One of the simplest ways for a first-time homebuyer to obtain a mortgage is with a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
The FHA doesn’t make loans, but it insures them for lenders. This makes lenders much more willing to offer a mortgage, because if the borrower defaults, the FHA will be on the hook.
FHA loans often require a down payment of as little as 3.5 percent, and can be obtained in many cases by people who have iffy credit or who have a bankruptcy or foreclosure in their past.
The catch is that borrowers have to pay mortgage insurance. Actually, they usually have to pay two types of insurance – an upfront payment of 1.75 percent of the loan amount (which can be rolled into the loan), and a monthly payment that depends on the length of the loan and the amount of the down payment, but can be as much as 1.35 percent annually.
Recently, though, the FHA announced a plan to reduce the insurance rates for first-time homebuyers who agree to participate in financial and credit counseling. The program is called “Homeowners Armed With Knowledge,” or HAWK.
First-time buyers must complete six hours of counseling at least 10 days before signing a sales agreement, and another hour of counseling at least three days before closing. In return, they’ll get a .5 percent reduction in the upfront payment and a .1 percent reduction in their monthly payments.
Owners who complete another hour of counseling in the first year of ownership and don’t fall behind in their payments for two years can get an additional .15 percent monthly payment reduction.
The FHA says that educated borrowers are 30% less likely to run into trouble with a mortgage, so it expects the counseling program to lead to cost savings in the long run.