Buying a home is a complicated process. It’s usually the biggest financial transaction of a person’s life, and often involves taking out a mortgage to pay for the new digs.
Paying off such a large debt is a serious commitment, but it’s not the only financial consideration. Saving up for a down payment, improving your credit score, making room in your budget for unforeseen expenses — it can take years to financially prepare for homeownership. So it’s no surprise that there’s a desire for guidance and education.
Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer counseling for homebuyers as one of their services. David Atkinson, certified financial counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo and member of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor network, explains how credit counseling can help with the homebuying process.
What kind of credit counseling is available to homebuyers?
Credit counseling for homebuyers covers a number of topics,including:
- Budgeting: Establish a current budget and a budget for after your home purchase.
- Analyzing your credit report: Determine what steps you’ll need to take to get the best financing on your home.
- Selecting a home: Assess your income and financial obligations to determine what mortgage payment, and therefore which homes, you can afford.
- Financing a home: Learn what loan options are available and what the qualifications are.
- Home maintenance and taxes: Plan to set aside money for taxes and maintenance costs.
Certain types of pre-purchase counseling might also be helpful once you own a home. For instance, delinquency housing counseling — which you can often receive for little to no cost — can help if you fall behind on your mortgage (more information on the HUD website). A housing counselor can also help with reverse mortgages, a type of home loan for homeowners age 62 or older that requires no monthly mortgage payment. They can help you understand the costs, eligibility requirements and steps involved in the process.
Fees for housing counseling, including homebuying counseling, typically range from $0 to $150.
How does credit counseling aid the homebuying process?
A housing counselor is an unbiased advocate who can provide information and tools. This, in combination with the information you may receive from a real estate agent or a mortgage sales representative, can help you make an informed choice.
Counselors can help you calculate affordable mortgage payments and establish a budget that can accommodate home repairs and maintenance costs. They may also provide information on different types of loans — including state and government loans like Veterans Affairs loans and Federal Housing Administration loans — and help you figure out which would be the best fit for you.
You might also receive information about state, federal or local grants for homebuyers. For instance, in Hamburg, New York, it’s possible to get a $10,000 town grant, while New York state has a first-time homebuyers grant of $7,500. Grants may have income requirements, or may be limited to first-time buyers or limited to specific uses — closing costs and escrow or down payments, for instance. In some cases, buyers must participate in housing counseling to qualify for grants.
In what cases would you want to utilize this type of credit counseling?
The main reason is to save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on your mortgage. So in that sense, most potential homeowners would benefit — and the sooner they work with a counselor, the better. I would advise most people to contact a housing counselor two or three years before they plan to purchase a home, to come up with a plan to improve their credit score and see if they can qualify for any grants.
It’s best to work with a real estate agent and mortgage sales professional in combination with a housing counselor, so you can make the most informed choices possible when shopping for a home. Visit the National Foundation of Credit Counseling’s website to get a direct referral to a counseling agency in your area.
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