Tips to Get a Good Mortgage Deal


by Barbara Nevins Taylor

Because it’s the American dream to own a home the federal government has programs to make it possible for you to buy a home using a relatively small down payment.  Most of these loans are made through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Mike Copley, Executive Vice President of TD Bank says, “The FHA is the most popular type of program for the first-time homebuyer.”


Yet even if you are a seasoned buyer, and have owned a home before an FHA mortgage may work for you. “FHA loans are good for anybody who wants to buy a house,” explains Manny Alvarado, a housing specialist with HUD.  With an FHA mortgage you need only 3.5 percent down if your credit rating is good.


Banks use your credit score to determine what your down payment and interest rate should be. Every bank has slightly different criteria. TD Bank’s Mike Copley says, “If you want to go with 3.5 percent down, your FICO score has to be a minimum of 580. If it is below that you have to come in with 10 percent.”

You can learn about what goes into a FICO score and its importance in’s  What’s the First Step to Get a Mortgage video and the accompanying Quick Downloads.


You can get help from others to assemble the down payment.  “It could be gifted funds from friends and relatives.  But it has to be gifted funds. It can’t be monies borrowed against a credit card,” says HUD’s Alvarado.

HUD uses a formula to determine if you have enough income to make your monthly payments.

You can’t spend more than 31 percent of your monthly income on mortgage payments.  But if others will share the mortgage and financial responsibility with you, their income can be included in the calculation of that 31 percent.  “You can have up to four people on an application.  But they all have to be contributing the household,” says Alvarado.


Bankers like FHA mortgages because the loans are insured, and there’s no risk to the bank if you can’t make your payments and default.

But to cover the cost of that insurance, FHA mortgages carry higher fees than most other types of mortgage loans. You pay an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (PMI) of 1.75% of the loan and a monthly insurance fee of 1.25% of a loan that $625,000 or less. The fees are slightly higher for loans over that amount. It’s possible to roll these fees into the mortgage so that you pay them over the life of the loan.

FHA officials insist their mortgages are competitive.  HUD’s Alvarado says, “If you go to a lender and you come in with less than 20 percent, they are going to say you have to have private mortgage insurance.  With us, we call it the mortgage insurance premium and it’s comparable to anybody else.”

While FHA does finance homes over $625,000, it limits the price of the home you can buy with an FHA insured mortgage. The number varies from community to community. Go to and click on “Buy a Home” to find what FHA will finance in your area.

HUD also encourages homebuyers to visit its website to find a local housing counselor at a not-for-profit agency to help navigate the home buying process.  You can find a list of housing counselors at  Click on resources and there’s a link to housing counselors.


The Department of Veterans Affairs also insures mortgages. This is great deal, if you qualify, because you don’t put any money down.  That means you get 100 percent financing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture insures loans in rural communities. This program is similar to what the VA offers. You put no money down and you get 100 percent financing.


State and local governments often offer grants for down payment assistance and closing costs.  In some areas a homebuyer can get as much as $25,000 toward the purchase of a home.


Some banks including giants like HSBC, and regional and local banks like Astoria Federal Savings Bank in New York, and Metchuen Savings Bank in New Jersey offer free money through a program called The First Home Club.

It was created by theFederal Home Loan Bank of New York, and you can find a complete list of participating banks in New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Connecticut at FHLBNY.

Kenneth Totten, Vice President and Chief Lending Officer of Metuchen Savings Bank, explains how it works: “You set up a savings account and for every dollar that you save on a monthly basis there’s a four-to-one matching grant.”

Banks use The First Home Club to get you to bank and borrow with them.  It works well for those who qualify.  If you save $200 a month for ten months you get a grant of $7500 from the bank.  “That money is interest-free and it is forgivable over a five-year time frame. If you sell it (the home), you have to pay a portion of the money back, butonly the principle. There is no interest being charged,” Totten explains.


You are required to take a homeownership course at a HUD-certified not-for-profit counseling agency to get the money.  The participating banks want to make sure you know what homeownership entails.

“Many people don’t know what they are getting into. They don’t know the expense of owning a home.  It’s not just taxes, principal and insurance. Those are big-ticket items. You also have to pay for heat, water and electricity.  If you own a house, if something breaks you have to fix it,” says HUD’s Manny Alvarado.

Housing counselors provide a reality check, and give you the information you need to succeed as a homeowner.