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Getting a mortgage takes more steps than you thought

If you are looking to buy your first home, odds are you do not know how long it's going to take to get a mortgage or how many steps you'll have to take. That's understandable; experience is the best teacher. At the same time, the more you know about the process in advance, the smoother the whole thing will go.

With that in mind, here are a few general steps to get a mortgage and buy your first house:

  1. Make sure your credit score is as high as possible. This means making all payments on time. It may mean reducing debt. If you have a lot of other outstanding debt -- student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc -- lenders may not want to work with you.
  2. Get pre-approved. You don't even have to find a house. You just get pre-approved for the amount that the lender would be willing to give you. This helps you start shopping in that price range. Please note that it is not final approval.
  3. Find the home and make an offer. You can do this with your pre-approval letter. If the offer is accepted, that means the home is yours as long as the contingencies are met.
  4. Get approved. This typically takes far longer than a pre-approval. Once the lender really has to give you that money, they take a close look at your finances and then come back with the rates and terms of the loan.
  5. Close on the house. After this, you own the property and start paying that mortgage back.

The mortgage process can be full of surprises, such as not getting approved even after a successful pre-approval. Make sure you really know what steps to take when you're purchasing any kind of real estate.

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