The Loan Process

There are many different types of loans available when purchasing a home. Here is a brief description of these loans.

Fixed or Adjustable-Rate Home Loans

The different types of mortgages available today can be placed in one of two categories. They either have a fixed rate of interest, or an interest rate that adjusts over time. Technically, there's a third category of "hybrid" loans. But I'll get to that later. As a home buyer, this is one of the first decisions you'll have to make about the loan you want to use.

So how do you choose between these mortgage types? First, you need to understand how they work. Next, you need to consider the pros and cons of each type. And lastly, you should choose the loan that best supports your long-term housing plans.

Let's start with the basics...

  • Fixed-rate mortgage: This type of home loan carries the same interest rate for the entire term (length) of the loan. The interest rate makes up part of your monthly payment. It's also the only component that has the potential to change over time. So if you get a mortgage with a guaranteed fixed rate, your monthly payment is guaranteed to stay the same -- for the entire life of the loan.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage: These are also referred to as ARM loans for short. Unlike the previous option, this type of mortgage has an interest rate that changes over time. This also means that the size of your monthly payment will change over time. It might adjust up or down, depending on market conditions at the time of adjustment. But they usually adjust upward, resulting in a larger monthly payment.
  • Hybrid ARM loan: Most of the adjustable-rate mortgages offered today are considered "hybrid" loans. They get this name because they start off with a fixed rate for a certain period of time. After that period, the rate will begin to adjust. The most popular example is the 5/1 ARM loan, which carries a fixed rate of interest for the first five years. The rate will change every year after that. Some lenders offer 1-year, 3-year and 7-year ARMs, as well.

You can probably see the benefit of using a fixed-rate loan. Your payments will never go up, no matter how long you stay in the house. But what about the ARM loan? Why would anyone choose a type of loan that has so much unpredictability? The answer lies within the initial savings.

During its initial fixed-rate period, the hybrid ARM generally has a lower interest rate than a traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. So you could pay less money in interest during that time, if you went with the adjustable loan.

Conventional or Government Loan

A conventional mortgage is one that is not insured by the government in any way. This home loan is made in the private sector with no form of government backing.

A government-backed loan is insured by some type of federal agency, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The loan may still be made in the private sector, but the lender receives insurance from the federal government.

There are several types of government mortgages:

  • FHA loan -- This mortgage is made by lenders in the private sector (known as FHA-approved lenders) and is insured through the Federal Housing Administration. If the borrower defaults on the loan, the lender gets paid by the FHA. 
  • VA loan -- This program is reserved for military service members and their families. It can be used to finance 100 percent of a home purchase, which eliminates the need for a down payment. This program is managed by the Department of Veteran Affairs. If you're a military member, you should have a VA specialist somewhere within your command. They can provide you with details about the program.
  • USDA loans -- These used to be called RHA loans, for the Rural Housing Administration. The program is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA. This type of mortgage loan is reserved for people who live in certain parts of the country. There are income restrictions as well. They are sometimes referred to as "farmer loans," due to the geographical and demographic nature of the program. But you certainly don't have to be a farmer to qualify. The program is designed for low-income residents of rural areas.