People taking on mortgage loans need to consider the best ways to keep the overall costs down. You can do plenty of things besides simply finding the bank with the lowest rates. If you're ready to look at mortgage options, it's a good idea to take these four steps to save some money.

Check Your Credit

Performing a credit check is important because you need to have a good sense of what the loan officer is going to look at. If there are problems on the credit report, it's wise to clear those up before moving ahead with the mortgage process. Otherwise, you might end up paying a higher rate because of inaccurate or out-of-date information.

Assemble a Large Initial Payment

The down payment on a mortgage can make a major difference in how much you pay in the long run. Financial institutions want to see that borrowers have lots of skin in the game. A serious down payment means you have more of your own money on the line, and that tends to decrease the risk of default. Likewise, if a borrower defaults after making a large down payment, the bank keeps the money. Consequently, the bank is usually willing to offer a lower interest rate in exchange for the borrower making a big and upfront commitment.

A good rule of thumb is to put down 20% of the total value of the mortgage. Someone taking out a $200,000 mortgage, for example, would want to put down $40,000. If you can't quite hit that number, try to still get it as high as possible. There usually isn't much sense in going over because the bank does prefer to service mortgage loans for between 15 and 30 years.

Explore Programs

Many programs help people buy homes. Some are well-known, such as programs that provide loans for veterans or first-time buyers. Others can seem a little odd, such as the programs from the USDA.

Leave no stone unturned. Banks are generally more comfortable offering lower rates on government-backed loans.

Start Looking Early

Time is your friend when it comes to borrowing at a cheaper rate. If you're in a rush to close a sale, there's a risk that you won't look at enough options. Contact lenders before you have a house lined up. Learn how much they're willing to lend and at what rates.

Make comparisons based on the rates. You're going to be dealing with these folks for a while, so also consider the quality of the lender and how well they handle customer service.