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7 factors that determine your mortgage interest rate

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Infographic on mortgage shoppingIf you’re like most people, you want to get the lowest interest rate that you can find on your mortgage loan. But how is your interest rate determined? That can be difficult to figure out for even the savviest of mortgage shoppers.

Your lender knows how your interest rate gets determined, and we think you should, too. That’s why we’ve created a new interactive tool that lets you explore the factors that affect your interest rate and see what rates you can expect.

Armed with information, you can have confident conversations with lenders and ask questions to make sure you get a good deal. Here are seven key factors that affect your interest rate that you should know:

1. Credit score

Your credit score is a number that lenders use to help predict how reliable you’ll be in paying off your loan. Your credit score is calculated from your credit report, which shows all your loans and credit cards and your payment history on each one. In general, if you have a higher credit score, you’ll be able to get a lower interest rate. You can use our tool to explore how your credit score impacts the rates available.

Before you start mortgage shopping, get your credit report. Check for errors, and make sure to get them fixed. Examine your debts, and see if there are any you can pay down to improve your score. Learn more about how to raise your score.

Credit scoring is complicated—in fact, you have many credit scores, not just one. You can learn more about how mortgage lenders evaluate your credit history and use credit scores.

It’s a good idea to try to get a sense of your credit score range before you start mortgage shopping. Once you have an idea of your credit score range, put it into our tool to get more accurate rates.

2. Home location

Many lenders have slightly different pricing depending on what state you live in, so to get the most accurate rates using our tool, you’ll need to put in your state. If you live in a rural area, you can use our tool to get a sense of rates for your situation, but you’ll want to shop around with local lenders as well. Making a loan in a rural area can be more complicated, so large lenders may not serve that area.

3. Home price and loan amount

Your home price minus your down payment is the amount you’ll have to borrow for your mortgage loan. Typically, you’ll pay a higher interest rate on that loan if you’re taking out a particularly small or particularly large loan.

If you’ve already started shopping for homes, you may have an idea of the price range of the home you hope to buy. If you’re just getting started, real estate websites can help you get a sense of typical prices in the neighborhoods you’re interested in.

4. Down payment

In general, a higher down payment means a lower interest rate, because lenders see a lower level of risk when you have more stake in the property. So if you can put 20 percent or more down, do it—you’ll usually get a lower interest rate.

If you can’t afford 20 percent down, experiment to see how lower amounts affect your rate.

5. Loan term

The term of your loan is how long you have to repay the loan. In general, shorter term loans have lower interest rates and lower overall costs, but higher monthly payments. Learn more about your loan term, and then try out different choices with our tool to see how your term affects your rate and interest costs.

6. Interest rate type

Interest rates come in two basic types: fixed and adjustable. Fixed interest rates don’t change over time. Adjustable rates have an initial fixed period, after which they go up or down based on the market.

In general, you can get a lower initial interest rate with an adjustable-rate loan, but that rate might increase significantly later on. Learn more about interest rate types, and then use the tool to see how this choice affects interest rates.

7. Loan type

There are several broad categories of loans, known as conventional, FHA, and VA loans. Rates can be significantly different depending on what loan type you choose. You can learn more about the different loan types in our Owning a Home loan options guide.

Now you know

That’s it—know these seven factors and you’ll be well on your way to getting a great interest rate for your situation. And just remember:

  • You don’t need to have all seven of these factors decided before experimenting in our tool.
  • As you consider your budget and learn more about your options, come back often. The more you know, the more accurate the rates will be.
  • As you start talking to lenders, compare their offers to the rates in the tool to see if you are getting a good deal.

Now go forth and find a great mortgage rate!

Nearly half of mortgage borrowers don’t shop around when they buy a home

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47 percent of homebuyers do not compare lendersBuying a home is a big purchase, but it’s just that: a purchase. When it comes to spending money on our daily expenses, we have lots of options to help us find the best deal possible. Take, for example, digital gadgets. To get a good deal you can search for sales, find coupon codes, and research whether it’s less expensive to buy something from a big box retailer or on the manufacturer’s website.

We shop to find the best price for laptops or appliances, but a report of recent mortgage borrowers found that almost half of us don’t shop around for a mortgage when we buy a home.

Failing to shop for a mortgage could cost you. Consumers who consider interest rates offered by multiple lenders or brokers may see substantial differences in the rates. For example, our research showed that a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan could get rates that vary by more than half a percent. Getting an interest rate of 4.0% instead of 4.5% translates into approximately $60 savings per month. Over the first five years, you would save about $3,500 in mortgage payments. In addition, the lower interest rate means that you’d pay off an additional $1,400 in principal in the first five years, even while making lower payments.

The survey of 2013 mortgage borrowers also found that modern mortgage borrowers:

  • Often fail to shop: Almost half of borrowers seriously consider only a single lender or broker before deciding where to apply.
  • Apply to only one lender or broker: Seventy-seven percent of borrowers only end up applying with a single lender or broker, instead of filling out applications with multiple lenders or brokers to see which can offer the best deal.
  • Rely on information from people with something to sell: Lenders and brokers were the most popular source for information about mortgages, with 70 percent of mortgage borrowers reporting that they used them “a lot” as a source of information. Thirty percent of borrowers say they relied heavily on their real estate agent for mortgage information. While lenders, brokers, and real estate agents can be informative, they also have a stake in the transaction. The report found many fewer, 20 to 41 percent of borrowers, get a lot of their information from outside sources such as websites, financial and housing counselors, or friends, relatives or coworkers.
  • Shop more if they know more: Borrowers who were confident about their knowledge of available interest rates were almost twice as likely to shop as consumers who reported being unfamiliar with available interest rates.

We believe that mortgage borrowers should be shopping around. We’ve created Owning a Home, an interactive, online set of resources and tools designed to help borrowers approach the mortgage shopping process, with more information.

Owning a Home sets out to help you feel comfortable shopping in the mortgage market. These unbiased tools and resources aim to inform and empower you when you are shopping for a mortgage. The tools take you from the very start of the home buying process through to the closing table. At every step, Owning a Home provides information and questions to ask. The tools include:

  • Guide to loan options: A primer on the loans available to help you finance your home. In this resource, you’ll find information on the length or term of loans, whether a loan is fixed or adjustable, the different loan types available, including FHA and VA loans.
  • Guide to closing documents: A document that explains the important closing forms, so you know what information is on the forms, and where to find it.
  • Closing checklist: Closing is when you finalize your mortgage. You need to go into the process prepared and ready to enter into your contract. Our checklist helps you to realize what you need to do, and gets you ready for closing, one step at a time.

Our survey will continue each year, and we look forward to hearing more from borrowers to see if our Owning a Home tools change the way the modern mortgage borrower approaches the mortgage market.

Check out our report for more in-depth research on the consumer’s responses. Then check out Owning a Home to help you navigate the market, ask the questions, and take the steps that will help you find the mortgage that’s right for you.

Infographic on mortgage shopping

Consumer Advisory: 7 ways to keep medical debt in check

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Debt collection is the top complaint we’ve received since September 2013. Out of all debt types, medical collections make up 52 percent of collection accounts on credit reports, far outpacing all other types of debt.

Medical collections are so widespread, that an estimated 43 million consumers with an account in collection have medical debt. We analyzed medical collections in our latest report, to explain why medical debt is affecting so many more credit reports than any other type of debt. You can read more about how medical debt hurts your credit report.

Here are steps you can take to keep medical debt in check:

1. Review medical bills carefully

If you don’t recognize the provider, check the date of service to see if you had a medical treatment on that day. For more complicated procedures, ask for an itemized bill from the provider in order to check how much you were charged for each service. Some providers who bill you directly may have been associated with a hospital where you were treated, so you may not have known you were receiving services from them at the time you were being treated.

2. Get documentation

Prepare an organized record of all bills. If you need to dispute a bill, send a written notice to the provider and include a copy of all relevant documents, such as records from doctors’ offices or credit card statements. Do not send original documents.

3. Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has your correct insurance info

You should know what your insurance covers, and what it doesn’t – but first your insurance information needs to be up-to-date and accurate! A small mix up can lead to big bills for expenses that your insurance should have covered.

4. Act quickly to resolve or dispute the medical bills that you receive

If you have verified you owe the bill, try to resolve it right away. Verify whether an insurer is paying for all or part of a bill. If you delay the bill and let it end up in collections, it can have a significant impact on your credit score. If you don’t owe the bill, act quickly to dispute it.

5. Negotiate your bill

Hospitals may negotiate the amount of the bill with you. The tab may be reduced if you pay the whole amount up front. You can also try asking for the rate that people who have insurance get. The hospital might also offer a plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at no interest. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

6. Get financial assistance or support

Many hospitals have financial assistance programs, which may be called “charity care,” if you are unable to pay your bill. Check the deadlines, which can vary.

7. Don’t put medical bills on your credit card, if you can’t pay it

If you can’t immediately pay off a high debt on your credit card bill, you will be charged high interest, and it will look like regular debt to other creditors. Instead, ask your medical provider for a payment plan with little or no interest.

Related information about debt collection

Check out Ask CFPB to learn more about your debt collection rights and to learn about medical credit cards.

If you’re dealing with debt in general, you can consider finding a reputable credit counseling agency.

Prepaid products: New disclosures to help you compare options

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Last March, we asked you to comment on possible prepaid card disclosures. Thanks to your feedback and additional consumer testing, today we’re proposing new disclosure requirements that consumers would receive before deciding to open a prepaid account.

These new disclosure requirements are part of our larger prepaid accounts proposal to extend many federal consumer protections to prepaid products.

Currently, each prepaid card company’s retail package discloses different information in different ways. This can be confusing if you’re trying to compare costs between prepaid accounts. Below are a couple examples of the disclosures on the packaging of major prepaid cards we found in stores near our Washington headquarters in March:

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As you can see, each prepaid card varies in style, format, and content. Website disclosures have similar problems. As a result, it’s challenging for consumers to make sense of each product’s cost.

Proposed disclosures

We’re proposing to standardize these disclosures with a new requirement: that prepaid companies adopt model disclosure forms so that consumers can make better choices between prepaid options.

The disclosures would take two forms: (1) a short form that would highlight key information about the account’s fees and (2) a long form that would list all of the account’s fees.

Below is an example of the proposed short form disclosure that you would see in a retail store, which includes a link and a telephone number to access the long form disclosure on a smartphone or mobile device.

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The short form disclosure lists four types of fees in large and bold font, that we think are most important to many consumers: the monthly fee, ATM withdrawal fees, per purchase fees, and cash reload fees. The design makes it easier for consumers to identify the best prepaid account for their needs.

For consumers that aren’t shopping for a prepaid account at a retail store or by phone, we’re proposing that they receive the short and long form disclosure before getting the account.

Tell us what you think

Now, we want to hear from you! Take a look, and tell us if you think this model form does a better job of disclosing fee information compared to other forms you’ve seen on prepaid card packaging. We’re eager to get feedback from consumers, industry, advocacy organizations, and anyone else who is interested in making prepaid account disclosures better.
While you’re looking at the form, some questions to consider might be:

  • Does the short form disclosure above make it clear how much the account would cost you to use?
  • What would you like to see added or changed? Is there some way to make the information clearer?
  • Is there anything you find confusing?

We want to get your feedback so that we can consider it as we develop a final rule.

If you want to influence the design of a new prepaid card fee disclosure, let us know what you think. You can send us an email with your comments. We will update this post soon with a link to submit a formal comment on Regulations.gov.

To learn more, check out the preamble, the proposed rule, and the official interpretations.

Four things older Americans can do about debt collection problems

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If you’re an older American and you’re having trouble with debt collectors, you’re not alone. Since July 2013, older Americans have submitted approximately 8,700 complaints to us about debt collection.

We looked at these complaints and described the most common problems that consumers are experiencing in our snapshot of debt collection complaints submitted by older consumers.

People’s complaints often express grief, confusion, and frustration regarding the collection of medical debt, debt of deceased family members, and even suspicious calls from individuals who claim to be collectors.

Here’s what you or your loved ones can do when experiencing debt collection problems:

1. Get more information if you don’t recognize the debt

Older consumers report that debt collectors may have inaccurate or inadequate information, and sometimes don’t provide sufficient information to help them identify the debt. Almost one-third of the older consumers who submitted a complaint couldn’t identify the debt being collected.

First things first! Ask the debt collector for the company’s name and address. If the debt collector refuses to give you this information, you may be dealing with a fraud. If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector:

Ask the caller for his or her name, company, street address, telephone number, and professional license number.

If you have the company’s name and address but you don’t recognize the debt, ask for more information in writing. You can start by using this sample letter.

Send this letter as soon as you can — if at all possible, within 30 days of when a debt collector contacts you the first time about a debt.

2. Dispute the debt if it’s not yours or if the amount is wrong

You can write a letter disputing the debt or any portion of the debt. It’s important to do so as soon as possible after you’re first contacted, and to keep copies of any letters you send.

If you dispute a debt (or part of a debt) in writing within 30 days of when you receive the required information from the debt collector, the debt collector cannot call or contact you until after the debt collector has obtained verification of the debt and has provided the verification of the debt in writing to you. You can use this sample letter.

3. Stop harassing and/or offensive calls

Older consumers told us that debt collectors sometimes refuse to take “No” for an answer, reporting in their complaints that collectors often use offensive language and make threats. To one extreme, we’ve also heard about collectors making successive calls using profanity or derogatory names.

You don’t have to put up with it. You can send a letter to the debt collector telling it to stop contacting you. If you dispute the amount due, or you don’t believe that it’s your debt, put that in the letter, too. You can use this sample letter.

Telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not stop the collection, including the filing of a lawsuit against you or reporting negative information to a credit reporting company.

4. Know your rights: Your federal benefits have many protections from garnishment in collection

Many older consumers rely on Social Security or other federal benefits and frequently complained that debt collectors threatened them with garnishment of these benefits. Most federal benefits, such as Social Security, Veterans’ (VA) benefits, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, are protected in debt collection. There are exceptions for, among other things, money owed in child support, spousal support, federal student loans, or for federal taxes.

When you receive federal benefits by direct deposit to your checking account, your bank or credit union is required automatically to protect up to two months of these benefits that are directly deposited into your account. If you receive your benefits on a government issued prepaid card, they usually are protected too. Some exceptions may exist for debts owed to a federal or state agency.

If you’re not sure if your federal benefits are being wrongfully garnished, you should seek legal advice.

Here’s how you can find a lawyer:

Learn more about your rights when it comes to debt collection.

You can also:

  • Submit a debt collection complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372. We’ll forward your issue to the company and work to get you a response, give you a tracking number, and keep you updated on the status of your complaint.
  • Tell us your story, good or bad, about your experience with consumer financial products. We hear from many Americans every day and we’d like to hear your story.

Struggling private student loan borrowers are still searching for help

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In the years leading up to the financial crisis, many of the same subprime lending practices that led to troubles in the mortgage market also existed in the private student loan market. Like the homeowners who turned to their mortgage servicer to modify their loans but ran into customer service dead ends, lost paperwork and other breakdowns, many private student loan borrowers are looking for a clear path to stay current and avoid default.

Today we’re releasing a new report summarizing complaints from private student loan borrowers about difficulties faced when working with a lender or servicer to avoid default.

While federal student loans have a number of loan modification options to help borrowers avoid default, private student loan servicers and lenders may not make it easy for borrowers to get help in times of distress, which may have consequences for not only your financial future, but also for the broader economy.

For example, our analysis of complaints reveals that many of you tried to find out more information by calling your lender or servicer, but received conflicting or inaccurate information as you were bounced between call center staff. Many of you told us how you were provided no option at all, driving you into default, even though a reduced payment plan might be in the best interest of both you and your lender.

Request for repayment options

After listening to you and to the student loan industry, we’ve developed some advice for borrowers who want accurate information on alternative repayment plans and loan modification options, including a set of instructions that you can consider sending to your private student loan servicer (the company that sends a bill each month).

You can download the sample letter and mail it to your lender or servicer, or you can use the text below to provide instructions using the “Send a Message” or “Contact Us” feature when you log into your account on the servicer’s website.

Although some companies are willing to help borrowers during a time of financial distress, unfortunately, not all private student loan companies offer assistance when consumers are struggling to repay their loans. Using this letter may help you get a clear answer and avoid long hold times and transfers from one call center representative to another.

I am writing to you because I need to reduce my monthly private student loan payment due to a financial hardship. I am requesting a payment that allows me to meet my other necessary living expenses.

Please conduct a review of my account to determine whether I am eligible for an alternative repayment plan.

[This paragraph is optional] I believe I can afford to pay $____ per month toward my loan(s). If you require details on my monthly income and expenses, I have attached a worksheet which you can use to make an evaluation.

If you require additional authorization in order to reduce the amount of my monthly payment, please consider this letter a written request that you contact my lender or other authorized party to conduct a review of my account and provide a response within 15 days of receipt of this letter.

If you do not grant this request for a reduced payment plan, I will be at risk of default. If I receive a reduced payment plan, I may be able to avoid default, which is in the best interest of all parties.

If you determine that you are unwilling to provide a reduced payment plan, please provide the following information:

  • What available reduced payment options do you offer other than forbearance?
  • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for these repayment programs?
  • If I am not eligible for these repayment programs, when will I become eligible?
  • What steps do I need to take to qualify for these repayment programs?
  • Do you anticipate modifying these repayment programs in the future?
  • Where on your website can I find additional information on these alternative repayment programs?

In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

I hope we will be able to agree upon an acceptable repayment plan.

Thank you for your cooperation.

These instructions may help you get valuable information on repayment options to reduce your monthly payment or to temporarily postpone making payments. You can also download a sample financial worksheet that you can use to determine the maximum amount of money you can put toward student loans.

Some student loan companies have told us that they may ask for recent pay stubs or a bank statement to verify income and expenses. Consider including these documents with your request, which you can mail or send through your private student loan servicer’s website after you login.

We also have other sample letters you can send to your student loan servicer to give payment instructions or request that your co-signer be released and others you can send to a student loan debt collector.

If you’re experiencing a problem with a student loan or debt collection, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

If you have questions about repaying student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt tool to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about our work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.