For most would-be home buyers, making a run at homeownership is going to mean getting approved for a home loan.It's a process that, at best, can be stressful and confusing. Borrowers can be better prepared by taking steps to study their options and learn what to expect from a lender."It's surprising to me that people tend to spend more time in pre-purchase research for a car than they do for a home mortgage," says Chris George, president of home mortgage lender CMG Financial.Keeping up to date on changes in the mortgage market is necessary, because the government, which essentially backs 90 percent of new home mortgages, keeps tweaking the guidelines for the loans it will guarantee.Here are some tips for improving the chances that the mortgage math will add up in your favor:Build a credit score. One of the main factors that lenders look at to determine a borrower's creditworthiness is, aptly, their credit score.Bad borrower behavior like late credit card or other loan payments, having a foreclosure or bankruptcy in one's credit report and carrying high balances will weigh down your credit score.Most banks sell the home loans that they make to government-owned mortgage companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. To do that, those lenders must adhere to certain lending criteria.Loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration will accept FICO scores below 600, but expect to pay a significantly higher interest rate at that level. A stellar score ranges from 760 to 850 and can give you greater negotiating power over the cost of the loan.One way to mitigate the impact of a low score: Make a higher down payment, George says.Explore your options. Apart from increasing the chances of qualifying for a loan, making a down payment of at least 20 percent will spare you from having to pay private mortgage insurance.If you can't afford that, you might qualify for financing on an FHA-backed loan. Those loans allow borrowers to make a down payment of as little as 3.5 percent. That's great if you're a first-time buyer and haven't saved up for a bigger down payment. But to protect itself from potential loan defaults, the FHA requires lenders to charge extra fees to cover monthly mortgage insurance payments.Keep an eye on fees. In addition to a down payment, you'll also have to set money aside for closing costs, which can run into the hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars.Lenders charge all manner of fees, some of which are negotiable. All of the fees must be itemized to close the deal, so review them carefully.Your bank could charge you to cover items such as credit reports, appraisals, documentation and administrative costs. The total expense will vary depending on your particular situation.Comparison-shop. It's prudent to get a feel for what different mortgage lenders will offer. After all, getting a home loan is not unlike getting financing for a car. There is some room for negotiation, says George.He suggests that borrowers approach lenders and state what kind of loan term and interest rate they want, and how much of a down payment they're willing to make. Borrowers also should ask what can be done to accomplish this with the least amount of points, or fees that can be charged based on a percent of the loan amount.You can find mortgage calculators and pricing quotes at www.bankrate.com and www.zillow.com/mortgage-rates.