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Buying, refinancing, or foreclosing? Tips for mortgage borrowers

Florida's housing market has been particularly difficult, with the highest foreclosure rates in the country. However, there's still hope for people trying to hold onto their homes, avoid bankruptcy, or get into a new home. A few helpful tips make it possible for homeowners to benefit.

• Refinancing or talking to your bank about a loan modification may be all that is needed to lower your mortgage payments and keep your home. Interest rates are currently at nearly rock-bottom levels, so it's possible to get a stellar deal on a refinance. Those who can afford a higher monthly payment may wish to consider refinancing to pay their mortgage off sooner, such as with a 15-year or 20-year loan.

• These low mortgage rates are also good news for first-time buyers. FHA loans are known for their low interest rates, but they also come with costly fees that may rise even further this year. It may be better to save for a down payment on a conventional loan.

• The rules for qualifying for a loan will remain strict in 2013, with credit scores of at least 720 for the best rates. Experts suggest paying off a part of your credit card balances to boost your credit scores, and not doing anything to change your credit, such as opening new accounts, until after closing day.

• The Home Affordable Refinance Program makes it possible for underwater homeowners to refinance and keep their homes. There are also programs available for those struggling with payments, including short sales.

People facing financial challenges don't need to give up their homes or their dreams of owning a home. The key is knowing how to find the best rates, not giving up and being firm with your lender if you need help staying caught up.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Simple Facts On Mortgages," Jan. 27, 2013 (source not available online)

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