But there is good news. Although lenders have tightened their standards, long-term mortgage rates for fixed-rate loans actually declined in the final months of 2007 and have settled at about 5.8 percent for a 30-year fixed rate.
So if you're thinking of buying a home or refinancing your mortgage in the coming year, it has never been more important for you to get your other house—your financial one—in order. That's the only way you can make sure the loan process goes smoothly. Ask yourself and members of your Money Group the following 10 questions to find out if you're ready for the mortgage plunge—whether you're a first-time homebuyer, trading up or trying to refinance. Then turn to the three tasks that will help you get the best loan that's right for you.
Finally, remember this important advice from Keith Gumbinger, vice president of the mortgage research firm HSH Associates. Beware the risks you're accepting when you sign any financial document, but especially a mortgage agreement. The one lesson we've learned from the current mess is that millions of people jump into mortgage products for which they are unprepared. Don't buy a house based on what the monthly payment is when you first get the loan, but rather buy a house based on what the monthly payment could be 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. Then determine if you can afford it.