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Applying for a mortgage? Make these 3 smart moves first

It wasn't long ago that you could secure a new mortgage loan for under 3%, but any potential homebuyer today knows those days have passed. After a series of federal interest rate hikes, ongoing inflation and other economic factors, mortgage rates today average between 6% and 7% — potentially marking a new normal for homebuyers.
"We might look back at 2023 and realize that maybe rates were not high, just normal," says Shawn Ballinger, CFP, founder of Columbus Street Financial Planning. "The last twenty years of what many would call artificially low interest rates is a bias we may need to address.  Mortgage rates on a 30-year mortgage at 6-7% should be viewed as normal and a signal of a strong economy." 
Mortgages may be more costly across the board, but there are still actions you can take to ensure you qualify for the best possible mortgage rate today. By making a few smart financial moves before you apply, you may be able to save a significant sum over the lifetime of your loan.
Learn more about low mortgage rates you can qualify for now here.
These three smart moves can help you secure the best mortgage rate today.
Mortgage loans may not have the same low interest rates they did a couple years ago, but you should still be familiar with what's competitive before you apply. Mortgage rates today average around 6% to 7% APR, but even those averages can vary. 
If you opt for a 30-year mortgage, you may have a lower monthly payment, since you'll have more time to pay down the balance. However, longer-term loans generally have the highest interest rates. On the other hand, a 15-year mortgage will often carry a higher monthly payment but slightly lower interest rate overall. For example, average mortgage rates as of July 6 according to Bankrate are 6.40% for 15-year mortgages but 6.95% for 30-year mortgages.
Make sure to assess your financial situation and what you're able to pay before you apply so you know what type of mortgage makes most sense for you.
Compare today's best mortgage rates available for you now!
Your credit history and credit score is a major factor in how any potential lender determines whether to approve you for a mortgage and what terms to offer. 
Before you apply for any new loan, it's always important to know your credit score and review your credit report (which you can access for free through any of the three credit bureaus) for any errors or inconsistencies.
Because mortgages come with such large balances, and potentially affect your finances for decades, applying with the best credit score possible to lower your interest rate can save you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan.
If your score is less than ideal, you may want to put your application on pause until you can improve it. Start by making sure you pay any existing loans or lines of credit in full and on time each month. If you have high balances on revolving accounts like credit cards, paying them down as much as possible can also help by lowering your credit utilization. And try to avoid applying for any new loans ahead of your mortgage application, since the hard credit checks required can temporarily lower your score.
One of the best ways to guarantee you get the best possible terms on your mortgage loan is by gathering multiple offers from different lenders.
You can do this by checking for prequalification with different lenders — when you input your information and the mortgage type you're considering, you can get an estimate of the terms you'll be offered. Make sure you look for the same types of loans (for example, only 15-year mortgages) for the most accurate comparison.
Another option is to inquire about pre-approval with multiple lenders. However, you should complete these inquiries within a 45-day time period to lessen the impact on your credit.
"Within a 45-day window, multiple credit checks from mortgage lenders are recorded on your credit report as a single inquiry," according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "You can shop around and get multiple preapprovals and official Loan Estimates. The impact on your credit is the same no matter how many lenders you consult, as long as the last credit check is within 45 days of the first credit check."
With multiple estimates in hand based on your real application information, you can decide which combination of interest rate, terms and other mortgage details make most sense for you. Start comparing mortgage rates you can qualify for today here.
If you want to score the best possible mortgage rates today, you'll benefit from taking a few steps before you actually apply for your loan. Start by getting familiar with the current rate environment and what your options are, check your credit and decide whether you need to improve it and then compare multiple lenders to get a good idea of your best options. With some pre-planning, you can save yourself a lot of money over your entire mortgage loan term.