What is a mortgage?
A mortgage is an agreement between you and a lender that gives the lender the right to take your property if you fail to repay the money you've borrowed plus interest.
Mortgage loans are used to buy a home or to borrow money against the value of a home you already own.
Seven things to look for in a mortgage
- The size of the loan
- The interest rate and any associated points
- The closing costs of the loan, including the lender's fees
- The Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
- The type of interest rate and whether it can change (is it fixed or adjustable?)
- The loan term, or how long you have to repay the loan
- Whether the loan has other risky features, such as a pre-payment penalty, a balloon clause, an interest-only feature, or negative amortization
Focus on a mortgage that is affordable for you given your other priorities, not on how much you qualify for.
Lenders will tell you how much you are qualified to borrow - that is, how much they are willing to lend you. Several online calculators will compare your income and debts and come up with similar answers. But how much you could borrow is very different from how much you can afford to repay without stretching your budget for other important items too thin. Lenders do not take into account all your family and financial circumstances. To know how much you can afford to repay, you'll need to take a hard look at your family's income, expenses and savings priorities to see what fits comfortably within your budget.
Don't forget other costs when coming up with your ideal payment.
Costs such as homeowner's insurance, property taxes, and private mortgage insurance are typically added to your monthly mortgage payment, so be sure to include these costs when calculating how much you can afford. You can get estimates from your local tax assessor, insurance agent and lender. Knowing how much you can comfortably pay each month will also help you estimate a reasonable price range for your new home.
Take the next step
Buying a House
We've built tools to help you understand the mortgage process and compare options.