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Hipotecas Miami
Our loans and programs.

If you are interested in buying a home in the United States, you owe it to yourself to contact Ammy Kogan at 786-389-9965 or email her at ammy@hushmail.com We are dedicated to helping buyers find the right loan that will get them into the home of their dreams, even if their credit is less than perfect. Letís face it; many consumers have blemishes on their credit that have made it difficult in the past to obtain any type of financing for a home. We realize that bad things can happen to good people, and not all credit problems indicate reckless spending or poor decision-making. Circumstances such as divorce or the death of a spouse can send anyone into a downward spiral financially, which unfortunately can wreak havoc on oneís credit report. You can rest assured knowing that our professionals will work hard on your behalf to get you the Florida mortgage loan you need to get into a home. Ammy Kogan makes buying a home in Florida an exciting and pleasant experience, regardless of your credit.
Home Loans
Refinance Your Home
Rates below Prime Rate
**Can close in as little as 1 day
12 Months of bankstatements can equal a full documentation loan. This means you can get a mortgage loan at a low interest rate.
100% Interest Only Home Equity Line
Did you buy last month and need to refinance? No Problem!
I have the most incredible No Seasoning Products available. Refinance out of that hard money loan and get a low interest rate.
Home Loans, low Interest rates,Mortgages for foreigners, Home Equity Lines


**FORECLOSURE LOANS**100% FOREIGN NATIONAL WITH SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER FINANCING FOR REAL ESTATE PURCHASE****** ALL VISA TYPES CONSIDERED. FROM 80% TO 100% MORTGAGES. MUST HAVE A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER OR ITIN NUMBER FOR FOREIGN NATIONAL MORTGAGES. ALL PROPERTY TYPES IN FLORIDA CONSIDERED. CONTACT AMMY FOR MORE DETAILS AMMY@HUSHMAIL.COM  The selection is vast and we are here to assist with any and all questions that you may have about your new mortgage. If there is anything that I may be of assistance, for this new mortgage. Even, if you have questions, contact me anytime at the numbers indicated below. 

Se Habla EspaŮol 
 
 
 
 
100% Investor Loans 
Close in less than 14 days guaranteed 
Refinance out of the hard money loan 
E-Mail hipotecasmiami@yahoo.com 

Now offering Foreign National Mortgages of between 80& AND 100% FOR THOSE WHO QUALIFY WITH SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER OR ITIN NUMBER. FOREIGN NATIONAL MORTGAGES IN FLORIDA ONLY.

Realtors, are you looking to create more sales?
How about a no frills loan option?

Complete files for good credit borrowers, can close in 1 day.
Is your borrower in a bad credit situation?
Same scenario.
Close in 1 day with a complete file. 
I know that you possibly already have an in-house lender but I would like to ofer your clients more options, better and more flexible products.
I am only trying to get your borrowers approved without the headaches.
Send me one of your files, and see the difference. Mortgages for foreigners, home loans for foreign national, no doc loans, mortgages for Visa holders, Visa resident, Green card holders.Nationwide mortgages . No income verification loans. No doc mortgages , no doc loans


100% Investor Loans
Non warrantable condos
No Seasoning on Title Loans
Get a mortgage 24 hours after discharged bankruptcy
Foreclosure Mortgages
Construction Loans
Lot Loans & Refinance
Mortgages for scores below 600
80%-100% Easy Foreign National Mortgage Loans
Direct line 1-305-527-3584
Monday through Friday
Send E-Mails to hipotecasmiami@yahoo.com
Yahoo Handle ammykogan@yahoo.com
My URL: http://oocities.com/hipotecasmiami/
My E-Mail ammy@hushmail.com
Florida Mortgage Factsģ not fiction

Applicable to Investment (non-owner occupied) transactions only.

How to obtain a mortgage on a Florida or anywhere in the USA property purchased as an investment - when you are an overseas buyer.

It is easier to apply for a mortgage when initially buying a property for investment purposes than applying for refinancing (cash out) at a later stage – this is because the bank that grants these loans have found a greater default rate with refinance mortgages. Indeed only one bank will underwrite refinance transactions which severely limits the choice of programmes.

The maximum loan amount on any non-owner occupied investment property is $350,000

Short-term rental properties (which are determined by the area the property is zoned in as opposed to the owner’s intention to rent) are subject to a 5% reduction in maximum loan-to-value.

Properties titled to a corporation or LLC are subject to a 5% reduction in maximum loan-to-value.

Even when property is titled to a corporation or LLC an individual is  still considered the borrower and must supply the required  personal identifying information.

The above conditions apply to self-certified transactions. See exceptions below for fully documented transactions.**

A strong asset base (cash, equities, bonds etc) shown by borrower and documented by statements is always a major plus point and can lead to exceptions being made.

** In a fully documented investment property purchase (proven income, assets, source of funds and use of property) loan amount exceptions can be made to increase the maximum loan to $650,000

Important:

Purchase of a home for your personal use (2nd home, holiday/vacation home) may not be considered an investment and is therefore not subject to the restrictions shown above. Loan amounts up to $1.5M are available for these transactions.

These are the facts. Obtaining a mortgage as a Foreign National in Florida is quite straightforward and does not need to be complicated as long as you are in possession of the facts. Check references before acting on any advice.

Organize your documents

If you are buying or refinancing a home

  1. If you are salaried: provide two years W-2 and one month of paystubs OR if you are self-employed: provide two years tax returns and a YTD profit and loss statement.
  2. If you own rental property, please provide rental agreements and two years tax returns.
  3. If you wish to speed up the approval process, please also provide three months bank statements for each bank, stock and mutual fund account.
  4. Provide recent copies of any stock brokerage or IRA/401K accounts that you may have.
  5. If you are requesting a cash out refinance please provide a letter explaining what you plan to do with the proceeds.
  6. Provide a copy of divorce decree if applicable.
  7. If you are NOT a US citizen, provide us with a copy of your green card (front & back) or, if you are NOT a permanent resident provide us with your H-1 or L-1 Visa.

If you are applying for a home equity loan

  1. If you are salaried: provide two years W-2 and one month of paystubs OR if you are self-employed: provide two years tax returns and a YTD profit and loss statement.
  2. If you own rental property, please provide rental agreements and two years tax returns.
  3. Please provide a copy of the note on your first mortgage. This will normally be found in your closing loan documents.
  4. Please provide a signed letter explaining what you plan to do with the proceeds.
  5. Provide a copy of divorce decree if applicable.
  6. If you are NOT a US citizen, provide us with a copy of your green card (front & back) or, if you are NOT a permanent resident provide us with your H-1 or L-1 Visa.
  Get Qualified

Getting qualified before you apply for a loan can help you understand how much you can borrow.

When buying a house, you may get pre-qualified or pre-approved. You can typically get pre-qualified over the phone or on the Internet in a few minutes. A pre-qualification is not as beneficial as a pre-approval where you have to go through a more rigorous process which includes verification of your credit, income, assets and liabilities. It is highly recommended that you get pre-approved before you start looking for a house. This will help you:

  1. Find out the maximum house you can buy, so you don't waste time looking for properties you cannot afford.
  2. Puts you in a stronger position when you are negotiating with the seller because the seller knows that your loan is already approved.
  3. Helps you close quickly, since your loan is already approved.
  Shop loan programs and rates

To shop for a loan you will need to:

  1. Think about how long you plan to keep the loan. If you plan to sell the house in a few years you may want to consider an adjustable or balloon loan. On the other hand, if you plan to keep the house for a longer time, you may want to look at fixed loans.
  2. Understand the relationship between rates and points. Points are considered to be prepaid interest and are tax deductible. Each point is equal to one percent of the loan. So for example 1 point on a $150,000 loan is $1,500. The more points you pay, the lower the rate you will get.
  3. Compare different programs. Shopping for a loan can be difficult. With so many programs to choose from, each of which has different rates, points and fees, it's hard to figure out which program is best for you. That's where an experienced loan officer can help you make a decision that's best for you.
  Obtain Loan Approval

Once your loan application has been received we will start the loan approval process immediately. This involves verifying your:

  1. Credit history
  2. Employment history
  3. Assets including your bank accounts, stocks, mutual fund and retirement accounts
  4. Property value

Based on your specific situation, additional documents or verifications may be required. To improve your chances of getting a loan approval:

  1. Fill out the loan application completely.
  2. Respond promptly to any requests for additional documents. This is especially critical if your rate is locked or if you plan to close by a certain date.
  3. Do not make any major purchases. Do not buy a car, furniture or another house until your loan is closed. Anything that causes your debts to increase might have an adverse affect on your current application.
  4. Do not move money into your bank accounts unless it can be traced. If you are receiving money from friends, family or other relatives, please contact us.
  5. Do not go out of town around the closing date. If you do plan to be out of town when your loan is expected to close, you may sign a power of attorney to authorize another individual to sign on your behalf.
  Close the Loan

After your loan is approved, you will be required to sign the final loan documents. This will normally take place in front of a notary public. Be prepared to:

  1. Bring a cashiers check for your down payment and closing costs if required. Personal checks are normally not accepted.
  2. Review the final loan documents. Make sure that the interest rate and loan terms are what you were promised. Also, verify that the name and address on the loan documents are accurate.
  3. Sign the loan documents.

Your loan will normally close shortly after you have signed the loan documents. On refinance and home equity loan transactions federal law requires that you have 3 days to review the documents before your loan transaction can close.

   

hipotecasmiami@yahoo.com

Mortgage company offering home loans for purchase, refinance and more! - Loan Programs
 
Which loan is right for me?
Years you plan to stay in the house Recommended program
1-3 3/1 ARM, 1 year ARM or 6 month ARM
3-5 5/1 ARM
5-7 7/1 ARM
7-10 10/1 ARM, 30 year fixed or 15 year fixed
10+ 30 year fixed or 15 year fixed
Loan Programs Advantages Disadvantages
Fixed Rate Mortgages
30 year fixed
15 year fixed
  • Monthly payments are fixed over the life of the loan
  • Interest rate does not change
  • Protected if rates go up
  • Can refinance if rates go down
  • Higher interest rate
  • Higher mortgage payments
  • Rate does not drop if interest rates improve
Adjustable Rate Mortgages
10/1 ARM
7/1 ARM
3/1 ARM
1 year ARM
6 month ARM
1 month ARM
  • Lower initial monthly payment
  • Lower payment over a shorter period of time
  • Rates and payments may go down if rates improve
  • May qualify for higher loan amounts
  • More risk
  • Payments may change over time
  • Potential for high payments if rates go up
Balloon Mortgages
7 year
5 year
  • Lower initial monthly payment
  • Lower payment over a shorter period of time
  • Many balloon mortgages offer the option to convert to a new loan after the initial term.
  • Risk of rates being higher at the end of the initial fixed period
  • Risk of foreclosure if you cannot make balloon payment or if you cannot refinance or if you cannot exercise the conversion option
First Time Buyer Programs
 
  • Lower down payment
  • Easier to qualify
  • Sometimes you may get lower rate
  • May be subject to income and property value limitations
  • Some programs which have government subsidies may have a recapture tax if you sell the house too early.
Stated Income Programs
 
  • Don't need to verify income
  • Faster approval
  • Higher rates
  • Higher down payment
No point, No fee Programs
 
  • No closing costs
  • Less money required to close
  • Higher rates
  • Higher payments
Imperfect Credit Programs
 
  • Potential for reestablishing credit if you pay your mortgage on time.
  • When used for debt consolidation, you may be able to reduce your monthly debt payment
  • Higher rates
  • Terms may not be as favorable
  • Harder to get long term fixed loans
  • Loans may have prepayment penalties
Home Equity Line of Credit
 
  • You only borrow what you need
  • Pay interest only on what you borrow
  • Flexible access to funds
  • Interest may be tax deductible
  • Rates can change. The maximum interest rate is normally high.
  • Payments can change
  • Harder to refinance your first mortgage
Home Equity Fixed Loan
 
  • Fixed payments
  • Interest may be tax deductible
  • Higher interest rates than on 1st mortgages
  • Harder to refinance your first mortgage

Besides our standard loan programs, we also have a large number of unique programs to serve your needs:

  • Purchase a house with 0 down
  • Piggyback loans 80-10-10 or 80-15-5. No PMI payments even with 5% or 10% down.
  • Debt consolidation programs
  • Home Improvement loans
  • Qualify even if you may have been turned down before!
 

 

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Top Ten Mistakes

Buying a home | Refinancing your home | Getting a home-equity loan

If you're like most people, purchasing a home is the biggest investment you'll ever make. If you're considering buying a home, you're likely aware of the complexity of the endeavor. Because of the numerous factors to consider when purchasing a home, it's important to prepare as best you can. Some common home-buying principles and caveats are presented here for your consideration. By keeping them in mind, you'll help create a successful and more enjoyable experience. These Top Ten lists are by no means exhaustive. Since your home could cost you 25 to 40 percent of your gross income, it's important to conduct research, ask questions and study the process carefully.

Buying a home

  1. Looking for a home without being pre-approved. As a potential buyer competing for a property, you'll have a better chance of getting your offer accepted by being as prepared as possible. Consider this hierarchy of preparedness:

    • Neither pre-qualified nor pre-approved
    • Pre-qualified
    • Pre-approved

    The benefits available at each level can be easily understood when viewed from the seller's perspective. Imagine you're a seller in receipt of multiple offers to purchase your property. A complete stranger (buyer) is asking you to take your property off the market for at least the next two to three weeks while they apply for a loan. As the seller, lets consider the type of buyer you'd prefer to deal with.

    Neither pre-qualified nor pre-approved
    This buyer provides no evidence that they can afford to purchase your property. You may wonder how serious they are since they're not at least pre-qualified.
    Pre-qualified
    This buyer has met with a mortgage broker (or lender) and discussed their situation. The buyer has informed the broker regarding their income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The broker may also have seen their credit report. The buyer provided you with a letter from the broker stating an opinion of what the buyer can afford.
    Pre-approved
    This buyer has provided a broker written evidence of income, expenses, assets, liabilities and credit. All information has been verified by a lender. As a result, much of the paperwork for this buyer's loan has been completed. This buyer will probably be able to close quickly. They provide you with a letter (pre-approval certificate) from the lender. You're as certain as possible that this buyer can close.

    As a potential buyer, you can see that being pre-approved will give you the best chance of getting your offer accepted. This is critical in a competitive situation.
  2. Making verbal agreements. If you're asked to sign a document containing instructions contrary to your verbal agreements--don't! For example, the seller verbally agrees to include the washing machine in the sale, but the written purchase contract excludes it. The written contract will override the verbal contract. More importantly, your state may require that contracts for the sale of real property be in writing. Do not expect oral agreements to be enforceable.
  3. Choosing a lender just because they have the lowest rate. While the rate is important, consider the total cost of your loan including the APR , loan fees, discount and origination points. When receiving a quote from a lender or broker, insist that the discount points (charged by the lender to reduce the interest rate) be distinguished from origination points (charged for services rendered in originating the loan).

    The cost of the mortgage, however, shouldn't be your only criterion. Have confidence that the company you select is reputable and will deliver the loan with the terms and costs they promised. If in the final hours of the transaction you determine that the lender has suddenly increased their profit margin at your expense, you won't have time to start again with a different lender. Ask family and friends for referrals. Interview prospective mortgage companies.
  4. Not receiving a Good Faith Estimate. Within three business days after the broker or lender receives your loan application, you must receive a written statement of fees associated with the transaction. This is both the law and the best way to determine what you'll pay for your loan. Bring the Good Faith Estimate (GFE) with you when you sign loan documents. You should not be expected to pay fees which are substantially different from those contained in your GFE.
  5. Not getting a rate lock in writing.  When a mortgage company tells you they have locked your rate, get a written statement detailing the interest rate, the length of the rate lock, and program details.
  6. Using a dual agent--i.e., an agent who represents the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. Buyers and sellers have opposing interests. Sellers want to receive the highest price, buyers want to pay the lowest price. In the standard real estate transaction, the seller pays the real estate commission. When an agent represents both buyer and seller, the agent can tend to negotiate more vigorously on behalf of the seller. As a buyer, you're better off having an agent representing you exclusively. The only time you should consider a dual agent is when you get a price break. In that case, proceed cautiously and do your homework!
  7. Buying a home without professional inspections. Unless you're buying a new home with warranties on most equipment, it's highly recommended that you get property, roof and termite inspections. This way you'll know what you are buying. Inspection reports are great negotiating tools when asking the seller to make needed repairs. When a professional inspector recommends that certain repairs be done, the seller is more likely to agree to do them.

    If the seller agrees to make repairs, have your inspector verify that they are done prior to close of escrow. Do not assume that everything was done as promised.
  8. Not shopping for home insurance until you are ready to close. Start shopping for insurance as soon as you have an accepted offer. Many buyers wait until the last minute to get insurance and do not have time to shop around.
  9. Signing documents without reading them. Whenever possible, review in advance the documents you'll be signing. (Even though some specifics of your transaction may not be known early in the transaction,  the documents you'll sign are standard forms and are available for review.)  It's unlikely that you'll have sufficient time to read all the documents during the closing appointment.
  10. Not allowing for delays in the transaction.  In a perfect world, all real estate transactions close on time. In the world we live in, transactions are often delayed a week or more. Suppose you asked your landlord to terminate your lease the day your purchase transaction was scheduled to close. A day or two before your scheduled closing date, you discover your transaction is delayed a week. In a perfect world, no one is inconvenienced and your landlord is willing to work with you. More likely, however, your landlord is inconvenienced and angry. Will you be thrown out? Will you have to find interim housing for a week or more? The eviction process takes a little time, so the Sheriff won't immediately remove you, but this type of stress-producing episode can be avoided. How? Terminate your lease one week after your real estate transaction is scheduled to close. That way, if there is a delay in closing your transaction, you have some leeway. This approach might cost a little more, then again, it might not.

[Back to the top of this page]

Refinancing your home

  1. Refinancing with your existing lender without shopping around. Your existing lender may not have the best rates and programs. There is a general misconception that it is easier to work with your current lender. In most cases, your current lender  will require the same documentation as other companies. This is because most loans are sold on the secondary market and have to be approved independently. Even if you have made all your mortgage payments on time, your existing lender will still have to verify assets, liabilities, employment, etc. all over again.
  2. Not doing a break-even analysis.  Determine the total cost of the transaction, then calculate how much you will save every month. Divide the total cost by the monthly savings to find the number of months you will have to stay in the property to break even. Example: if your transaction costs $2000 and you save $50/month, you break even in 2000/50 = 40 months. In this case you'd refinance if you planned to stay in your home for at least 40 months.

    Note:  This is a simplified break-even analysis. If you are refinancing considering switching from an adjustable to a fixed loan, or from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan, the analysis becomes much more complex.
  3. Not getting a written good-faith estimate of closing costs. See item number four above.
  4. Paying for an appraisal when you think your home value may be too low. Have the appraisal company prepare a desk review appraisal (typically at no charge) to provide you with a range of possible values. Your mortgage company's appraiser may do this for you. Do not waste your money on a full appraisal if you are doubtful about the value of your home.
  5. Using the county tax-assessor's value as the market value of your home. Mortgage companies do not use the county tax-assessor's value to determine whether they will make the loan. They use a market-value appraisal which may be very different from the assessed value.
  6. Signing your loan documents without reviewing them. See item number nine above.
  7. Not providing documents to your mortgage company in a timely manner.  When your mortgage company asks you for additional documents, provide them immediately. They are doing what's necessary to get your loan approved and closed. Delays in providing documents can result in a costly delays.
  8. Not getting a rate lock in writing.  When a mortgage company tells you they have locked your rate, get a written statement which includes the interest rate, the length of the rate lock and details about the program.
  9. Pulling cash out of your credit line before you refinance your first mortgage. Many lenders have cash-out seasoning requirements. This means that if you pull cash out of your credit line for anything other than home improvements, they will consider the refinance to be a cash-out transaction. This usually results in stricter requirements and can, in some cases, break the deal!
  10. Getting a second mortgage before you refinance your first mortgage. Many mortgage companies look at the combined loan amounts (i.e., the first loan plus the second) when refinancing the first mortgage. If you plan on refinancing your first loan, check with your mortgage company to find out if getting a second will cause your refinance transaction to be turned down.

[Back to the top of this page]

Getting a home-equity loan/line

  1. Not knowing if your loan has a pre-payment penalty clause. If you are getting a "NO FEE" home-equity loan, chances are there's a hefty pre-payment penalty included. You'll want to avoid such a loan if you are planning to sell or refinance in the next three to five years.
  2. Getting too large a credit line. When you get too large a credit line, you can be turned down for other loans because some lenders calculate your payments based upon the available credit--not the used credit. Even when your equity line has a zero balance, having a large equity line indicates a large potential payment, which can make it difficult to qualify for other loans.
  3. Not understanding the difference between an equity loan and an equity line. An equity loan is closed--i.e., you get all your money up front and make fixed payments until it is paid if full. An equity line is open--i.e., you can get numerous advances for various amounts as you desire. Most equity lines are accessed through a checkbook or a credit card. For both equity loans and lines, you can only be charged interest on the outstanding principal balance.

    Use an equity loan when you need all the money up front--e.g., for home improvements, debt consolidation, etc. Use an equity line when you have a periodic need for money, or need the money for a future event--e.g., childrens' college tuition in the future.
  4. Not checking the lifecap on your equity line.  Many credit lines have lifecaps of 18 percent. Be prepared to make payments at the highest potential rate.
  5. Getting a home-equity loan from your local bank without shopping around. Many consumers get their equity line from the bank with which they have their checking account. By all means, consider your bank, but shop around before making a commitment.
  6. Not getting a good-faith estimate of closing costs. See item number four above.
  7. Assuming that your home-equity loan is fully tax-deductible. In some instances, your home-equity loan is NOT tax deductible. Do not depend on your mortgage company for information regarding this matter--check with an accountant or CPA.
  8. Assuming that a home-equity loan is always cheaper than a car loan or a credit card.  Even after deducting interest for income tax purposes, a credit card can be cheaper than a credit line. To find out, compare the effective rate of your home-equity line with the rate on your credit card or auto loan.

    Effective rate = rate * (1 - tax bracket)
    Example: The rate of the home-equity line is 12 percent,your tax bracket is 30 percent, your effectiverateis:  .12 * (1 - .3) = .12 * .7 = .084 = 8.4 percent.
    If your credit card is higher than 8.4 percent, the equity loan is cheaper.
  9. Getting a home-equity line of credit when you plan to refinance your first mortgage in the near future. Many mortgage companies look at the combined loan amounts (i.e., the first loan plus the second) when refinancing the first mortgage. If you plan on refinancing your first, check with your mortgage company to find out if getting a second will cause your refinance to be turned down.
  10. Getting a home-equity line to pay off your credit cards when your spending is out of control! When you pay off your credit cards with an equity line, don't continue to abuse your credit cards. If you can't manage the plastic, tear it up!

[Back to the top of this page]

Should I refinance?

The most common reason for refinancing is to save money. Saving money through refinancing can be achieved in two ways:

  1. By obtaining a lower interest rate that causes one's monthly mortgage payment to be reduced.
  2. By reducing the term of the loan, thus saving money over the life of the loan. For example, refinancing from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan might result in higher monthly payments, but the total of the payments made during the life of the loan can be reduced significantly.

People also refinance to convert their adjustable loan to a fixed loan. The main reason behind this type of refinance is to obtain the stability and the security of a fixed loan. Fixed loans are very popular when interest rates are low, whereas adjustable loans tend to be more popular when rates are higher. When rates are low, homeowners refinance to lock in low rates. When rates are high, homeowners prefer adjustable loans to obtain lower payments.

A third reason why homeowners refinance is to consolidate debts and replace high-interest loans with a low-rate mortgage. The loans being consolidated may include second mortgages, credit lines, student loans, credit cards, etc. In many cases, debt consolidation results in tax savings, since consumers loans are not tax deductible, while a mortgage loan is tax deductible.

The answer to the question "Should I refinance?" is a complex one, since every situation is different and no two homeowners are in the exact same situation. Even the conventional wisdom of refinancing only when you can save 2% on your mortgage is not really true. If you are refinancing to save money on your monthly payments, the following calculation is more appropriate than the rule of 2%:

  1. Calculate the total cost of the refinance––example: $2,000
  2. Calculate the monthly savings––example: $100/month
  3. Divide the result in 1 by the result in 2––in this case 2000/100 = 20 months. This shows the break-even time. If you plan to live in the house for longer than this period of time, it makes sense to refinance.

Sometimes, you do not have a choice––you are forced to refinance. This happens when you have a loan with a balloon provision, but with no conversion option. In this case it is best to refinance a few months before the balloon comes due.

Whatever you choose to do, consulting with a seasoned mortgage professional can often save you time and money. Make a few phone calls, check out a few web sites, crunch on a few calculators and spend some time to understand the options available to you.

Should I pay points? Does a zero-point/zero-fee loan really exist?

The best way to decide whether you should pay points or not is to perform a break-even analysis. This is done as follows:

  1. Calculate the cost of the points. Example: 2 points on a $100,000 loan is $2,000.
  2. Calculate the monthly savings on the loan as a result of obtaining a lower interest rate. Example: $50 per month
  3. Divide the cost of the points by the monthly savings to come up with the number of months to break even. In the above example, this number is 40 months. If you plan to keep the house for longer than the break-even number of months, then it makes sense to pay points; otherwise it does not.
  4. The above calculation does not take into account the tax advantages of points. When you are buying a house the points you pay are tax-deductible, so you realize some savings immediately. On the other hand, when you get a lower payment, your tax deduction reduces! This makes it a little difficult to calculate the break-even time taking taxes into account. In the case of a purchase, taxes definitely reduce the break-even time. However, in the case of a refinance, the points are NOT tax-deductible, but have to be amortized over the life of the loan. This results in few tax benefits or none at all, so there is little or no effect on the time to break even.

If none of the above makes sense, use this simple rule of thumb: If you plan to stay in the house for less than 3 years, do not pay points. If you plan to stay in the house for more than 5 years, pay 1 to 2 points. If you plan to stay in the house for between 3 and 5 years, it does not make a significant difference whether you pay points or not!

Zero-Point/Zero-Fee Loans

Whatever happened to the conventional wisdom of waiting for the rates to drop 2% before refinancing?

You have a 30-year fixed loan at 8.5%. A loan officer calls you up and says they can refinance you to a rate of 8.0% with no points and no fees whatsoever.

What a dream come true! No appraisal fees, no title fees and not even any junk fees! Is this a deal too good to pass up? How can a bank and broker do this? Doesn't someone have to pay? Whose money is being used to pay these closing costs?

No––this is not a scam. Thousands of homeowners have refinanced using a zero-point/zero-fee loan. Some refinanced multiple times, riding rates all the way down the curve in 1992, 1993 and, more recently, in 1996. Some homeowners used zero-point/zero-fee adjustable loans to refinance and get a new teaser rate every year.

The way this works is based on rebate pricing, sometimes also known as yield-spread pricing, and sometimes known as a service-release premium. The basic idea is that you pay a higher rate in exchange for cash up front, which is then used to pay the closing costs. You will pay a higher monthly payment––so the money is really coming from future payments that you will make.

You can also think of this as negative points! For example, a 30-year fixed loan may be available at a retail price of :
8.0% with 2 points or
8.25% with 1 point or
8.5% with 0 points or
8.75% with -1 point or
9% with -2 points

On a $200,000 loan, the loan officer can offer you 8.75% with a cost of -1 point, which is a $2,000 credit towards your closing costs. A mortgage broker can use rebate pricing to pay for your closing costs and keep the balance of the rebate as profit.

What are the benefits of a zero-point/zero-fee loan?

The main benefit is that you have no out-of-pocket costs. As a result, if the rates drop in the future, you could refinance again even for a small drop in rates. So if you refinanced on the zero-point/zero-fee loan to get a rate of 8.75% and if the rates drop 1/2%, you can refinance again to 8.25%. On the other hand, if you refinanced by paying 1 point and got a rate of 8.25%, it may not make sense to refinance again. Now, if the rates drop another 1/2%, a zero-point/zero-fee loan can drop your rate to 7.75%, whereas if you paid points, you may have to do a break-even analysis to decide if refinancing will save you money.

The zero-point/zero-fee loan eliminates the need to do a break-even analysis since there is no up-front expense that needs to be recovered. It also is a great way to take advantage of falling rates.

Some consumers have used zero-point/zero-fee loans on adjustable loans to refinance their adjustables every year and pay a very low teaser rate.

What are the disadvantages of a zero-point/zero-fee loan?

The main disadvantage is that you are paying a higher rate than you would be paying if you had paid points and closing costs. If you keep the loan for long enough, you will pay more––since you have higher mortgage payments. In the scenario where you plan to stay in the house for more than 5 years, and if rates never drop for you to refinance, you could wind up paying more money. If, on the other hand, you plan to stay at a property for just 2-3 years, there really is no disadvantage of a zero-point/zero-fee loan.

Whose money is it?

Since you are being paid "cash" up-front in exchange for a higher rate, it really is your own money that will be paid in the future through higher payments. Investors who fund these loans hope that you will keep the loans for long enough to recoup their up-front investment. If you refinance the loans early, both the servicer and the investor could lose money.

To summarize, zero-point/zero-fee loans in many cases are good deals. Make sure, however, that the lender pays for your closing costs from rebate points and NOT by increasing your loan amount. So if your old loan amount was $150,000, your new loan amount should also be $150,000. You may have to come up with some money at closing for recurring costs (taxes, insurance, and interest), but you would have to pay for these whether you refinanced or not.

Zero-point/zero-fee loans are especially attractive when rates are declining or when you plan to sell your house in less than 2-3 years.

Zero-point/zero-fee loans may not be around forever. Lenders have discussed adding a pre-payment penalty to such loans, however few lenders have taken steps to implement such a measure.

What is a FICO score?

A FICO score is a credit score developed by Fair Isaac & Co. Credit scoring is a method of determining the likelihood that credit users will pay their bills. Fair, Isaac began its pioneering work with credit scoring in the late 1950s and, since then, scoring has become widely accepted by lenders as a reliable means of credit evaluation. A credit score attempts to condense a borrowers credit history into a single number. Fair, Isaac & Co. and the credit bureaus do not reveal how these scores are computed. The Federal Trade Commission has ruled this to be acceptable.

Credit scores are calculated by using scoring models and mathematical tables that assign points for different pieces of information which best predict future credit performance. Developing these models involves studying how thousands, even millions, of people have used credit. Score-model developers find predictive factors in the data that have proven to indicate future credit performance. Models can be developed from different sources of data. Credit-bureau models are developed from information in consumer credit-bureau reports.

Credit scores analyze a borrower's credit history considering numerous factors such as:

There are really three FICO scores computed by data provided by each of the three bureaus––Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. Some lenders use one of these three scores, while other lenders may use the middle score.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I increase my score? While it is difficult to increase your score over the short run, here are some tips to increase your score over a period of time.

What if there is an error on my credit report? If you see an error on your report, report it to the credit bureau. The three major bureaus in the U.S., Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Trans Union (1-800-916-8800) and Experian (1-888-397-3742) all have procedures for correcting information promptly. Alternatively, your mortgage company may help you correct this problem as well.

Why Do Mortgage Rates Change?

To understand why mortgage rates change we must first ask the more general question, "Why do interest rates change?" It is important to realize that there is not one interest rate, but many interest rates!

Interest-rate movements are based on the simple concept of supply and demand. If the demand for credit (loans) increases, so do interest rates. This is because there are more buyers, so sellers can command a better price, i.e. higher rates. If the demand for credit reduces, then so do interest rates. This is because there are more sellers than buyers, so buyers can command a lower better price, i.e. lower rates. When the economy is expanding there is a higher demand for credit, so rates move higher, whereas when the economy is slowing the demand for credit decreases and so do interest rates.

This leads to a fundamental concept:

A major factor driving interest rates is inflation. Higher inflation is associated with a growing economy. When the economy grows too strongly, the Federal Reserve increases interest rates to slow the economy down and reduce inflation. Inflation results from prices of goods and services increasing. When the economy is strong, there is more demand for goods and services, so the producers of those goods and services can increase prices. A strong economy therefore results in higher real-estate prices, higher rents on apartments and higher mortgage rates.

Mortgage rates tend to move in the same direction as interest rates. However, actual mortgage rates are also based on supply and demand for mortgages. The supply/demand equation for mortgage rates may be different from the supply/demand equation for interest rates. This might sometimes result in mortgage rates moving differently from other rates. For example, one lender may be forced to close additional mortgages to meet a commitment they have made. This results in them offering lower rates even though interest rates may have moved up!

There is an inverse relationship between bond prices and bond rates. This can be confusing. When bond prices move up, interest rates move down and vice versa. This is because bonds tend to have a fixed price at maturity––typically $1000. If the price of the bond is currently at $900 and there are 10 years left on the bond and if interest rates start moving higher, the price of the bond starts dropping. The higher interest rates will cause increased accumulation of interest over the next 5 years, such that a lower price (e.g. $880) will result in the same maturity price, i.e. $1000.

Effect of economic data on rates

Number of arrows indicates potential effect on interest rates. 1 arrow=least effect, 5 arrows=max. effect

H1>What is the difference between pre-qualifying and pre-approval?

A pre-qualification is normally issued by a loan officer, who, after interviewing you, determines the dollar value of a loan you can be approved for. However, loan officers do not make the final approval, so a pre-qualification is not a commitment to lend. After the loan officer determines that you pre-qualify, he/she then issues you a pre-qualification letter. This pre-qualification letter is used when you are making an offer on a property. The pre-qualification letter indicates to the seller that you are qualified to purchase the house you are making an offer on.

Pre-approval is a step above pre-qualification. Pre-approval involves verifying your credit, down payment, employment history, etc. Your loan application is submitted to an underwriter and a decision is made regarding your loan application. If your loan is pre-approved, you are then issued a pre-approval certificate. Getting your loan pre-approved allows you to close very quickly when you do find a house. A pre-approval can help you negotiate a better price with the seller, since being pre-approved is very close to having cash in the bank to pay for the house!

What is a rate lock?

You cannot close a mortgage loan without locking in an interest rate. There are four components to a rate lock:

  1. Loan program.
  2. Interest rate.
  3. Points.
  4. Length of the lock.

The longer the length of the lock, the higher the points or the interest rate. This is because the longer the lock, the greater the risk for the lender offering that lock.

Let's say you lock in a 30-year fixed loan at 8% for 2 points for 15 days on March 2. This lock will expire on March 17 (if March 17 is a holiday then the lock is typically extended to the first working day after the 17th). The lender must disburse funds by March 17th, otherwise your rate lock expires, and your original rate-lock commitment is invalid.

The same lock might cost 2.25 points for a 30-day lock or 2.5 points for a 60-day lock. If you need a longer lock and do not want to pay the higher points, you may instead pay a higher rate.

After a lock expires, most lenders will let you re-lock at the higher of the original rate/points or current rate/points. In most cases you will not get a lower rate if rates drop.

Lenders can lose money if your lock expires. This is because they are taking a risk by letting you lock in advance. If rates move higher, they are forced to give you the original rate at which you locked. Lenders often protect themselves against rate fluctuations by hedging.

Some lenders do offer free float-downs––i.e. you may lock the rate initially and if the rates drop while your loan is in process, you will get the better rate. However, there is no free lunch––the free float-down is costly for the lender and you pay for this option indirectly, because the lender has to build the price of this option into the rate.

What do you do if the rates drop after you lock?

Most lenders will not budge unless the rates drop substantially (3/8% or more). This is because it is expensive for them to lock in interest rates. If lenders let the borrowers improve their rate every time the rates improved, they spend a lot of time relocking interest rates, since rates fluctuate daily. Also they would have to build this option into their rates and borrowers would wind up paying a higher rate.

Lock-and-shop programs.

Most lenders will let you lock in an interest rate only on a specific property. If you are shopping for a house, some lenders offer a lock-and-shop program that lets you lock in a rate before you find the house. This program is very useful when rates are rising.

New-construction rate locks.

Most lenders offer long-term locks for new construction. These locks do cost more and may require an up-front deposit. For example, a lender might offer a 180-day lock for 1 point over the cost of a 30-day lock, with 0.5 points being paid up-front, as a non-refundable deposit. Most long-term new-construction locks do offer a float-down––i.e. if rates drop prior to closing, you get the better rate.

Can my loan be sold? What happens if my lender goes out of business?

Your loan can be sold at any time. There is a secondary mortgage market in which lenders frequently buy and sell pools of mortgages. This secondary mortgage market results in lower rates for consumers. A lender buying your loan assumes all terms and conditions of the original loan. As a result, the only thing that changes when a loan is sold is to whom you mail your payment. If your loan has been sold, your existing lender will notify you that your loan has been sold, who your new lender is, and where you should send your payments from now on.

If your lender goes out of business, you are still obligated to make payments! Typically, loans owned by a lender going out of business are sold to another lender. The lender purchasing your loan is obligated to honor the terms and conditions of the original loan. Therefore, if your lender goes out of business, it makes little difference with regards to your loan payments. In some cases, there may be a gap between the date of your lender's going out of business and the date that a new lender purchases your loan. In such a situation, continue making payments to your old lender until you are asked to make payments to your new lender.

What is PMI? Can I get rid of the PMI on my loan?

PMI or Private Mortgage Insurance is normally required when you buy a house with less than 20% down. Mortgage insurance is a type of guarantee that helps protect lenders against the costs of foreclosure. This insurance protection is provided by private mortgage-insurance companies. It enables lenders to accept lower down payments than they would normally accept. In effect, mortgage insurance provides what the equity of a higher down payment would provide to cover a lender's losses in the unfortunate event of foreclosure. Therefore, without mortgage insurance, you might not be able to buy a home without a 20% down payment.

The cost of PMI increases as your down payment decreases. Example: The cost of PMI on a 10% down payment is less than the cost of PMI on a 5% down payment. Your PMI premium is normally added to your monthly mortgage payment.

The decision on when to cancel the private insurance coverage does not depend solely on the degree of your equity in the home. The final say on terminating a private mortgage-insurance policy is reserved jointly for the lender and any investor who may have purchased an interest in the mortgage. However, in most cases, the lender will allow cancellation of mortgage insurance when the loan is paid down to 80% of the original property value. Some lenders may require that you pay PMI for one or two years before you may apply to remove it.

To cancel the PMI on your loan, contact your lender. In most cases, an appraisal will be required to determine the value of your property. You will probably also be required to pay for the cost of this appraisal. Another way of cancelling the PMI on your loan is to refinance and to get a new loan without PMI.

What is an Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?

The annual percentage rate (APR) is an interest rate that is different from the note rate. It is commonly used to compare loan programs from different lenders. The Federal Truth in Lending law requires mortgage companies to disclose the APR when they advertise a rate. Typically the APR is found next to the rate.

Economic Event Effect on
Interest Rates
Significance of event
Consumer Price Index (CPI) Rises Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates rising inflation.
Dollar Rises Interest rates move down Imports cost less; indicates falling inflation.
Durable Goods Orders Increase Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates expanding economy
Gross National Product Increases Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates strong economy
Home Sales Increase Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates strong economy
Housing Starts Rise Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates strong economy
Industrial Production Rises Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates strong economy
Business Inventories Rise Interest rates move downInterest rates move downInterest rates move down Indicates weak economy
Leading Indicators (LEI) Increase Interest rates move upwardInterest rates move upwardInterest rates move upward Indicates strong economy
Personal Income Rises Interest rates move upward Indicates rising inflation
Personal Spending Rises Interest rates move upward Indicates rising inflation
Producer Price Index Rises Interest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwardsInterest rates move upwards Indicates rising inflation
Retail Sales Increase Interest rates move upwardInterest rates move upward Indicates strong economy
Treasury Auction Has High Demand Interest rates move down High demand leads to lower rates
Unemployment Rises Interest rates move downInterest rates move downInterest rates move downInterest rates move downInterest rates move down Indicates weak economy
Example:
30-year fixed 8% 1 point 8.107% APR

The APR does NOT affect your monthly payments. Your monthly payments are a function of the interest rate and the length of the loan.

The APR is a very confusing number! Even mortgage bankers and brokers admit it is confusing. The APR is designed to measure the "true cost of a loan." It creates a level playing field for lenders. It prevents lenders from advertising a low rate and hiding fees.

If life were easy, all you would have to do is compare APRs from the lenders/brokers you are working with, then pick the easiest one and you would have the right loan. Right? Wrong!

Unfortunately, different lenders calculate APRs differently! So a loan with a lower APR is not necessarily a better rate. The best way to compare loans in the author's opinion is to ask lenders to provide you with a good-faith estimate of their costs on the same type of program (e.g. 30-year fixed) at the same interest rate. Then delete all fees that are independent of the loan such as homeowners insurance, title fees, escrow fees, attorney fees, etc. Now add up all the loan fees. The lender that has lower loan fees has a cheaper loan than the lender with higher loan fees.

The reason why APRs are confusing is because the rules to compute APR are not clearly defined.

What fees are included in the APR?

The following fees ARE generally included in the APR:

The following fees are SOMETIMES included in the APR:

The following fees are normally NOT included in the APR:

An APR does not tell you how long your rate is locked for. A lender who offers you a 10-day rate lock may have a lower APR than a lender who offers you a 60-day rate lock!

Calculating APRs on adjustable and balloon loans is even more complex because future rates are unknown. The result is even more confusion about how lenders calculate APRs.

Do not attempt to compare a 30-year loan with a 15-year loan using their respective APRs. A 15-year loan may have a lower interest rate, but could have a higher APR, since the loan fees are amortized over a shorter period of time.

Finally, many lenders do not even know what they include in their APR because they use software programs to compute their APRs. It is quite possible that the same lender with the same fees using two different software programs may arrive at two different APRs!

Conclusion :
Use the APR as a starting point to compare loans. The APR is a result of a complex calculation and not clearly defined. There is no substitute to getting a good-faith estimate from each lender to compare costs. Remember to exclude those costs that are independent of the loan.

Now that you've decided to clean up your act, use caution: Settling some old debts can harm your credit score. Here's how to do the right thing the right way.

 By Liz Pulliam Weston

Borrowers who try to pay off old delinquencies, charge-offs and collection accounts often learn the hard way: Sometimes, doing the right thing does the wrong thing to your credit.

Thanks to the sometimes bizarre quirks of credit scoring, state statutes of limitations and the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers canít necessarily assume that paying off old debts will improve their financial situation or make them a better risk in lendersí eyes. Add in the tactics of some unethical collection agencies, and you have a real quagmire.

"It seems so easy, but itís not," sighs Steve Rhode, a private money counselor and co-founder of the Rockville, Md., credit-crisis counseling firm MyVesta.org.
Don't let retirement
sneak up on you.

Create a perfect plan.


Here are just some of the problems that can arise:

Jim and Andrea have heard some of the horror stories, and theyíre nervous. The two, both 31, want to pay off the $33,000 they owe to various collection agencies and creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Since accumulating the debt, theyíve landed better jobs and moved to a cheaper area in Pennsylvania, freeing up an extra $800 a month to pay off bills.

"Our dream is to buy a house," Jim wrote me in an email. "We are both committed to getting out of debt, but we want to do this the correct way."

Itís not going to be easy, credit experts agree.

To understand why, you need to understand some of the practices of the credit industry, such as:

How delinquencies and charge-offs are handled
A lender will generally write off an account as a bad debt within six months after it becomes delinquent -- in other words, six months after the borrower stops paying. The write off is reported to the credit bureaus as a "charge off."

Some people incorrectly believe that a charge-off means they no longer have to pay their debt. But "charge off" is basically just an accounting term, notes debt expert Gerri Detweiler, author of "The Ultimate Credit Handbook" (2003, Plume). It doesnít relieve you of the legal or ethical obligation to pay the loan, and the lender or a collector can still come after you.

Usually, a lender will turn the charged-off account over to its collections department or a collection agency, and youíll have two entries for the same account on your credit report: one from the original creditor showing the accountís status as charged off and another from the collection agency showing the accountís status as in collections.

(If you have more than two entries for the same debt, which sometimes happens when an account is passed from one collection agency to another, you can demand the credit bureaus remove the extra entries.)

How your credit score views old debts
Not paying your bills is a big bad when it comes to your credit. Delinquencies, charge-offs and collections all seriously hurt your score.

But hereís something thatís really important to know:

The status and amounts owed shown on that entry will figure much more heavily in your credit score than what a collection agency reports.

If the original creditor shows a charge-off with a balance still owed, you might be able to boost your score by paying off the bill and getting the original creditor to reset the balance to zero.

If the balance is already zero -- which credit bureaus say is typical when a collection agency takes over an account -- you canít improve your score by paying up.

"If the trade line balance is showing zero, youíre not going to help your FICO score by paying off a collections account," said Craig Watts, spokesman for Fair Isaac Corp., creators of the FICO credit scoring methodology.

'Settling' an old debt can hurt your score
You can actually make matters worse by "settling" an account for less than what you owe. Such settlements may get the creditor off your back, but the notation of "settled" on your credit report can sometimes be worse for your FICO score than just leaving the account open and unpaid, said Barry Paperno, a Fair Isaac manager.

"Settling the account can add a new element to its record at the bureau," Watts said. "Since that element's date would be more recent than the original item, it can end up lowering the score."

"Recency," or how long itís been since youíve had a negative mark, matters a lot to your credit score. The more recent the problem, the more heavily it weighs against you.

Now, this assumes youíre still dealing with the original creditor. If youíre dealing with a collection agency, a settlement can be even more of a wild card: It could help your score, it could hurt your score or it may have no affect.

Lenders may require you to pay old debts
Of course, just leaving the account unpaid might not be an option if you want to buy a house. A mortgage lender is likely to require that you pay off or settle any open collections that show up on your credit report as a condition of getting the loan.

If youíre interested in a settlement, credit repair experts suggest that, as part of your negotiations, push to have the creditor or collection agency either stop reporting the account altogether or demand that the account be reported as "paid in full" rather than "settled." Such treatment might not help your score, but itís less likely to hurt it. Youíll have more clout if youíre able to pay a lump sum than if you have to set up a payment plan.

Credit bureaus really hate it when collection agencies agree to these demands and have even banned companies for failing to properly report transactions. But that doesnít mean you canít try.

How long credit bureaus can report your accounts
Your credit score is based on information in your credit report, and there are limits on how long your bad marks can be used against you. Once a negative item is on your file, it generally can be reported for 7Ĺ years from the time you stopped paying on the account. (Bankruptcies can be reported for up to 10 years.)

So, if you stopped making payments on your Visa bill in January 2004, the lender can report a charge off the following June. The account can be reported to the credit bureaus until June 2011, when it must be deleted from the bureausí records.

The good news, if youíre trying to retire old debts, is that your attempts to pay up wonít prolong the time that the delinquency stays on your file -- if the delinquency was first reported to the credit bureau on or after Dec. 29, 1997. If your delinquency is older than that, youíre in a bit of a no-manís-land. The old law allowed the reporting period to be extended based on the "date of last activity," which would mean your payment could restart the clock.

Even on older accounts, though, the credit bureaus say they will stop reporting the delinquency after 7Ĺ years if you can prove the original date the account became delinquent, Detweiler said. Thatís a pretty big if. A lot of borrowers simply donít have the paperwork to prove their case.

How letting sleeping dogs lie can affect your credit
You can see why some borrowers choose to just let their old debts "fall off" their credit report rather than try to repay. Once the bad marks are gone, your credit score probably will improve, and youíll still have the money you would otherwise have sent to your old creditors.

Note the word "probably." In credit scoring, little is certain. Thanks to the way the FICO is designed, sometimes a score actually drops after old, bad accounts disappear.

Thatís because the FICO formula groups borrowers based on certain characteristics, such as whether theyíve had a bankruptcy or other credit problem. You could rise to the top of the "had-a-bankruptcy" group but, once your bankruptcy drops off your report, be "transferred" to another group, where youíd rank near the bottom.

"That move (from one group to the next) can sometimes be pretty graceless," Watts concedes. "Itís as though you fell off a chair. Your score can change a couple dozen points for no apparent reason."

Know your state's statute of limitations
Thatís not the end of the complications. Each state limits the amount of time in which a creditor can sue you after an account becomes delinquent. Sometimes the statute is longer than the credit reporting limits, sometimes shorter.

The statutes of limitations for written contracts, for example, range from three years in Delaware to 15 years in Ohio, although the typical limit in most states is five or six years. The rules vary widely, but, in some states you can inadvertently extend the statute of limitations by entering into a repayment plan with a creditor or even by acknowledging that a debt is yours. Getting dragged into court and having a judgment entered against you could further hurt your credit score and your efforts to rehabilitate your credit.

Before you contact your creditors, you should know the details of the statute of limitations in your state. (If youíve moved, itís the state you live in now whose law will probably apply, even if you entered into the credit agreement in another state.) Your best bet may be contacting a consumer law attorney for help; you can get referrals from the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

You might also want to take a look at "12 tips for negotiating with debt collectors" for some ideas about how to conduct your negotiations. Several Internet sites, including CreditBoards.com, have message boards whose members share advice and tactics.

In the end, you may decide that trying to pay off your old accounts isnít worth the hassle -- or you may decide just the opposite. Some debt experts, including Rhode, believe the ethical obligation to pay what you owe outweighs any short-term concerns you have about your credit.

"If you can afford to pay, pay," Rhode says. "Too many people live and die by what their credit report says."

Liz Pulliam Weston's column appears every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions in the Your Money message board.


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