Be sure to get quotes from local banks and credit unions, which usually offer members competitive rates.

Step 4: Get it in writing

Lenders should be able to make firm rate commitments that are good for at least 30 days. If you have questions, get answers in writing. And if you're refinancing, check your original loan documents to make sure you won't be penalized for paying your loan early. When in doubt, consult with an attorney who specializes in real estate law.

If you're considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, ask how high the monthly payment could go and when interest rates might increase.

The American dream is still alive. In fact, it's more affordable than ever if you qualify. And that's The Savage Truth!
Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated. She was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp.

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