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Financial Tips for Obtaining a Mortgage Loan

In January 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a new mortgage regulation, which sets forth stricter underwriting requirements for mortgage lenders. The regulation requires lenders to ensure a borrower's ability to repay a loan by taking a variety of underwriting precautions, including verifying income and assets and increasing debt-to-income ratios.

The regulation implements sections of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, and is aimed at protecting consumers by providing for a standardization of the mortgage loan underwriting process. However, some mortgage-industry experts fear there's a chance that the regulation may end up making obtaining a mortgage loan more difficult than it has been in the past. And while lenders have until January 2014 for final compliance with the regulation, some have already begun to tighten up their mortgage lending requirements. As a result, you may want to consider the following tips when applying for a mortgage loan.

Clean up your credit report
A borrower's credit history is the cornerstone to any lender's underwriting process. As a result, it's important to make sure that your credit report is in good shape before you apply for a mortgage loan. Your credit report contains information about your past and present credit transactions and is used by mortgage lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness. A positive credit history will not only make it easier to obtain a mortgage loan, but can also result in a lender offering you a lower interest rate.

You should review your credit report and check it for any inaccuracies. If necessary, you may need to take steps to improve your credit history. To establish a good track record with creditors, make sure you always pay your monthly bills on time. In addition, try to avoid having too many credit inquiries on your report, which are made every time you apply for new credit.

Improve your debt-to-income ratio In the past, lenders looked for borrowers to have a debt-to-income ratio of no greater than 36%. The new mortgage regulation suggests that borrowers have a debt-to-income ratio that is less than or equal to 43%. That means you should be spending no more than 43% of your gross monthly income on longer-term debt payments. If you find that your debt-to-income ratio is too high, there are a couple of steps you can take to lower it.

Your first step should be to look at your long-term debt payments. These include student loans, credit cards, and car payments--any loans that won't be repaid within a year. Try to make it a priority to pay down your long-term debts as quickly as possible. This may require you to review your budget and make adjustments. If you are having trouble coming up with the extra money, take a look at your discretionary spending. By cutting back on discretionary expenses (e.g., going out to eat or to the movies), you may be surprised at how quickly you can free up money to put towards paying down your debt.

Another way to improve your debt-to-income ratio is to increase your income. Perhaps you can earn extra income by taking a second job or performing part-time consulting work in your chosen profession or field of expertise. If you are married and either you or your spouse is currently not working, you or your spouse may want to consider the possibility of reentering the workforce.

Increase the size of your down payment
While it is possible to obtain a mortgage with a minimal down payment--for example, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages require down payments of as little as 3.5% of the home's purchase price--a larger down payment will usually assure you a more attractive mortgage loan. In addition to requiring private mortgage insurance (PMI), lenders generally offer lower loan limits and higher interest rates to borrowers who have a down payment of less than 20% of a home's purchase price.

If you find that you don't have enough for a down payment, you may want to consider holding off on purchasing a home to give you time to increase your down payment fund. In the meantime, you can invest your down payment in a low-risk, interest-bearing account such as a money market deposit account.

Or, consider looking into alternative ways to fund your down payment, such as:
• Converting/liquidating assets to cash.
• Using gifts.
• Borrowing from a cash value life insurance policy or employer-sponsored retirement plan. (Keep in mind, however, that if you take a loan against your cash value, the death benefit available to your survivors will be reduced by the amount of the loan. In addition, policy loans may reduce available cash value and can cause your policy to lapse. Finally, you could face tax consequences if you surrender the policy with an outstanding loan against it.)

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