escrowed items are detailed in this section. Normally, that’s one month’s worth of taxes, homeowner’s insurance and HOA fees.
- Cash to Close. You’ll probably have to bring some money to closing. You’ll find out just how much on the very last line of page one. You can find the details on this figure on page two, but we’re going to skip that for now.
Comparing Your Tree Fruit
On page three, you’ll find one last set of very important numbers for comparing your loan offers. It’s even labeled “Comparisons.” This section will help you understand the long-term differences over the loans that you’re considering. If loan one will cost you $50k over the first five years and loan two costs $60k in the same time period, it’s clear that in the long run, the first loan will do you better. But let’s say you’re not as interested in the long run as you are in the now.
Right now, you have a small down payment and you’re trying hard to hold on to as much cash as possible for emergencies. Back on page one might be the better place to look for your answers. It’s possible that the loan that’s cheaper in the long run costs a great deal more in cash to close. In that case, you may want to take the more expensive long-term loan and plan to refinance after a few years.
While you’re on page one, go ahead and compare those payments. Do both estimate forms include mortgage insurance or escrows? If so, it’s an easy side-by-side comparison. If not, you’ll want to look at the principal and interest payment, and find out what the average taxes and insurance cost in your market so you can estimate how much extra to hold back each month so you can pay those yourself.
How ‘Bout Them Fees?
The elusive page two includes details on your closing costs. This is everything from loan origination costs to prepaid items like your portion of the current year’s taxes. All of this stuff, when added together, end up on the last line in the right-hand column. That’s your cash to close.
If you’ve rolled any of those fees into your mortgage, you’ll see those appear next to the line that says “Closing Costs Financed…” Asking your mortgage professional for a couple of different Loan Estimate forms with and without fees added to your mortgage can help you decide whether it makes financial sense to pay for those items now or finance them over time.
It’s a pretty handy form, really.