Financing For First-Time Homebuyers
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Types Of Financing For First-Time Homebuyers

Many people considering buying their first home can be overwhelmed by the myriad of financing options available. But by taking the time to research the basics of property financing, homeowners can save a significant amount of time and money. Having some knowledge of the specific market where the property is located and whether it provides incentives to lenders may mean added financial perks for buyers. Buyers should also take a look at their own finances to ensure they are getting the mortgage that best suits their needs. Read on to find out which financing option may be right for you.

There are several mortgage loan types, which are differentiated by loan structure and the agencies that secure them.

Conventional Loans

Conventional loans are fixed-rate mortgages that are not insured or guaranteed by the federal government. Although they are the most difficult to qualify for due to their requirements for criteria such as down payment, credit score and income, certain costs, such as private mortgage insurance, can be lower than with other guaranteed mortgages.

Conventional loans are defined as either conforming loans or non-conforming loans. Conforming loans comply with the guidelines set forth by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These stockholder-owned companies create guidelines, such as loan limits - $417,000 for single-family homes, for example - because they package these loans and sell securities on them in the secondary market. (To find out what happens to your mortgage in the secondary market, read Behind The Scenes Of Your Mortgage.)

FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides various mortgage loan programs. An FHA loan has lower down payment requirements and is easier to qualify for than a conventional loan. FHA loans are excellent for first-time home buyers because, in addition to lower upfront loan costs and looser credit requirements, they allow down payments of as low as 3%. FHA loans cannot exceed the statutory limit. For 2008, the limit was $271,050 in most areas, but more in areas with a high cost of living.

VA Loans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guarantees VA loans. The VA does not make loans itself, but guarantees mortgages made by qualified lenders. These guarantees allow veterans and service people to obtain home loans with favorable terms, usually without a down payment, and in most cases they are easier to qualify for than conventional loans. Lenders generally limit the maximum VA loan ($417,000 in 2008, $625,000 in Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Before applying for a loan, request eligibility from the VA. If you are accepted, the VA will issue a certificate of eligibility to be used in applying for a VA loan.

Fixed Rate Loan

Another thing to consider when shopping for a mortgage is whether to obtain a fixed-rate or floating-rate mortgage. A fixed-rate mortgage is one where the rate does not change for the entire period of the loan. The obvious benefit of getting a fixed-rate loan is that the borrower knows what the monthly loan costs will be for the entire loan period. However, a floating-rate mortgage, such as an interest-only mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), is designed to assist first-time home buyers or people who expect their incomes to rise substantially over the loan period. (To learn more, see Mortgages:Fixed-Rate Versus Adjustable-Rate.)

Floating Rate Loans

Floating-rate loans usually allow borrowers to obtain lower introductory rates during the initial few years of the loan, allowing them to qualify for a larger loan than if they had tried to get a more expensive fixed-rate loan. Although the benefit can be great, these loans entail a substantial risk for those borrowers whose income does not grow in step with the change in interest rate. The other downside is that, in most cases, the rate change is not known at the outset of the loan because it is usually pegged to some market rate that is determined in the future.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs)

The most common types of ARMs are one- five- or seven-year ARMs. The initial interest rate is normally fixed for a period of time, after which it is reset periodically, often every month. Once an ARM resets, it adjusts to the market rate, usually by adding some predetermined spread (percentage) to the prevailing Treasury rate. Although most ARMs by contract can only increase by so much, when an ARM adjusts, it can end up being more expensive than the prevailing fixed rate mortgage loan to compensate the lender for having offered a lower rate during the introductory period. (To learn more about the risks involved with adjustable-rate mortgages, read ARMed And Dangerous.)

Interest-Only Loans

Interest-only loans are a type of ARM in which the borrower is responsible for only paying mortgage interest and not principal during the introductory period until the loan reverts to a fixed, principal-paying loan. Such loans can be very advantageous for first-time borrowers because only paying interest significantly decreases the monthly cost of borrowing and will allow one to qualify for a much larger loan. However, because the borrower pays no principal during the initial period, the balance due on the loan does not change until the borrower begins to repay the principal.


If you're looking to find a home mortgage for the first time, there are a few things that can be done to reduce the difficulty of sorting through all the financing options. The best approach is to put some time into deciding how much home you can actually afford and then finance accordingly. Homeowners who can afford to put a substantial amount down or who have enough income to create a high coverage rate will have the most negotiating power with lenders and the most financing options. A good mortgage broker or mortgage banker should be able to help steer you through all the different programs and options, but nothing will serve you better than knowing what you want and what you can ultimately live with.

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