By Alison Paoli
Mortgages are tricky and often hard to understand. Because most people only purchase a home every five to seven years, prospective homebuyers understandably don't spend a lot of time in the interim educating themselves about mortgages and the mortgage process.
With the real estate market picking up and mortgage rates prime for refinancing, Zillow has compiled a list of common mortgage misconceptions based off the results of the just released 2013 Mortgage IQ Survey.
Misconception No. 1: Your interest rate reflects the true cost of your mortgage. Your annual percentage rate is actually the figure that represents the true cost of your mortgage. It is inclusive of your interest rate, points, mortgage insurance (when applicable) and other fees, including origination and underwriting fees. It does not include the cost of your homeowners insurance policy. The APR is typically higher than your interest rate because it incorporates the rate and the fees. In fact, when shopping for a mortgage, it is best to compare loans based on APR instead of the interest rate because it gives a better sense of the total cost over the life of the loan.
Misconception No. 2: Mortgage rates are only released once per day. Mortgage rates for all types of mortgages can change frequently, sometimes dramatically, throughout the day. Because of the rapid changes in mortgage rates and a lender's ability to control what is offered, it is important to shop around for the best rates. Getting multiple loan quotes is highly recommended.
Misconception No. 3: All lenders are required by law to charge the same fees for appraisals and credit reports. There are no laws that require lenders to charge the same fees for services such as appraisals or credit reports. In fact, in order to make their loan quotes more competitive, some lenders may waive charges for such services. Conversely, some lenders may charge higher fees for these services, so it's important to shop around.
Misconception No. 4: I must get my mortgage through the same lender I was pre-approved with. A pre-approval is a conditional agreement that estimates the size of the home loan a lender would fund for you. It typically involves income verification and a credit check. However, you are under no obligation to proceed with the lender that gave you the pre-approval. Make sure you get at least three loan quotes before proceeding with a mortgage.
Misconception No. 5: You will almost always get the best mortgage interest rates at the bank where you have a checking account. While some banks do give their customers discounts, it's unlikely your bank will offer the best interest rate available simply because you bank there. To get a competitive mortgage rate and terms, get quotes from multiple lenders either in person or online - including your bank - and pick the one that works best for you.
Misconception No. 6: When taking out a mortgage with your spouse, lenders will look at each of your credit reports equally when determining the interest rate you qualify for. When applying jointly for a mortgage, lenders will pull your credit scores from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They'll then take the middle score of each set and use the lower of the two to help determine your mortgage interest rate. This means that the least creditworthy borrower will have the greatest effect on your monthly payment. It does not matter who the primary or secondary borrowers are.
Misconception No. 7: You cannot get a home loan with less than a 5 percent down payment. It is a common misconception that you need to put down 10 percent, 15 percent or even 20 percent on a home, especially in light of the recent housing crash. But with as little as 3.5 percent down, you can often obtain a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans have become a popular loan option for those who may not have a large down payment or have blemishes in their credit history. FHA loans are available to everyone, not just first-time home buyers. (Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of an FHA loan here.)
There are also alternative loan programs through other agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These loans also require little-to-no money down.
Misconception No. 8: If you go through a short sale or foreclosure, you must wait 7 years before getting another home loan. In most cases, to buy a home after a short sale, you'll typically only need to wait 2-4 years depending on your down payment and the loan type you select. The waiting period after a foreclosure is longer: Typically you'll need to wait 3-7 years before getting another home loan. Even if you can afford to get a mortgage right now, you'll need to have a good credit score, which can be difficult to rebuild in just a few years. Unique circumstances can lead to different outcomes, so make sure to check with a lender or two.
Misconception No. 9: If you are underwater on your home loan, you are unable to refinance. It is estimated that millions of homeowners who are underwater and current on their mortgage can refinance using one of two special government programs. The first, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), is available to homeowners who have a loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The second program, FHA Streamline Refinance, has recently been modified to help homeowners with loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Both programs help homeowners refinance into lower interest rate loans and may help dramatically lower payments without very much cost to the borrower. Zillow Mortgage Marketplace is the only online mortgage marketplace where you can get loan quotes for HARP and FHA Streamline. As an added bonus, it is the largest mortgage marketplace where you can anonymously get loan quotes, meaning you don't enter any personally identifiable information and therefore cannot get spammed and hounded by lenders who were sold you contact information. See if you may qualify.
Misconception No. 10: You can only refinance your home loan once every 12 months. With conforming loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (the vast majority of loans today), you can refinance as frequently as you'd like so long as you do not take cash out when you refinance and are just refinancing to lower the interest rate and/or term of your mortgage. The rule of thumb is to wait until the difference between your current interest rate and the available interest rate would save you enough money each month to cover the costs of refinancing in two years. The amount of time that you plan on being in the home should be considered, as well. In general, refinancing will be more financially beneficial the longer you are in the home. Use the refinance calculator to determine how long it will take to break even on the costs of refinancing.
If any of the misconceptions had your name written all over it, visit the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace Help Center, where you can brush up on everything mortgage before you refinance or purchase your next home. You can also take the Mortgage IQ Quiz for yourself, or send it to a friend who is in the market; they'll thank you.
See more on Zillow:
HARP Extended Through 2015
What to Expect When Refinancing
Mortgage Financing: Loan Products 101
More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
Find homes for sale in your area.
Find foreclosures in your area.
Find homes for rent.
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