Best way to find a home loan

Mortgage shopping has never been more confusing. The secret is knowing whom to talk to, and when.

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By Sarah Max, Money Magazine

What you'll pay for a loan
No matter where you get your loan, you'll pay fees - $3,118 on average. Fortunately, many are negotiable. Here's a rundown.
Fee type Average charge Is it negotiable?
Origination $1,245 Yes
Title insurance $749 Sometimes
Escrow $704 No
Application fee $344 Yes
Appraisal $296 Yes
Document preperation $273 Yes
Source:Bankrate.com NOTE: Numbers are for a $200,000 loan.
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Mortgage Rates
30 yr fixed 4.36%
15 yr fixed 3.39%
5/1 ARM 3.36%
30 yr refi 4.34%
15 yr refi 3.38%

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Rates provided by Bankrate.com.

(Money Magazine) -- When the easy money was flowing, you could get a great deal on a mortgage from just about anyone. But in today's credit-challenged world, all the avenues for finding a mortgage come with their own set of problems.

Many banks have tightened lending standards and scaled back offerings. Some banks are no longer working with mortgage brokers, who are under fire for pushing bad loans during the boom.

And while online lending sites hold the promise of one-stop shopping, some have developed a reputation for playing bait-and-switch on rates and not fully disclosing fees.

All this adds up to a major shopping hassle. If you want to get the best rate, you'll need to tap at least two of the sources below.

Scour the Web

Shopping for a mortgage online has come a long way from the days of one-size-fits-all rate listings. At some sites, including Bankrate.com, MortgageMarvel.com, and Zillow.com, you can now shop anonymously and get accurate rates. Keep in mind that all these sites act as referral services, so eventually you'll have to close the deal with a bank or mortgage broker.

Best for: If you know what kind of loan you're looking for, the Web should be your starting point; getting a handle on the current rates and fees will help you know whether you're getting a good rate when you sit down with a broker or bank officer later on.

If you're not sure what kind of mortgage you need, however, you'll want to seek counsel from a real person right away.

What to watch out for: Sites that ask for your Social Security number and address upfront. They might pull your credit report, which could hurt your score if you don't end up getting a mortgage.

Also make sure that all the fees are clearly disclosed on a site's rate quote. Otherwise you may get a sorry surprise when you receive the paperwork from a lender.

How to get the best deal: When inputting data into the online mortgage tool, don't guesstimate your income, your credit score, or other key stats. If you submit incorrect information, you probably won't get the rate that you've been quoted.

Go directly to a bank

At the height of the credit crisis, there seemed to be little point in asking a bank for a mortgage. But banks are lending these days, albeit with some caution.

Best for: Borrowers who are looking for a conforming loan (less than $417,000 in most areas), since some lenders have stopped underwriting jumbos. Also, if you're refinancing, call your current lender first: To keep you as a customer, it may be willing to undercut the competition.

What to watch out for: Novice loan officers. "In the heyday, underwriting was a matter of pushing a button," says Steve Curnutte, a former mortgage broker. "Now you have to know what you're doing." To prevent your financing plan from fizzling out midway, ask to work with a loan officer who has been in the business for five-plus years, or since before the credit boom took off.

How to get the best deal: Shop locally. A loan officer who's familiar with the housing stock and the players in your area may have greater latitude to offer you a lower rate than one based elsewhere. Try the local branches of big-name banks as well as community banks and credit unions, which may be using the crisis as an opportunity to snag business from their larger brethren.

Call on a broker

Mortgage brokers doled out plenty of bad loans during the boom. But a good broker can give you more hand-holding than you'll get online and will scour the market more thoroughly than you're likely to do on your own.

When it makes sense: If you're in the market for a jumbo mortgage or financing for investment property, or you just don't fit the conforming mold, a broker will identify lenders who underwrite unconventional loans. "The more exotic your needs, the harder it is to find a loan right now," says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage information site HSH. "Finding that little niche is what a broker does best."

What to watch out for: Fees. Most brokers make money on the difference between the rate you could get and the rate you actually pay, and they aren't required to disclose their cut. One way around it: Work with a fee-only broker (you can find one in your area at upfrontmortgagebrokers.org).

How to get the best deal: Obtain rate and fee info from banks and Web sites before you talk to a broker. After all, a good broker can more than make up for his cost if he finds you a better rate than you'd get on your own. But if he can't, there are plenty of others who would love to have your business.  To top of page

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