What Is A Mortgage, Really, And How Do I Get One?

Alright, my loyal ARBonauts, I have to run out. I’ve left Bryan of Just One More Year in charge, and he’s going to talk to you guys about the mortgage process. I expect everyone to give him your undivided attention and show him the same respect you would show me.

Okay, who threw that!?

Thanks for letting me reach out to your readers today to discuss the process involved in getting a mortgage for a home purchase. It was great having you guest post on our site last year; I enjoy your rants and writing style. I feel, as one of your faithful followers, that you are actually blowing off some steam for me. I somehow feel better knowing that I am not the only one who has to deal with the madness! Please keep the rants and the educational insider-banking articles coming for your loyal readers to enjoy.

What Is A Mortgage, Really, And How Do I Get One?
[Photo courtesy of Phasin Sudjai]
Today’s topic is getting a new mortgage to purchase a home. This discussion begins with a few basic assumptions:

  • This will be your personal home
  • You will live in the residence
  • It is a single-family property (not a multi-unit building)
  • There is no renting of any portion of the home (roommates are a “grey area” subject and OK for the sake of this review)
  • We won’t be discussing Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) today

These assumptions have a direct impact on financing rules, so you want to be careful how you approach the purchase of a property and the related mortgage. If ARB invites me back, we can get into financing rental properties and multi-family dwellings in another article.

Of course, keep in mind that the mortgage is only one part of the home buying process. There’s a lot more to it (contract, negotiations, real estate agents/attorneys, co-op boards if the building is a co-op, etc). EHL Solicitors have an in-depth conveyancing process guide that does into further detail, doubly useful if you’re buying a home in the UK (the process is mostly the same here in the US).

OK dear Angry Retail Banker readers—let’s jump in with both feet.

Where can I get a mortgage?

A person can find many sources for securing a mortgage (loan) for the purchase of a home. These include mortgage brokers, traditional banks, credit unions, and even individuals, to name just a few. Sometimes banks are a great place to borrow money, or maybe—just like ordering checks—they are not very efficient.

For the sake of clarity, let’s call the sources “lenders.” Guess what? You are now becoming a borrower.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be. –William Shakespeare

What Is A Mortgage, Really, And How Do I Get One?
It was a glorious day when we made our last mortgage payment! [Photo courtesy of 123.com]
By the way, the irony here is that I have done everything in my power to get rid of our personal and rental property mortgages. (I somehow feel like a sponsor today talking to new AA members.)

Last year, I wrote about how great it feels to become mortgage free. We have had so many mortgages in the past that I had lost count. However, today’s count is: ZERO!

Do I make enough money? How much cash do I need to put down?

The traditional lender wants the borrower to put at least 20% down of a home’s appraised price toward the purchase. This is referred to as “loan to value” or LTV for short. This gives the lenders a secure position from a risk perspectivewith your 20% “skin in the game” stake of your new home. Between the government and the lending actuaries, they know that defaults for the 20% down crowd are uncommon.

There are additional lending programs that allow as little as a 2.5% downpayment. Our veterans can apply using a Veterans Administration (VA) loan as part of their benefits for serving for our country. There are other options for non-veterans using Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The rules of qualifying for VA and FHA loans are quite specific. If you think you may qualify, I would highly recommend you do some research. It will end up saving you downpayment money and potentially allow for a less expense interest rate.

Borrower warning: There is a nasty thing called Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) that will be required if you have less than the 20% LTV downpayment with your purchase. The lenders use a formula determining the “insurance premium” portion to cover the risk up to the 20% LTV amount. The less you put down and the more you borrow, the more PMI will cost. It will stay with you until your equity in your home is more than 20% AND you do a bunch of haggling with the lender to get it removed. It may require another appraisal. Most people won’t go through the hassle of getting it removed, and in many cases will sell their home when it’s time to move on to something else. This is an expensive insurance premium and it can add hundreds to your mortgage payment, none of it building additional equity in your house.

A good rule of thumb is the mortgage payment should be less than 40% of your gross income. If you and your spouse are both on the mortgage, your mortgage payment should not go over 40% of your household income.

We can talk about paperwork later, but it warrants discussion here. You will need to prove to the bank that you have money and the ability to continue working with your steady job or other stable income sources. If you rely on commission as a large percentage of income, be prepared to prove a history of receiving commission pay. For anyone applying, the lender at a bare minimum will ask you for your last two years of tax returns, a recent paystub from your employer, and proof of your source of funds for your downpayment.

The lender will want to follow the paper trail of how your downpayment was saved. If they see a magical deposit appear out of nowhere in your account statement, they WILL ask you to prove where that came from. The bottom line is that they want to ensure you did not receive that money as a loan. It is OK to receive a gift, but lenders will ask for a letter from the person proving the gift was not a loan.

Warning: If your downpayment is actually a loan and you declare to your lender that it is a gift, both you and the person claiming it was a gift are committing fraud! This is something that should be avoided!

Your credit score has a direct correlation to your interest rate and payment

A FICO score of 720 or better gets you the best rate. If your FICO score is over 720, you can put your credit swagger on when talking with your lender. It is a great idea to know your score by signing up for a free FICO score offer prior to beginning the mortgage process.

Having a 720 or better score will make qualifying for your mortgage much easier. If your downpayment is 20% or more, your FICO score is above 720, your income falls in the 40% maximum mortgage payment, and the home appraises for the value you need, BAM! Just like that, you will get mortgage financing.

A great website for checking current mortgage rates is Bankrate.com. Some bank or credit union websites also provide those rates as well as handy mortgage calculators that will help you determine your mortgage payment.

Folks with less than stellar credit will pay higher interest rates. I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a good credit history now. It will save you thousands in interest costs and make qualifying so much easier. There are three credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, Trans Union) that you need to contact directly to clear up erroneous information about your credit history. It is worth the effort.

Fees, fees, and more fees with your mortgage

There are fees for everything. I will probably miss a few, but here are the ones that immediately come to mind:

  • The Origination Fee. This is an overall fee that is charged by your lender as part of their profit in creating this loan. Often you will see this referred to as “Points.” One point is equal to 1% of the total amount of your loan. These origination fees can anywhere from zero to two points or more. Points can also have an effect on the interest rate. I recommend you “do the math” to see what the points and interest rate combinations will cost you. A 1% origination on a $200K loan will cost you $2,000! Does it get you a better interest rate?
  • An appraisal fee. A cost you must pay the lender to send its contracted appraiser to determine the value of the home. The cost is typically around $400 to $500. The appraiser, through market and construction analysis, estimates the home’s value. The bank will use this value to ensure your downpayment is within the 20% LTV requirement. If it is not, the seller may need to lower his or her price, or you must contribute more downpayment, or a combination of both options.
  • Loan documentation fee. There are fees for handling all this paperwork in the lender’s office and they are charged to you. The total for this cost is around $100.
  • Express mail fees. For anything that requires overnight delivery, plan on paying for that at the close of escrow (the final signing and acknowledge of the sale). Plan on $50 to $100.
  • Wire transfer fees. This is the cost of the lender sending funds to the title company to close escrow on the house purchase. Plan on $20 to $30.
  • Etc. I know I am forgetting several more items that will cost you another $100.

What Is A Mortgage, Really, And How Do I Get One?
Did I mention there would be some fees? It helps to have a bunch of these $100 bills ready! [Photo courtesy of iqoncept]
Outside of the mortgage fees are the additional closing costs for recording the home sale with your county assessor’s office. Don’t forget the purchase of Title Insurance and numerous other processing fees. Those costs will run $500 or more.

How long does a mortgage take to complete with the lender?

I believe the new industry average is around 30 days to get financing from a lender. The recent sale of our home took our buyers exactly 32 days to fund. It is possible to accomplish this more quickly, but it is also highly likely you can hit some snags that slow the entire process down. Be sure to respond to information requests and questions from the lender as quickly as possible.

Is there a lot of paperwork with a mortgage?

Yes. Next subject please!

Prepare yourself for signing a pile of documents one or two inches high for your mortgage loan agreement. You will be giving away the naming rights to your next born child and agreeing to pay back your lender no matter what (nuclear blasts, war, job loss, stock market crashes, death). They might also request a sample of your blood and ask why you didn’t get an A on your 8th grade science exam.

I exaggerated a bit.

You will be signing many documents. I would recommend you have your lender email the documents to you so you have a chance to understand what they are and why they are required. Don’t let the title company try to rush you through at the close of escrow, asking you to simply sign without knowing what you are signing.

Nearly all of these documents are boilerplate forms used in nearly every closing. The important thing is to look at addendums and other items listed that are not part of the standard forms. Those are the items that are unique to your loan agreement and to which you should pay special attention.

You have completed your mortgage process and moved into your home

You have purchased your new home and have a brand new mortgage. Congratulations and welcome to years of debt! You move in and then find out you need repairs, remodeling, or decorating to give the house your own special touches. Essentially everything will cost you money.

Now is a great time to read personal finance blogs like this one and those listed in ARB’s blogroll. If budgeting your money has been a non-starter in the past, you might want to rethink that habit now. I would recommend you find this movie and watch it before spending with reckless abandon.

What Is A Mortgage, Really, And How Do I Get One?
[Photo courtesy of ginasanders]
In about six weeks, you will receive a mortgage coupon book and a strong recommendation from your lender to autopay your mortgage each month—that is, if they didn’t require autopay from the outset. My preference has been to go with autopay so the burden is on the lender if they have not deducted and received the payment by the due date. I trust that you created a budget and watched “The Money Pit” so that the credit card bills are not hitting at the same time as your first mortgage payment.

I hope that this article was useful to those people starting the process of their first mortgage. It does get easier each time you go through the mortgage documents and qualifying requirements. Your next mortgage is as easy as getting food from your favorite drive-through restaurant.

Just kidding, the lenders keep changing the rules to keep the masses confused!

Bryan, I want to thank you for taking the time to educate my reader on the mortgage process. I certainly enjoyed it, and I hope the young people who are looking to buy their first home got a little education out of it. If nothing else, we could all use a brief respite from my curse-strewn ranting. And congrats to you and Dianne for becoming debt free.

Readers–What do YOU think!? Do you find the mortgage process easier to understand thanks to Bryan’s help, or are you as lost as ever? Did he miss something that you would have like to have seen touched on? And who else here has been following Bryan’s journey to debt freedom at Just One More Year? Leave your thoughts in the comment below!

Disclaimer: The link to EHL Solicitors is a sponsored link. I received a small payment to put that there. Before I agreed to take money for that link, however, I researched the firm and found that Edward Hands & Lewis is a respected law firm that’s been around for over a hundred years (old enough that their rent on their first office was £35/year) and have scores of positive reviews online. If you live in the UK and are buying or selling your home, you’re going to want to give them a call so they can guide you through the hell that is the home buying/selling process.


  1. says


    Thanks for allowing me to take the wheel at driving your blog for at least one subject. I appreciate your guest post last year on our site describing the Banker’s Battle . Readers can find that here: http://www.justonemoreyear.com/the-beginning-of-the-bankers-battle/

    Mortgage financing has been a major component of my passive income investments for 3 decades. It is nice to finally be beyond that point.

    I have always enjoyed your voice (even though we have not talked) and writing style :) Keep the rants and excellent articles coming!

    Take care,

    • ARB says


      I actually wanted to comment yesterday, but I ended up working late and falling asleep upon getting home.

      I definitely enjoyed your guest post, and it was a privilege to have you here. I’m sure my readers (wherever that one reader I have is right now) gained far more insight into the mortgage process from you than they ever would from me.

      A couple questions for you that weren’t touched upon in the post:
      –What sort of mortgage do you recommend? An ARM? A 30 fixed rate? Something right in the middle (15/1 ARM or 15 year fixed rate)?
      –Any tactics you can suggest for negotiating a better interest rate? I can personally attest that there’s nothing the branch staff can do, but have you ever been able to successfully negotiate a better rate on your mortgages? How?

      I will definitely keep the rants and everything coming. Thank you again for your guest post.

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  2. says

    My apologies for my tardy reply ARB – you will see from my post tomorrow it has been a rough couple of weeks due to my health. I feel like I am nearly healed at this point.

    Some answers to your questions:

    – What sort of mortgage do you recommend? The weasel answer is it depends. If you know you will not own your home for long and rates are stable, go for the ARM. If you plan on the home being “your final resting” place and the coroner will haul you out in a stretcher – go the for 30 year fixed if rates are low compared to historical averages. My preference is to go for a 15 year fixed because it forces you to buy less of house, taking on a smaller mortgage, and damn near guaranteeing you will earn equity faster and pay it off sooner.

    – Any tactics you can suggest for negotiating a better interest rate? I would shop around on Bankrate.com for the best mortgage rates, check with your own bank or credit union, and contact a mortgage broker to see what they come up with for rates. You have to take into account their fees, any “points”, and the interest rate they offer. You also need realistically consider how long you plan on living in the house. That affects which loan you go with – addressed in your first question. The biggest negotiating factor a borrower has is the amount of their down payment, there FICO score, and their debt ratios. If you do well on all those fronts, there is no reason you should not get the best interest rate/deal available in the market. The key is you need to know what the best rates are – again going back to checking online what Bankrate is reporting.

    I hope that was helpful to your readers ARB.

    Take care,

    • ARB says

      That’s correct, which is why lenders don’t look at your account balance when deciding whether to extend credit. People always are shocked when they get denied for credit, always going “I don’t understand! I’m a customer of this bank! Look at how much money I have in my account!” Yes, the account that can be zeroed out and closed today.

      But credit score and history isn’t the only thing lenders look at. Income, employment history, debt-to-income, credit utilization, credit inquiries, bankruptcies, and more are all factors that can affect any credit decision. Rarely is there some magic number that will get you approved or denied a mortgage.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

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