It's wise for women to know something about mortgages PTC

SMART MOVES

December 13, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

She's 31 years old, a manager at a fitness club and an "independent" woman. But when she and her husband bought a Canton town house, she surrendered the mortgage decisions to her husband.

"Not that he's a control freak," she says. But as the owner of his own auto parts business, she rationalized, her husband could better grasp the confusing array of mortgage choices and the number-crunching involved in picking the right program.

Real estate experts say this Baltimore woman's experience is not uncommon. While women tend to take an active -- often leading -- role in picking a family's home, many freeze when faced with the obscure terminology and math associated with home finance, the experts say.

"Somebody told us in first grade that we weren't good at math, and it takes a long time to get attitudes to change," says Carolyn Janik, the author of several real estate books.

Of course, there are exceptions.

Would a female accountant, financial planner or investment banker flinch during a discussion with a mortgage banking representative? Little chance. But would a female professor, doctor or musicologist turn mortgage matters over to her husband? Much more likely.

"Choice of the house usually goes to the woman. Mortgage numbers usually fall to the man," Ms. Janik summarizes.

The problem is that a woman who relinquishes control on mortgage issues -- or any other important financial matters -- may be less able to handle her financial destiny. Then if she finds herself solo in later years -- through widowhood, divorce or another turn of fate -- she has a lot of catching up to do, Ms. Janik stresses.

"I just worry, what would happen if my husband got sick or I became single," says the Baltimore woman.

If you're a woman who acknowledges that a math phobia is preventing you from learning what you need to know about home finance and refinance, consider these pointers from the experts:

* Don't let gender decide which partner in the couple takes the lead on mortgage matters.

"Whomever comes into this with a running start could take the lead," says Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers' Checkbook magazine, based in Washington. If the husband is a violinist and the wife a real estate attorney, it would be logical for the wife to take the lead.

Even if the wife's professional training makes her much less prepared to lead, she may want to do so in order to overcome a mortgage phobia, Mr. Krughoff suggests.

"If this is an area in which you feel that you're weak and it's your wish to educate yourself, you should take it over," he says.

* Don't make the assumption that your husband is any less scared than you in a mortgage office.

Even if your husband is confident of his math skills, he may be terrified at the thought of analyzing the large array of mortgages now offered on the market, says Richard Loughlin, chief executive officer of the Century 21 realty chain.

Long gone are the days when a traditional fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage was the only choice. Nowadays there are adjustables, variables, convertibles and balloon mortgages with terms ranging from five to 30 years.

"Today there are literally hundreds of instruments to finance your property," Mr. Loughlin says.

* Find a good mortgage broker who can help with your education.

A mortgage broker is an intermediary between lenders and prospective loan applicants. As a middle-man (or middle-woman), many a mortgage broker becomes skillful in the art of sorting out loan options for borrowers. A broker can be an excellent choice for anyone trying to demystify the mortgage field, says Ms. Janik.

* Create your own graph to see your mortgage options more clearly.

"By making your own chart, you can separate out the quick-talk you can get from mortgage lenders," Ms. Janik says.

* Don't trivialize the importance of understanding mortgage finance.

Even if a couple decides that it's appropriate for the man to do the legwork and decision-making on the financing or refinancing of a home, the wife should at the minimum have a basic grasp of the loan choices being considered by the couple and some input in the ultimate decision.

A woman who surrenders entirely to her husband on money matters does so at her own peril, Ms. Janik contends.

"There's no guarantee that Mr. Right will be around, alive or will stay married to you. It's to a woman's benefit to know about the mortgage. Stop thinking about the draperies and start thinking about mortgage numbers," she advises.

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