(BPT) – It's rare to get something right the very first time you try it, but when it comes to buying your first home, a lack of knowledge and experience can lead to costly mistakes. One in four first time homebuyers say they are completely unfamiliar with the mortgage financing process, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even among those with an understanding of the overall process, the report found that many first time homebuyers still had significant knowledge gaps in important areas such as available mortgage rates, closing costs, down-payment requirements and income required to qualify for a loan.
"Not having all the information available could lead to consumers paying a higher interest rate or failing to secure an affordable mortgage for the home they want," says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. "While most first-time homebuyers understand the importance of their credit report score in securing a mortgage, it's important they arm themselves with comprehensive knowledge. Fortunately, there's plenty of useful information out there for borrowers who want to do their homework before diving into the loan process."
Here are eight tips for first-time homebuyers:
1. Adjust your budget. A mortgage payment can increase your monthly housing expenses, so prepare by calculating what that amount will be and begin saving that same amount every month so you can get used to the budget change in advance. Use a free online payment calculator to help you predict your payment and understand your current debt-to-income ratio.
2. Plan for a down payment. Nearly all home loans will require you to put some money down as a down payment. Some home loans may require as much as 20 percent of the purchase cost as a down payment, although some Federal Housing Administration loans may require less. Decide on the amount you think you'll need and create a savings plan to help you reach that goal.
3. Consider the location and type of home you want to buy. Many factors influence the cost of a home, including its location, size, style and more. A larger home in a high-income area will generally cost more, and property taxes will be higher on a bigger, newer, well-located home. Many first-time homebuyers find manufactured or mobile homes are a good option. Knowing the estimated cost of the type of home you want to purchase can help you better manage your budget.
4. Stay on top of your credit. Lenders will consider your credit score and report history when determining your mortgage eligibility and the interest rate they may offer you. Make sure to review your credit report in advance. If you're planning to apply for a mortgage, it's a good idea to review your report more frequently and to consider paying to obtain your credit score from at least one major bureau. If your report contains errors, work with the credit bureaus to have them corrected before you apply for a mortgage.
5. Keep current on monthly bills. While it's important to save toward a down payment, don't let monthly bills slide. Paying your bills on time every month can help increase your credit score, and a good payment history is something lenders look for when reviewing your credit report. Use online tools like email reminders and automatic payment options to help ensure you never miss or make a late payment.
6. Work on your debt. If you have delinquent balances, bring them up to date as quickly as possible. If you carry a lot of revolving credit card debt, you may want to work to reduce it by paying more than the monthly minimum payment. While it helps to have a report that shows no late payments, the most important thing is to not have any delinquent balances before you apply for a mortgage.
7. Plan for escrow. In addition to the amount you will need each month toward repaying your mortgage, you'll need escrow – an amount added to and collected with each monthly mortgage payment that is applied toward annual homeowners' insurance premiums and/or taxes. Estimating taxes and total insurance costs can help you better understand how much your escrow will be each month, and you'll be able to budget more accurately as you prepare for home ownership. Don't forget that this amount may adjust every twelve months if your insurance premium or taxes change for the next year.
8. Take advantage of educational resources. From lenders' websites to government agencies, it's easy to find plenty of information online. Check out resources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration.