The median price for a home in Charleston is currently more than $260,000. Unless you have that kind of cash on hand—which most of us do not—you’re going to need a mortgage loan. Mortgage interest rates change every day, and they even vary from person to person. Having a lower interest rate means there will be less to pay back over the years. Lowering your rate by even half a percentage point can save you thousands of dollars over the course of the loan. Here’s what you need to do to get the best deal on a mortgage.

Work on Your Credit Score

Obviously your credit score and history play a big part in your ability to finance a home. They also make a difference when it comes to the terms of your loan. Having a higher credit score means the lender is taking less of a risk by loaning you money. If your credit score is less than stellar, you can still get a great mortgage rate if you start working now to help repair your credit. First, get a copy of your current credit report. Everyone is entitled by law to one free credit report each year. Make sure everything on it is accurate, and dispute whatever inaccurate information you might find. Pay attention to your credit limits. Try to spend less than 30% of the limit at a time, don’t carry high balances on your credit cards, and pay all your bills on time.

Have a Good Employment Record

Having a job isn’t necessarily enough to score the best mortgage interest rate. As long as you can show at least two years of employment and earnings, lenders will see you as less of a default risk. Bonus points if that employment record is with the same employer. Unfortunately, freelancers and self-employed individuals will have a harder time, but it’s not impossible to get a great deal as long as you can show steady income.

Bring Some Cash to the Table

Having enough cash to make a down payment or buy down your points is a smart move. The lower your loan amount or interest rate is from the beginning, the less you’ll have to pay over the life of the loan.

Ask About Less Traditional Options

Consult with your mortgage broker about options other than the traditional 30-year fixed mortgage. If you don’t plan on owning the home for a full thirty years, it doesn’t make all that much sense to lock yourself into a mortgage for that amount of time. Those who plan to live in a house for five or fewer years might get a better deal and a lower interest rate out of an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). If an ARM loan isn’t a viable or smart option for you, but you cringe at the thought of a 30-year loan, ask about a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. Your monthly payments will be higher, but you’ll save a ton in interest.

Always Shop Around

We get it. Your bank has been great to you, and you’ve been faithful to them since you opened your very first checking account as a teenager. Being a loyal customer is commendable, but just because your bank is great at what they do doesn’t mean they’ll be able to offer you the best options for a mortgage. Shopping around is incredibly important when it comes to getting the best mortgage rate. Do your research, speak to a few different institutions, and ask your real estate agent for recommendations.

Act Quickly and Lock in Your Rate

As soon as you find the best interest rate possible, it’s time to make your move. Interest rates can change at any time, so it’s important to strike while the iron’s hot. Ask your lender to lock in your rate while they process your loan so you aren’t subject to any raises in interest rates that might happen prior to closing day.

The best thing you can do to ensure a great deal on a mortgage is to have your ducks in a row well in advance. Improve your credit score, pay down your debt, and start saving well before you begin to shop around for the best mortgage loan.

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