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A loan estimate is one of the most important documents you will be given during the home-buying process. This simple form tells you everything about a mortgage you are considering and allows you to shop around to make sure you land the best deal possible. Lenders are legally required to give you a loan estimate when you apply for a loan.
A loan estimate is a three-page document that spells out the details of a home loan. It includes the total amount you will pay, including interest, fees, and more. Getting a loan estimate can help you compare mortgage lenders and find the best rates.
Lenders are required by law to provide you with a loan estimate before you commit to a mortgage.
A loan estimate includes the home loan's interest rate, term, and type. It also lists any closing costs and the total cost of the loan.
Comparing one estimate to another can be tricky. Here are a few things to pay attention to when comparing estimates.
Mortgage rates change often. You can only accurately compare one estimate to another if you know when they were written. Even if your estimates are only one week apart, they may have different rates because of market changes -- not because of lender differences.
Loan term refers to how long you have to repay the loan. Common terms are 30 years or 15 years. Longer loans often come with higher interest rates. When you're comparing interest rates between lenders, look at the loan term. If one interest rate is lower than the other, check to make sure they were written for the same loan term. Check the rates on a 15-year mortgage here.
Underneath the loan term, you'll find the loan purpose and the loan product. An example of a loan product is a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage. Make sure the lender's product matches your expectations. If you're looking at loan estimates from two or more lenders, make sure they all refer to the same loan product.
There are three primary loan types: conventional, VA, and FHA. The type of loan you are being quoted will be marked. They should be the same on any estimates you compare.
Grouped with the other information about your loan, you'll find a spot where a lender can mark "Yes" or "No" as to whether the offer is locked in place. If so, it will provide a date and time the offer will expire. You will often be charged for a rate lock -- make sure you know how long it will be frozen for.
In the middle of the first page is the "projected payment," including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. Focus on principal and interest because they best represent a lender's offer. However, take all costs, including taxes and insurance, into account as you determine whether you can afford the full monthly payment.
This section tells you if the lender charges a prepayment penalty for paying a loan off early. If so, it must tell you how much that penalty will be. If you move often, or you don't expect to be in your new home for long, pay attention to this detail. Carefully consider whether you are willing to pay a prepayment penalty. Not all lenders will require one.
One entire page is dedicated to closing costs. Everything -- from the appraisal fee to title search -- is listed here. It will also tell you which costs are necessary and which are optional (if any). Look for lenders with lower required closing costs. Other than the interest rate, this may be where you see the greatest difference between lenders.
On the final page of the loan estimate form, you will find "Comparisons," a section that allows you to easily compare one loan with another. This section shows you how much you will have paid after five years in several categories, such as principal, interest, and taxes. It gives you the annual percentage rate (APR), which is the real cost of the loan, including fees. Finally, it indicates what percentage of your total loan amount you will pay in interest by the time the loan is paid in full.
Lenders are not allowed to change some of the figures in the loan estimate, nor are they allowed to deliberately underestimate your costs. However, parts of the loan estimate can change, based on rising or falling interest rates, certain closing costs, the appraisal value of your property, and the amount of taxes and insurance the lender estimates you will owe.
It is important to note that a loan estimate is not a commitment by a lender to offer you a mortgage. It simply outlines the terms it expects to offer you if you move forward with the loan. Once you decide to work with a lender, a full credit check will be run. Terms can change based upon new information that arises. Be sure to watch out for any revisions to your loan estimate. Check to make sure it is still accurate before you commit to a mortgage.
When you submit a loan application, lenders have three days to give you a mortgage loan estimate. You will need to give the lender some details, including:
You're permitted to provide more information, although mortgage lenders can't require it. The more details you provide about your financial situation -- and the type of mortgage you're interested in -- the more accurate your estimate will be.
Start requesting loan estimates from lenders after you've found a home you'd like to purchase.
You should have the following information ready when requesting a loan estimate:
Yes -- in fact, it's very important to get multiple loan estimates. The value of this document is the way it allows you to compare one mortgage to another and determine which one is right for you. The more effort you put into shopping for a mortgage, the better your odds of finding one that suits your needs and saves you money.
Your loan estimate will be based, in part, on your credit history. In order to offer you an accurate estimate, lenders pull a copy of your credit report. This inquiry drops your credit score by a small amount but is a necessary step when purchasing a home. Fortunately, home buyers are expected to rate shop, and credit reports pulled by multiple mortgage lenders within a 45-day window are recorded as a single inquiry. When you are requesting loan estimates, make sure you request all estimates within a short period of time to minimize the impact to your credit score.
Loan estimates are typically divided into different sections. Here's how to read each one.
The document begins with the date it was issued, the applicants, the property address, the sale price, and the type of loan as well as the purpose. Watch out for:
This details the loan amount, interest rate, monthly payment, and whether the loan has a prepayment penalty or balloon payment. Focus on:
This section breaks down your total monthly payment, including:
The form breaks out projected payments during the first few years and the remainder of your loan. Watch out for changes. Ideally, costs will remain consistent over time. If you pay private mortgage insurance, your payment may go down when you've paid enough of your loan to drop it.
You must pay fees to close on a loan. This section will detail the total amount of fees; as well as the full amount of money you must pay to close on your loan. Pay attention to:
The next page of your form goes into greater detail about closing costs. You should see a breakdown of all the charges you'll have to pay to close. The form will also explain how the total amount of cash to bring to closing was calculated. The loan estimate breaks closing costs down into:
Watch to make sure that the fees are reasonable for each of the services you can't shop for. And see if the down payment amount is correct and the amount is within your budget.
If you want to quickly compare borrowing costs, this section provides the details you need to shop for an affordable lender. This includes:
When you review your loan estimate, the most important things to look for include:
If you want to uncover more about the best mortgage lenders for low rates and fees, our experts have created a shortlist of the top mortgage companies. Some of our experts have even used these lenders themselves to cut their costs.
Getting prequalified for your mortgage is important, but it's based on you as a borrower, without a specific house in mind. The loan estimate also includes more specific information based on the house, like estimated taxes and insurance.
A mortgage prequalification or pre-approval letter is useful not just for informing you about the cost of a loan, but as a negotiating tool when you find a home you're interested in purchasing. It shows a home seller you're serious about buying their house, you've done your homework, and you're ready to move to the next step.
If you know that the loans you're shopping for are identical in all ways (ie. amount, term, type), and are trying to not get too overwhelmed, focus on the "Comparisons" section of your loan estimate. This will show you how much money you'll spend to have each loan, which is a very easy and quick way to compare the costs head to head.
Another important section to focus on is the box labeled "Calculating Cash to Close" because this will tell you how much your closing costs will be. If there are wild disparities between these figures across loan estimates, it's important to understand why and what's making that number change.
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