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Mortgages: What You Need to Know in 2009

Mortgages:  What You Need to Know in 2009


Lately, says LendingTree’s Findlay, the highest hurdle for many buyers has been lenders’ debt-to-income standards. Here are the numbers, as of late December, according to LendingTree: For a Fannie or Freddie conforming loan, monthly mortgage payments cannot exceed 28% of gross income, while all debt payments (including student loans, etc.) cannot exceed 36% of gross income.

For a Federal Housing Administration-guaranteed loan, the corresponding figures are 29% for mortgage debt and 41% for all debt.

Before Making an Offer, Get Pre-Qualified

Home sellers are likely to give you a better deal on a house if you’re pre-qualified for a mortgage. Why? Because it shows you can get the deal done quickly. In this market, nothing burns a seller more than being strung along by a buyer who wants the house but can’t qualify for a loan to buy it.

First-Time Borrowers: Get Credit Counseling

A lot of the mess we’re in now could have been avoided if first-time home buyers had paid attention to warnings about getting overextended. If you don’t want to listen to your parents or nosy brother-in-law, then visit a credit counseling agency. Says Rick Sharga, marketing vice-president at RealtyTrac: “Most people getting into the market for the first time seriously underestimate the cost of maintaining a home, from taxes to upkeep. What happens if that water heater blows? Do you have enough money to pay for it without missing a mortgage payment?”

Think Hard About Refinancing Now

The decision about when to refinance comes down to personal risk preferences. Of course, you should also run your numbers through one of the many online calculators (a rough rule of thumb is that it makes sense to refinance if the new rate is a full percentage point below your current rate and you don’t plan to move soon).

The argument to wait, as expressed by President Norbert Mehl, is that the Federal Reserve and Treasury Dept. are determined to force mortgage rates lower in 2009 and are bound to have their way. Says Mehl: “The pressure on the banks will continue to mount to bring down interest rates, not just on mortgages but on all kinds of personal loans.”

In contrast,’s Findlay says that while it’s reasonable to guess that rates will fall more, nothing’s for sure. “Rates have come down so fast that trying to pick the bottom is a mistake,” he says. “Their propensity to slingshot back up is high.” He votes for refinancing now if the numbers work.

So, pull the trigger or wait? Nobody but you can decide this one.

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