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Buying a home can be a big commitment — emotionally and financially. When picking a property, many of us hope that we will enjoy living there and comfortably afford it for years to come. For this reason, it’s a good idea to spend just as much time and energy finding the right mortgage as you do searching for the perfect house.

Crunching the numbers to find how much mortgage you can afford may seem like the boring part of home buying, but it is a very important step that can save you stress and money down the line. Before you even get started, it’s a good idea to understand the process you are about to begin — including commonly held misconceptions and misunderstanding about mortgages.

1. You Need a Big Down Payment

Many people will tell you that at least 20% of a property’s value is required to qualify for a mortgage. While this is a general benchmark to prove you are financially ready for investing in property and higher down payments do generally mean lower monthly payments, there are options for those of us who don’t have that much cash upfront.

Some government-sponsored loans require down payments as low as 3.5%, and you can work with lenders to figure out a program that works without a large down payment. It’s just important to balance the lower down payment with how it will affect your monthly mortgage payments and the other terms of your loan.

2. Owning Is Better Than Renting

Some sources may tell you it’s more expensive, others may tell you that it is a guaranteed investment. Even with interest and taxes included, buying a home can be cheaper than renting depending on where you live. Buying a property and investing so much in a single purchase is always a risk because no one knows what the future will bring. Homeownership can also provide safety, security and pride, which cannot be quantified. It’s a good idea to to determine whether renting or buying is right for you financially and in accordance with your lifestyle.

3. All Lenders & Mortgages Are the Same

It may seem like all banks offer mortgages around the same rates and you don’t need to do your research. In fact, there are many factors to determining the right mortgage for you and your situation. Certain lenders and mortgage programs can be better suited for you than others. It’s important to compare mortgages, reach out for recommendations and consider working with a lender to help you understand the fees.

4. Principal & Interest Are All That Matter

Those “many factors” I referred to? They seriously matter, so it’s a good idea to look beyond the principal and interest amount on your monthly payment statement. There are also taxes and insurance payments that can add a whole lot to your monthly costs, so do not forget to add these expenses as well. Also, it’s important to compare more than just the monthly rent payment to the monthly mortgage payment. There are upfront costs to homebuying that can impact how much you pay overall.

Before you apply for a home loan, it’s important to know where your credit score stands. The difference of just a few credit score points can mean better interest rates and a major savings over the life of your loan. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, updated every month.

5. You Should Pay Your Mortgage Off Early

While making early and lump payments can make sense in some financial situations, this is not always the right move — even if you have the money. Since interest rates are low, you can invest the money you would have put toward your home loan for retirement or other investments with better returns over time. You also do not want to put all your funds in one place as soon as they become available in case something unexpected comes up. Plus, some mortgages have a prepayment penalty. It’s important to read the fine print before handing over a large sum of money.

Now that you know what isn’t always true, you can look over your finances, find some houses in your price range and work with a lender or financial adviser to discover what is true for your specific situation and goals.

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