It's good to shop for your mortgage before you even begin house hunting. You'll have a leg up, knowing exactly what you can afford, and you'll clearly strike sellers as a serious buyer. Don't let yourself feel intimidated by the process. Remember that lenders serve you, not the other way around. You'll be paying a lot in interest for many years, so you want to find a lender who'll serve you well and fairly.

You should not only shop for a mortgage before you shop for a house -- you should also get "pre-approved." With a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter in hand, you'll be in a stronger negotiating position when it comes time to negotiate a purchase.

A pre-qualification letter is somewhat informal. It typically costs nothing and isn't binding. It merely says that, based on what you've told the lender, they're ready to lend you the money. And it states a ballpark amount you'll be able to qualify for. Of course, they may change their mind, especially if you've misrepresented any information. There isn't much background checking done with a pre-qualification letter.

Pre-approval is a bigger deal. It means the lender has checked out your employment and salary information, your credit record, your assets, and your debts. Many lenders don't charge for pre-approvals, but some do.

And if you're thinking of buying or selling a home -- or an investment property -- spend some time in our Home Center, which features lots of money-saving tips and even some special mortgage rates.

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