Archive for March, 2010

What Can I Afford?

March 31, 2010

So you have decided that now is the time for you to buy a house.  Perhaps you’ve done some research on what area of town you would like to live, how many bedrooms you’d like, style of home, and other items that are essentials or mere wishes.  But have determined what you can afford?  If you have a monthly payment in mind, is this realistic for your budget?  How do you even determine this?

Calculating this mystical figure is really a simple mathematical equation – no smoke and mirrors.  Let’s start from the lender’s perspective.  They are looking at the percentage of income that your existing debt and future home loan will consume.  The idea is to make sure your new home loan payments do not overwhelm your monthly budget. 

Using industry averages, start by taking your total monthly income and multiplying by 38% (.38).  The answer represents the ideal amount of your new mortgage payment and total debts.  (Debts include installment loans like car payments and revolving debt like credit cards.) 

For example;  If you earn $42,000 a year, your monthly income is $3,500.  ($42,000/12 months = $3,500)

$3,500 x .38 = $1,330

$1,330 is the combined total of current monthly debt and projected house payment.

Take this number ($1,330 in this example) and subtract your total debt.  The answer is the targeted maximum amount of your new home loan payment.  Keep in mind this number reflects the principal payment, interest payment, taxes and home owners insurance.  If you are not using an escrow account for your taxes and insurance, this targeted amount should be lower.

Here’s another way to look at this.  Let’s calculate just a total monthly payment by taking your total monthly income and multiply by 28% (.28).  This again is an industry average where a range of 25 – 30% is the target. 

Using the same numbers as the example above; $3,500 x .28 = $980.  Again this answer represents a principal payment, interest payment, taxes and home owners insurance.

How about another perspective?  What you qualify for, may not represent what you can realistically afford.  Does either of these amounts you just calculated seem realistic for your budget and comfort level?  Depending on your approach to personal finances, this may seem high.  If you currently have a high debt load, this amount may be surprisingly low.  Nothing could be worse than to have the joy of new home squashed by discovering you are now “home rich” but “cash poor”.  

Qualifying amounts should be used as guidelines and not absolute rules.  Consider other factors that contribute to your monthly budget.  How many kids do you have?  Will any of them need braces, require extra medical care or want to go to college someday?  Do you like to travel, try new restaurants or attend sporting events?  Are you adventurous and want to get the “project” home that becomes truly your own? 

When considering what home to buy, also consider that you are committing to a loan that extends over a lengthy period of time.  Thirty (even fifteen) years are a large portion of your life, during which “life” is going to happen.  Be prepared for those occurrences by not over extending yourself with a mortgage payment that keeps you awake at night.

Our intent is to provide some guidance in helping you determine what monthly payment you can undertake based on your particular budget and needs.  If you would like to take this a step further to determine how much house you can afford with these payments, give us a call.  Our business is based on working for you and your long-term goals.  We also have a number of different calculator options on our website to help you make informed decisions when purchasing or refinancing your home.

Common Homeowner Tax Deductions

March 23, 2010

Owning a home is the American dream and a source of tremendous pride for you and your family.  Another advantage to buying real estate is the ability to shelter a portion of your income from federal taxes.  Following are some of the more common deductions available to home owners.  Along with some basic information on each are links (bold type) to the IRS website where detailed information can be found.    

As always, consult with the IRS or your tax professional for current guidelines and qualifying criteria on tax related matters.  For information about a home loan to meet your needs and goals, contact one of our licensed Loan Officers.

Mortgage Credit Certificate Program  –  The MCC program is a Federal tax credit of up to 20% of the interest you pay on your home loan over a calendar year, and is available in select states.  While this does not reduce your monthly payment, it is a dollar for dollar reduction in the amount of your Federal income tax liability.  In effect, you are lowering your home loan interest rate by a full percent.  The MCC program will remain in effect for as long as your home remains your primary residence and the original home loan remains in place.  Awareness Home Funding is a lender that does help our clients with this program.    

Home Buyer’s Tax Credit  –  Home buyers may be eligible for a tax credit of 10% of the purchase price of their newly acquired home.  First-time buyers may be able to claim up to $8,000; existing home owners may qualify for up to $6,500.  We have provided some information on this program in two separate articles (No Time Like the Present and The Other Side of the Coin).

Mortgage interest  –  Interest, in general, is defined as an amount paid for the use of borrowed money.  In order to deduct interest on your home mortgage loan, you must be legally liable for the debt that is secured by your main or secondary home.  This amount is generally reported to you on Form 1098 by the lender you have made payments to.  This form should also detail any prepaid interest you have paid.   

Points or Discount Points  –  Points refer to specific charges you may pay in order to obtain a lower interest rate for your home mortgage loan.  Fees associated with preparation costs, appraisals, inspections or notaries do not typically qualify as points.   

Mortgage insurance premiums  –  These expenses are paid to allow a buyer to pay a lower down payment than the 20-25% requirement of a Conventional loan and also protect the lender in the unfortunate event of default on the loan.  Qualifying mortgage insurance may be provided by:

  • The Federal Housing Administration in both an upfront and annual fee.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs as a one time funding fee
  • The Rural Housing Service as a one time guarantee fee

The amount which can be deducted is reported on Form 1098 by the lender you have made payments to.   

Real estate taxes  –  These are taxes charged on real property based on taxable value.  The IRS highlights what specific taxes associated with your property are deductible.  

Home offices  –  If you use a portion of your home for business purposes, you may be able to deduct certain expenses.  Typical items that may be deductible include the business portion of real estate taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and/or repairs.   

Moving expenses  –  If you moved due to a change in employer or occupation, you may be able to deduct your moving expenses.  The two qualifiers used to determine whether this deduction applies to your situation are distance and duration.   

Energy improvements  –  Occasionally, government supported programs allow specific home improvements to qualify for a federal tax credit or a partial rebate of the sales price to the homeowner.  These items are usually of an energy efficient nature for products such as appliances, windows or insulation for the home.   

Health related improvements  –  Home improvements made as a result of a health issue are expenses that may be deducted for the tax year they were paid.  The IRS considers these as Capital expenses and explains what may be included and how to claim these items. 

As always, consult with the IRS or your tax professional for all the current guidelines and qualifying criteria in order to take advantage of these tax deductions.  For information about a home loan to meet your needs and goals, contact one of our licensed Loan Officers.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

March 18, 2010

Last month we posted an article on RD (Rural Development) home loans.  We outlined the basics and how this is a great option to consider when purchasing a home, especially when so many areas and buyers may qualify.  Unfortunately, this program may come to a sudden halt – at least for the rest of this fiscal year.

Early last week a memo from the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development alerted lenders that they anticipated funding for this year’s program to be exhausted by the end of April, 2010.  This news itself is nothing earth shattering, but the timing most certainly is.  Normally funds start to become depleted in the fall near the end of USDA’s fiscal year which ends September 30th. 

The other challenge is that there will not be any Conditional Commitments.  Typically as funds are depleted, loans are conditionally approved pending more fund allocation.  Once the department has the new fiscal year’s budget approved with new government funding those loans are fully approved and business continues as usual.  Not this year.  Since there is such a huge gap between now and the start of the next fiscal year, Conditional Commitments are just not appropriate.

So what caused this problem?  Why did the funding end so quickly?  The easiest explanation is the growing popularity of the program.  Kevin Smith, Area Director for Rural Development says, “Record demand, not only in Michigan but nationally, for the Guaranteed Rural Housing loan program will led to the full utilization of Congressionally appropriated funding at an early time frame this fiscal year.”

We too have seen a steady increase in RD loans; and our company continues to underwrite more RD loans than any other lender in the state of Michigan.  As more borrowers learn about the program with low income requirements, 100% financing options, and the vast amount of area classified as rural; demand will continue to increase. 

The next obvious question is what can be done to ease this challenge in the future?  Should more money be allocated to the program?  Should the upfront funding fee be increased like the FHA program has done?  Should this be a top subject for Congress to focus on?  Smith could not comment on policy issues of the federal government, but one thing is sure.  If you want to take advantage of this program yet this fiscal year, you need to have a signed purchase agreement as soon as possible.  There are only 6 weeks left before committed funds are anticipated to be exhausted.  Miss this window, and you may need to wait until October to get in on this program again.

Things could always change based on how the federal government reacts.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, we’ll keep watching and will let you know how this program progresses.

We’re Not Laughing – Okay Maybe We Are

March 9, 2010

Humor could be described as a spice of life that can lighten a mood, liven a moment or linger as a memory.  Sometimes it can bring a full-roar laugh, a simple smile or like now, a sigh of relief that the topic does not apply to you.  We recently read an anecdote on the recent RESPA changes and how some loan officers might be inclined to respond.  Allow us to share …


If RESPA changes are the final blow – swaying you to consider a simpler career path, say neurosurgery or something, you are not alone.

I have to vent for a minute, because I know you are with me on this one. Let’s see….

A new borrower comes to you because his Realtor told him that you are a fabulous loan officer and he needs to get pre-approved and get a Good Faith Estimate.

You look the new borrower square in the eye and have to say, “Wonderful! But I can’t give you a Good Faith Estimate because you haven’t identified a property. But I can give you this other “Non-Binding Settlement Estimate” form that my legal department has authorized, that has a 2-page disclaimer stating that you can’t hold me to any of these figures.”

So the new borrower, with a confused look on his face, takes your new form and goes back to his Realtor. The Realtor calls you trying to figure out what you said to the new borrower who now, doesn’t feel so confident about you or anything else in this transaction. You explain. The Realtor calms down.

The new borrower comes back with an identified property and says; “Now I want a Good Faith Estimate.” You prepare one, in perfect accordance with the new RESPA procedures and hand it to new borrower. He gasps. “This is $3,000 more than the previous estimate you gave!”

“Oh, don’t be alarmed,” you say in your most toddler-calming voice. “This isn’t what you are really going to be paying. This is just how I have to disclose it to you.”

The new borrower gives you a sideways suspicious glance, “But what about all the fees the seller is paying on my behalf? I can’t find a credit on this form for those.”

“Don’t worry…it will all work out at closing. This is how we protect you now. We give you inaccurate information all the way up until you actually close on the property. Isn’t that fun! Kind of like a surprise party!” you happily chime – beaming like an idiot while beads of sweat run down your torso.

The new borrower marches out to his car in tearful frustration and calls the next lender on his list.

Scalpel anyone?

This could not be farther from the truth for us at Awareness Home Funding.  The new Good Faith Estimate (GFE) is really a very simple document that helps you, the client, actually understand the real cost of acquiring your home loan.  It lets you know where you have choices in the services you will need, such as a home inspection.  It tells you what fees should not be changing by more than 10%.  And if they do, there will be a good reason, and time for you to understand what just happened before the loan process continues.  It also tells you what fees will not change at all.

So why don’t some loan officers like the new regulations and required forms?  Why can’t they explain the information it details for you?  Why can’t they provide the new GFE for you upfront?  Why such the cloak and dagger approach to helping their clients?  (Now this part, we do find really funny.)

Check us out (  Give us a call (866-982-9273).  Let us help you understand the loan process.  That is why you go to a professional in the first place, isn’t it?

Paying It Forward

March 5, 2010

You may recall the 2000 movie, “Pay it Forward” directed by Mimi Leder.  It starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment and was based on the book by the same name written by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  The storyline is that a young boy was inspired to make the world a better place after his teacher challenged his class to come up with an idea that would improve mankind.  The student came up with the idea to ‘pay it forward’.  The concept was to do a good deed for three people who then in turn did good deeds for three other people creating a ripple effect of good will and generosity.

While this movie may have pushed the idea into the limelight, the concept of helping someone else is as old as time.  Helping someone else not only benefits the recipient, but also benefits the giver.  Think about the feeling you had the last time you did something for someone else for no other reason that to just be helpful.  That feeling is empowering.  Most often the deed done for another is something very simple.  The thought counts here and it’s because you put someone else’s needs before your own.

Examples of genuine kindness and compassion are all around us.  Like a soccer game some years back between Australia and China.  Two Australian players had collided leaving one lying motionless on the ground.  As soon as China noticed the injury they kicked the ball out of play, so the trainers could tend to the injured player.  When the ball was put back in play, Australia threw the ball to a Chinese player. 

What about something very current like the reality show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition.  Every week residential construction companies rally huge teams of contractors to build a brand new home for a family facing hardship.  Families are selected because they still try to help others in the midst of their own struggles.

Okay, too big?  What about stories of average kids raising money with lemonade stands to support victims of natural disasters?  What about someone in the drive thru lane paying the bill for the car behind them?  What about a child ‘filling’ a box with blown kisses for a parent before they leave on a business trip?

The point of paying it forward and random acts of kindness isn’t about how big or noteworthy.  The point is that we have all been blessed in a multitude of ways and can use those blessings to help someone else.  You may not be blessed with money, but are you blessed with love and support that you could brighten someone else’s day with a kind word?  Occasionally you need to ‘empty your hands’ of what you have been given so that you can receive more.

Our company has taken this approach with our program, ‘Awareness Works 4 U’ It’s really very simple.  When you give us the opportunity to help you with a home loan, we ‘pay it forward’ with a donation to a charity of your choice when your loan closes.  The charity uses this money to continue their efforts to support the people they reach.  Those involved with the charity live, work and interact in their communities knowing they have a full circle of support.  And on the ripples of support go on. 

We would appreciate your help in letting others know about our efforts.  Alone, acts of kindness are often just single events.  Working together we can create a wave of generosity that betters mankind.  What organization would you like help supporting?  We’d love to help pay it forward.

No Time like the Present

March 1, 2010

There are many things in life where timing matters.  In order to gain the benefits involved, we need to take action within a specific timeframe or the opportunity is gone.   You could be the one who finds out a little too late that you missed the opportunity to recoup some significant money.  The offer referred to here is the Home Buyer’s Tax Credit, and the amount of savings involved could be as much as $8,000.  If you are thinking of buying a new home this spring, your opportunity to act is now

This incentive program has been making headlines and front stories for some time, but perhaps you still wonder if this applies to you.  When the federal government extended the program last fall, they also expanded the criteria to qualify making this a widespread opportunity.  The general guidelines contain two parts: first-time homebuyers and existing homebuyers. 

First-time homebuyers have been traditionally defined as those who have not owned a home in the past three years.  For these buyers, you may be eligible for a tax credit of 10% of the purchase price of your newly acquired home, up to $8,000.  (Consult with a tax professional for specific details on meeting this program’s qualifying criteria.)

One of the most significant additions to the Home Buyer’s Tax Credit program was to extend the credit to existing homeowners.  The general criteria are that you must have lived in the same home as your primary residence for any 5 consecutive years out of the past 8 years.  Existing homeowners purchasing a new primary residence home may also be eligible for a credit of 10% of the purchase price, up to $6,500.  (Again, consult your tax advisor for the exact qualifications of the program.)

The crucial point is to act now.  This program ends April 30, 2010.  Your purchase agreement must be fully executed by both buyer and seller by this date to qualify.  Take the first step to get pre-approved for a home loan by calling 866-982-9273.  We also have a secure on-line application on our website to get you started.  This is one event where being a split second off the timing means the difference between a nice rebate and nothing at all.