Buying your first home can be an overwhelming, stressful, and even frightening process. But it doesn’t have to be. If you prepare yourself properly, you can prepare yourself before clicking that “apply” button online or walk into a lender’s office. Here are 6 tips that can help you breathe easier during the loan application process:

1. Be a renter first.

It will be good practice paying rent. Pay attention especially to the impact of your housing allowance in your monthly budget. Is cash flow too tight prior to your next pay period? Or do you have a comfortable surplus (after paying all monthly bills and putting money into savings and a retirement account.)

2. Check your credit score.

What’s your debt load like? Have you had late payments on any kind of personal debt? These can have a significant impact on your credit score. If you’re close to having ‘superior credit’ sometimes it’s worth doing what it takes to raise your score before buying a home. Great credit can have a BIG impact on the amount of interest you’ll pay on your home mortgage over 15 or 30 years.

3. If possible, save enough cash for a 20% down payment.

This will ensure that you do not have to pay Property Mortgage Insurance (PMI).  PMI protects the lender in case you were to default on your conventional home loan. It’s usually charged as a monthly premium, added to your total monthly payment. Other loans allow for less of a down payment, but it’s nice after closing to know that you instantly have 20% equity in your new purchase!

4. Organize your documents.

Most banks will need tax returns, pay stubs or W-2’s, retirement account statements, checking/savings account statements, and a copy of your drivers license. If you’re a first-time home buyer, you may be asked to verify your rental history.

5. Investigate all loan options.

How long will you live in the house? Banks usually offer a better interest rate for shortening the term of the loan. (i.e. a 15-year fixed mortgage will have a lower interest rate than a 30-year fixed.) Will you be in the home for a short period of time? An Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) might be better suited for you.

6. Pick the professional you’ll work with carefully.

Check with your friends and ask for referrals to find the best realtor, lender, appraiser, and inspector that will cater to a first-time home buyer. Some in the home buying business forget what it was like to be a novice home buyer.

In these tough times – there’s enough stress in the world. If you prepare yourself it will make the home loan process much easier – and even enjoyable.

Derek Kreifels is publisher of Smart Women Smart Money Magazine and a former home lender.