If you've been thinking about buying your first home, talk of rising mortgage rates may have you worried. But, the reality is that this may be one of the best opportunities for first-time buyers in recent memory. Conditions were already good for first-timers with new, super-low down payment loans. But the FHA's announcement that they would be cutting mortgage-insurance premiums makes buying even more advantageous.
"The annual fees the Federal Housing Administration charges to guarantee mortgages it backs are being cut by a quarter of a percentage point," said Bloomberg of a statement released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). "With the reduction, the annual cost for most borrowers will be 0.60 percent of the loan balance."
According to HUD, "The fee cut would save new FHA-insured homeowners an average of $500 this year. The cut would take effect on Jan. 27."
What other factors should you be paying attention to if you're looking to buy your first home?
Yes, rates are up from their lowest point. But the average 30-year fixed-mortgage rate right now is 4 percent, down a bit this week and waaaaaay down from decades ago when they were in the teens. You'll pay a few bucks more per month now than you would have at this time last year, but, if you're getting an FHA loan, those new mortgage interest cuts will help.
The Winning Team
More than anything, it's important to be realistic. We're not anywhere near gloom-and-doom time, despite some of the more hysterical talk out there. In fact, today's rates are still near historic lows, which make buying a home more affordable than rent in many cities.
But, if you need to find a way to lower your monthly payment on your future home, and you're not eager to search for less expensive homes, remember that your credit helps determine your mortgage-worthiness, and the better it is, the better your interest rate. If you're not being offered the best rate out there, it's time to…
Get your credit in order
Have great credit? Great! Your lender will be pleased and, presumably, you will be, too. But many of us need some help in this area, and even a small bump in your score can make a big difference not just to the rate you get but also whether you will qualify for a loan at all.
"The homebuyer's credit score is among the most important factors when it comes to qualifying for a loan these days," said Bankrate. Your lender will be able to give you tips for improving your score, which can range from checking your report for errors to paying off old delinquent accounts.
It's also important to keep in mind that what you consider to be responsible credit management may not necessarily be seen as a positive when you go to qualify for a loan. "Just because you pay everything on time every month doesn't mean your credit is stellar," they said. "The amount of credit you're using relative to your available credit limit, or your credit utilization ratio, can sink a credit score. The lower the utilization rate, the higher your score will be. Ideally, first-time homebuyers would have a lot of credit available, with less than a third of it used."
Low down payment loans
For many first-time buyers, the down payment is the largest barrier to homeownership. But new loans with lower down payment requirements are helping to eliminate it.
The most popular loan for first-time homebuyers continues to be through the FHA, for a number of reasons: Because this loan is government-backed and because it requires only 3.5 percent down if you meet their credit and income requirements, and a minimum of a 620 credit score.
The new Affordable Loan Solution Mortgage from Bank of America gets those down payments even lower—to three percent—and without Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). But, there are restrictions related to income that "could rule out a lot of potential borrowers," said The Street.
"The program, a partnership between Bank of America, Freddie Mac, and non-profit Self-Help Ventures Fund, is targeted towards low - and moderate - income borrowers. To qualify, borrowers can't make more than the HUD area median income and must have a credit score of 660 or higher. As an example, for 2016, New York City-based borrowers with a household of one would need an income below $65,200 to qualify for the program."
SoFi, an online lender that started out focusing on student loan refinancing, has also gotten into the mortgage game, offering a loan that has a higher down payment at 10 percent, but without PMI.
Investigate situation-specific loans
Are you a veteran, a police officer, or a firefighter? There may be a special loan for you with conditions that can make purchasing a home easier and more affordable. There are also specific loans for those who are buying a home that has (or needs) energy-efficient features, one that can be bundled with home improvement funds, and another from the USDA that can save those who are moving to a rural area money.
"This one may surprise you," said nerdwallet. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a homebuyers assistance program. And no, you don't have to live on a farm. The program targets rural areas and allows 100% financing by offering lenders mortgage guarantees. There are income limitations, which vary by region."