If you’re a first time homebuyer, then most likely you’re thinking—or more like wondering—about all things mortgage. Figuring out mortgage can be tricky and overwhelming, especially if you’re planning on buying your first home, and in a housing market that for the last decade hasn’t been all that great. So, as newbie who’s navigating the murky and complex world of mortgage for the first time, how do you determine which mortgage is the best for you?

According to Nerd Wallet, there are tons of great ways to find great mortgage rates and lenders. After all, buying a mortgage for your first home is a lifetime commitment, which can mean paying it back for anywhere between fifteen or thirty years. As a first time homebuyer, you don’t want to get entangled with a potentially lifetime-lasting bad mortgage rate, or have to deal with a predatory or otherwise sketchy mortgage lender. When it comes to buying your first home, you want to snag a good interest rate as well as a big mortgage company that’s staffed with competent, trustworthy professionals and has an impeccable track record. So without further ado, here are the best ways to determine which mortgage rate and lender is best for you.

First off: research, research, research! Before jumping into any deals or negotiations, you should make sure you are familiar with the mortgage lending landscape—who’s who, what’s what, and how everything works. Mortgage is complex and you’re not going to learn everything and be an expert overnight, but being as familiar as you possibly can with mortgage lending can make a world of difference, especially if you’re a first time homebuyer. It’ll help you make sure that you get the best deal with the best people, instead of getting tangled into a scam or a deal with a bad company for a bad rate. Research and become familiar with all parts of the mortgage lending landscape, like credit unions, mortgage bankers, savings and loans, and mutual savings banks.

Second, compare rates from several mortgage lenders. See what your options are from all kinds of existing and reputable sources. There are all kind of mortgage lenders, whether they’re neighborhood or local banks, big national commercial banks, credit unions, or even online mortgage lenders. Be patient, do your research, and compare everything that everyone has to offer in order to find which ones best work for you. This is how you narrow your choices down to the top best, and then eventually to the one that you think is the best for you, before you get in contact with them and start the negotiation or pre-approval processes.

But more importantly, you should make sure your credit score is in tip-top shape. Regardless of how much or how long you compare and negotiate mortgage rates with however many mortgage companies, scoring a good interest rate or signing with a reputable mortgage company will all come down to one crucial determining factor: the state of your credit score. To put it simply, having a bad credit score means potentially getting a bad interest rate or not getting a good deal with a good mortgage lending company, but having a good credit scores means you are more likely to get a good interest rate or to get a good deal with a good mortgage lending company.

Next, always ask the right questions to the mortgage lender you are dealing and negotiating with. You can narrow your choice of mortgage lenders by referrals from friends or family or by scrolling through online reviews, but once you settle on a mortgage lender and begin negotiating with them, there are some very important questions you need to ask them in order to determine if you are getting the best mortgage rate, or if the lender is even the best one for you. You should ask such questions like, how does the lender prefer to communicate with clients like you and how quickly do they respond to messages from you, what lender fees will you be responsible for upon closing the deal (such as commission, loan origination, appraisal, credit report, or application fees) and if any of those fees can be waived or if they roll into the mortgage itself, what are the down pay requirements, and how long the turnaround times are for things like preapproval, appraisal, and then closing.

And last but certainly not least, read the fine print. We know how easy it is to just skim over all the “terms and conditions” and other contractual details. We do it all the time with iTunes or by subscribing to a new magazine. But again, mortgage is a serious business and lifetime commitment. You might think you know what you’ll be getting yourself into after all that time spent comparing and negotiating, but determining the best mortgage for you still comes down to how the fine print on the final contracts best suits you, so it’s imperative that you read it before signing it.

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