The process of finding a new home or refinancing a mortgage can be complex without a deep understanding of what's at stake. That's why it's crucial to think through and answer a few important questions before signing on the dotted line.
With that in mind, Motley Fool analysts Kristine Harjes and Nathan Hamilton discuss in the following video three questions new homebuyers and refinancers alike should ask themselves before getting started. Uncovering more information about your FICO score, how long you plan to stay in your home, and mortgage preapproval could help set you on the path to eventual homeowner bliss. Tune in to learn more.
Kristine Harjes: So we've been talking today a bunch about mortgages. Say I am there. I am ready to get my mortgage. What do I need to ask myself to make absolutely sure?
Hamilton: Yes, pump the brakes. Ask yourself a few questions to make sure you're making a good financial decision.
No. 1 is, "What is my credit score?" Ultimately that should be something you'll ask yourself before sitting at the table and discussing mortgages with a lender, but you want to know where your credit score sits, because it determines what sort of mortgage you can qualify for.
There are FHA mortgages which are government sponsored [and] government backed, where you only need about a 580 credit score. [That's] a fairly low credit score, but to get, say, a mortgage through a bank where you can get lower interest rates, you have to have a credit score at least in the high 600s. Anything above that is just going to improve your rate as you go on.
Harjes: And so how do you find out the answer to that question?
Hamilton: So there are a number of ways to do it. Some credit cards offer free credit scores. You can pay through myFICO.com to have your credit score history tracked and monitored. There are also some other apps out there like Credit Karma, and so forth, that will provide you access to a non-FICO credit score, but it does give you some sort of directionality in terms of where your credit score is moving.
Harjes: Great. So once I've found out what my credit score is, what's the next question I should ask?
Hamilton: Do some thinking on how long you want to live at your house. Ultimately, when you're buying a house, it is a longer-term sort of investment. I don't know many people that buy a house to live in it for one year, but it something to address because it helps determine, at the onset if, say, buying discount points, which is a fee you pay to reduce the interest rate on your mortgage, makes sense. And if you're living in your home, a general rule of thumb is if you're going [to live there] beyond five years, buying discount points can make sense.
So ask yourself that question. "Am I staying there longer than five years?" If so, I could buy discount points to save myself some money.
Harjes: And even more fundamentally, this is a question of renting versus buying.
Hamilton: It is.
Harjes: If you don't plan on staying there that long, you don't want to burden yourself with all of the closing costs, and even just the time that it takes to make sure that you're doing this whole process thoroughly.
Hamilton: Yeah, you've got to line up a lot of different documents. You've got to shop for a house. The real estate closing. All this stuff just takes time, so it definitely makes sense to ask yourself, "Am I going to be here for five to 10 years plus?"
Harjes: So we know how long we want to live at the house, and we secured our credit score. What is the third question that we should ask?
Hamilton: So this is probably the one that you should ask closest to when you're looking to buy your house: "Should I get pre-approved?" And the answer in almost every scenario is yes. A pre-approval essentially shows the seller of the house -- that you may be looking at [and] you've got your eye on -- that you're serious about the offer you're making [and] that you have financing lined up. It helps in the turnaround process. And if you look across a number of markets in the U.S., these are pretty much buyer's markets, where cash offers are coming in sometimes above the listing price of the home. You have to make sure you've got the financing lined up so there's a quick turnaround. It's really, in my opinion, a no-brainer.
Harjes: All right, Fools. If you've gone through questions one, two, and three and you're thinking about getting a mortgage, check out fool.com/mortgages, where you can get a link to get that pre-approval. Or you can download our guide, "5 Tips to Increase Your Credit Score Over 800."