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Mortgage Info You Can Actually Understand!

This is a great time to Refinance Your Home or Buy a New Home -- the Mortgage Rates are so low, these days! It's always worth a shot to find out what the costs of switching over to a new mortgage would be, to see if that's the right move for you.

Whether you are building your own house, buying a new property, gathering funds to do a renovation project, or Refinancing your current Mortgage at a much Lower Rate, you'll be looking for Funding -- Money, Money & More Money! Here are some commonly asked questions regarding funding for a Mortgage or a Home Improvement Loan.

Where should I go first to get a Mortgage?

You can go to the Loans Department of your regular bank, or you can go directly to a Mortgage Broker. (Click on the Mortgage Company Ads on to see if that's the easiest way for you to get the money you need... At the very least, it'll tell you how much you're qualified for, and the on-line Lenders have Rates the Banks have a hard time competing with. It's all about Saving Money, so check into it all, first -- it's a big financial decision! You can always take your information you've gotten On-line to the Bank -- if they can't or won't match it, there's your decision right there! ha,ha!).

Keep in mind that it is generally easier to work with a Broker, since they have the ability to be a lot more flexible than a conventional bank. Also, their rates will often be considerably lower than what the banks are offering, too, so shop around - this could save you a fair bit of money. Brokers can often get a mortgage for clients that a bank won't even touch, and they'll do it at your convenience, for the most part, so you can have a more relaxed meeting with them.

What questions will a Broker ask somebody who's looking for a Mortgage?

There are three main things you will be required to provide:

i.Verification of Income

ii.How much and where the Down Payment is coming from

iii.Personal information for Credit Checks (Birthday, Social Security Number, Address, Job Letters, Pay Stubs, 3 years worth of Tax Returns, 3 months worth of Bank Statements, any current Retirement Savings Funds?)

Your Banker or Broker will want to confirm your ability to qualify by doing a GDS Ratio (Gross Debt Ratio) and a TDS Ratio (Total Debt Ratio).

A Gross Debt Ratio is determined by taking the Mortgage Payment, the Property Taxes, and a Heat Component (really hot areas will be exempt from this, I'm guessing!), which is usually around $50.00. These numbers are added together. That number is multiplied by 12, then divided by your Gross Income Amount. This number can't exceed 32% of your Gross Income. Some banks &/or brokers may have different criteria, but this is a commonly used method to see if a client can qualify for a mortgage.

The Total Debt Ratio takes the above information (the GDS Ratio) along with all other debts and payments (whatever else you have to pay per month - credit cards, support payments, etc.) to make sure that the Grand Total of all of your payments, including the new mortgage and taxes, won't exceed 40% of your Gross Income.

N.B. Don't get too hung up on the math - that's the job of the banker or broker. This is just info to give you a good understanding of how they get their numbers.

What if someone has a job that is technically referred to as "Part-time", but they make a "Full-time" wage. Can they qualify for a Mortgage?

You can apply through a Mortgage Broker (probably your best bet) to see how much your Gross Income will allow you to qualify for. It is particularly beneficial if you have a solid work history (have been at the job for a few years, or more). A Broker will know how to present the documentation to help you get a mortgage. This is particularly important, now, since so many companies and Government Services hire 'Part-time' or 'Contract' employees. These can be career positions, and you can be there for fifteen years, and still be flatly turned down by the regular banks. Don't give up on your dream to own your own home because you're in a situation like this - call a Mortgage Broker, and give it a shot. If that still doesn't work, try another one. What's the harm? At the very least, you can get an honest answer of what you need to do in order to become qualified. Either way, you'll be that much closer to owning your own place, and that's the goal!

Is there an easy way to calculate a Mortgage?

There's a formula that I use that is relatively accurate, give or take a hundred dollars, or so. At the very least, you'll get a ballpark idea of your monthly payment (not including the Tax portion), and whether you can qualify for that amount. Remember that when you're qualifying for Mortgage money, if you're even $80.00 over what they think you can pay, you won't get the mortgage. It's best to Pre-Qualify for a mortgage, and ask how much you will qualify for before you go house-hunting. Keep in mind that as the Interest Rates get lower, the more you'll be able to qualify for. Don't go crazy, though, since all the costs go up as you increase in house size, and the monthly operating costs might end up being higher than you thought, then you've got a big house and a crappy lifestyle. Stay within your means; stay happy and comfortable.

The Formula - remember, it's a ballpark number?

On a 25 year Term, you would take the Percentage Rate (say, 5%) and multiply that out by the number of thousand (say, $100,000.), which would give you a mortgage payment of about $500./month (5 X 100 = $500.), plus Taxes. So if you've found a house for $165,000.00, and the rate is 5%, (based on a 25 yr. Term), the payment would be around $825.00, plus taxes, per month. (5 X 165 = 825)

We use this formula all the time - it's functional to see if you can even come close to being able to afford a particular property. If you always find yourself looking at the properties worth $300,000., when you can actually afford a $75,000. property, do the math, figure out what you can really buy, and get that. It's better to buy something already in your range, save your money, wait until your place has gained in equity, then make the move up. Have your Broker or Banker let you know how much you can spend, and have that up-dated every year, or so, depending on how long it takes you to find a place to purchase, especially when the rates are fluctuating so much. Also, your Broker will tell you the exact payment.

Can I qualify for a Mortgage based on the lowest rates out there?

Different Lending Institutions will have different rules, but you will generally have to qualify under their 3 Year Rate, which will be higher than the lowest rates available. Some institutions will use the 5 Year Rate (primarily regular banks).

What's the difference between an Open and a Variable Rate Mortgage?

An Open Mortgage is one that can be paid out at any time, but you will pay a higher Rate for this privilege. This is a good choice if you're not sure how long you'll be staying in the home. You'll save on the possible Penalty Payments you would have to pay if you had a Fixed Rate Mortgage, and had to move before the pre-chosen Time Period had elapsed.

A Variable Rate Mortgage (my favorite!) is not fully Open, but it can easily be converted into an Open Mortgage, so you would still save on any potential Penalty Payments. With this Mortgage, you'll usually get better than Prime Rates, and the flexibility to move if something better comes along?! The other thing I really like about this one is that you can usually make payments directly on the Principle, which will reduce your mortgage faster than almost any other method. Your monthly mortgage payment will be as low as possible, so with the extra money that you might have kicking around, put it in a Savings Account, then make the payments annually (or more - ask you Broker how often and when you can pay off the Principle).

One thing about this type of Mortgage that might seem off-putting, initially, is the fact that the interest rates actually fluctuate within the mortgage. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the rates go down after you've established the mortgage. The important thing to remember is that the amount you pay per month will always be the same - the only thing that changes is the amount that will come off the Principle. If interest rates start to rise, make an extra effort to set aside some money to pay directly to the Principle.

My biggest Financial Pet Peeve is the whole notion of making two payments per month (or Bi-Weekly Payments) that are really high in an effort to pay off the Mortgage faster (usually a 15 year term). This drives me crazy, since it often puts a lot of unnecessary financial pressure on a family. That's a lot of money to come up with in a month, and if disaster strikes, they'll be in serious trouble very quickly. I always think that it's better to establish the lowest possible monthly expenditures, then if you still have a big wad of cash left over, great - put that toward the mortgage. Using the Variable Rate Mortgage will give you the lowest mortgage payment.

Here's a quick example: If you have a mortgage of $100,000. @ 5% (using a 25 Year Term), using the Variable Rate Mortgage, your monthly payment would be about $500/month, plus taxes. If you have the same mortgage in a Fixed Rate Mortgage (also a 25 year term), @ 6%--remember that the Variable Rate is lower - the monthly amount would be about $650, plus taxes. (Note that a Fixed Rate Mortgage is calculated differently from a Variable Rate Mortgage) If you were to sign up for the two-payment a month plan, that's $1300/month. The spread ($500/month to $1300/month) is $800. Multiplied out by a year is $9,600 - that would be a huge Lump Sum Payment directly on your Principle.

Keep in mind that only a tiny amount of your regular monthly mortgage payment goes toward the Principle in a new mortgage - have a good look at your Statement, the next time it comes in. Even if you were to put half that amount on the Principle, you would still be making a major dint in it. And your financial life won't be so stressful, which will make the rest of your life much nicer, too, since financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce, but that's a whole other story?

What's a Fixed Rate Mortgage?

A Fixed Rate Mortgage is a mortgage that will have the same rate for the amount of years you have chosen to lock in at. Typically, there are 1 Year, 2 Year, 3 Year, 5 Year, 10 Year, 15 Year, and 25 Year time periods. If you choose to move before the time period is up, you will be required to pay a Pay Out Penalty, so keep that in mind if you're not completely sure how long you'll be there.

What's the best way to get money for a Home Renovation Project?

Check first with the Financial Institution that's carrying your Regular Mortgage. They may be able to provide the money you need to renovate. You could borrow on your Equity (the spread between how much you owe for the property and its current appraisal rate) in the form of a Home Improvement Loan or a Home Equity Loan. Keep in mind that you can use a Home Equity Loan for other stuff, as well. Your bank should be able to offer you a Blended Rate, and should waive the Pay Out Penalties. If they won't offer that, or give you any loan, call a Broker, and see what they can do. They're not miracle workers, but they can often help when the regular route won't come through for you.

The easiest way these days is to check out companies on the Internet. You'll get your response a lot faster, and probably get a better rate, too! I'll find some for you and post them here!

The bank wants to do an Appraisal on my house before they'll give me a Home Improvement Loan. Is that standard?

Yes. (You'll need this for the Home Equity Loan, too.) The financial institution needs to know the current value of your home to make sure that their backs are covered. Makes sense. You will probably have to get a 'Before and After Appraisal', quotes from the respective contractors to show proof of renovation, and a description of the type of renovations you're planning. It's much easier to borrow against the Equity, so try this route, first. Talk to your Lender before you get too involved to see what you can actually get, and when. If you have to pay for the whole job out of your own pocket first (as is often the case, which is craaaazy, since if you had the cash just sitting there, you wouldn't be at the bank, anyway?.ah, the joy of financing!), make sure that you find a source for material that will provide a payment plan (many home improvement stores will do this), and a contractor who doesn't mind being paid at the end of the job when you're money comes in.

N.B. Just a little aside - I've seen some 'warnings' out there that you should nevah', evah' pay your contractor up front or in the middle of a job, or only pay them when you are 'completely satisfied'. Please. There are some people who are never satisfied with anything, even if they get exactly what they requested. This is such complete crap. You would never work for an employer for a year, then at the end of that year, he would sit back and decide whether he should pay you. That's crazy. Be smart about it, though. Get everything in writing, both of you agree to it, then sign the quote. You will often be required to pay for materials up-front, since the contractor doesn't know you anymore than you know him?Generally, you will make payments as the work progresses, which is easier than getting one big bill at the end, but if you have extenuating circumstances (like the bank won't give you the money until the end of the project), then tell your contractor that at the beginning. All projects work more smoothly when there's open and complete communication.

How do you get a Builder's Loan?

Apply for a Builder's Loan the same way you would apply for a regular mortgage. If you are a new Builder, you may require a 'New Home Warranty' on the property. That's pretty difficult, if it's your first house, so you may be calling a Broker right away! They're usually more flexible in getting you the capital you'll need to bring the house to fruition, but if you already have a good relationship with your banker, give them a crack at it. This might be easier in a rural area, where it is more common for people to build on their own, so the financial institution will already know how to manage this scenario.

When will we get our money?

The money is separated into 3 or 4 sections, or 'Draws'. Generally, you will get the funding in Three Stages:


ii.Lock Up


Can we get money to get to the Sub-floor Stage?

This is where careful and creative financing comes in? hopefully, you'll have that swack of cash in the bank (at least twenty thousand), and a fair bit of equity in your home. You'll probably need to sell your current property before you start building your new house, so you can use the equity spread from that sale to get the new house started. If your land is already paid for, you'll find this stage easier. Some Developers will allow a new builder to put 5% down on the land, then they can pay the balance when the mortgage money comes in. This is relatively rare, so if you find this deal and like the location, go for it.

Talk to your Excavator, Foundation Contractor and Framer to see if you can make partial payments until the First Draw comes through. They're in the business, so they'll understand your situation. A lot will depend on how busy they are and the relationship you establish with them. Some Suppliers (lumber, ICF Blocks, etc.) may have a payment schedule, too, so it doesn't hurt to ask if you need to.

A Personal Line of Credit from the bank, along with your regular credit cards (again, if you have an Air Miles credit card, now is the time to use it -- you'll really rack up the points, then you can take a well deserved trip at the end of your house-building adventure!), personal loans, etc. will all come into play, now. You might want to make sure you have an alternate source of funds for a 'just in case' scenario. It's best to plan out all the possibilities before you get started so that nothing will catch you off-guard.

What kind of Appraisals will the Bank do?

First, the Appraiser will inspect the Land, the House Plans, and your Proposed Budget. The amount of money provided for the Builder's Loan will be based on the Cost to Complete the house, not including the value of the land. The Land will be included with the final appraisal for the Completion Mortgage (Take Out Mortgage).

The Appraiser will come out to your property to do Progress Inspections at the Three Stages - Sub-floor, Lock-up and Completion. You should anticipate a one to two week waiting period for the Draw Money to come through. During that time, the bank will most likely have a lawyer check the Title each time.

It's an involved process, but it does work, so stick with it and figure it out! Remember that if one institution can't get you the money, try a Broker or two?eventually, it'll all work out!

One more thing -- What is Escrow??? I know, you hear that all the time! It's that seemingly very long period that your Lawyer holds onto your money while all the conditions are met on the House Deal. Make sure you ask your Lawyer for a good idea of the time-frame you might expect, and be sure not to leave yourself too tight (moneywise!) during this annoyink period!

Just so you know, a Real Estate Lawyer will be very pleasant to deal with ... they don't seem to deal with a lot of animosity, like many other types of Lawyers, and that probably accounts for their serene expressions! ha,ha,ha! They're there to help you get into or out of your home, so don't worry -- it won't hurt a bit!

Ailsa Forshaw is a Writer, Builder, Website Owner & Manager, Teacher, Mother... all in Alberta, Canada. She is Married with Two Lovely Children, and one gorgeous wee dog. Her Website,, is chock full of all sorts of useful & fun information to help anyone become Financially Successful, Slim, Trim, and Happy... what more could you want?? Pop in for a wee visit!


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