Some people don’t know the first thing about getting a mortgage loan. They hear reports of dropping interest rates and lower home prices and hastily decide to jump into home ownership. But the process of getting a home loan differs from getting a car loan or renting an apartment, and applicants who don’t recognize these key differences are often disappointed when a lender denies their mortgage loan application.
Educating yourself is key, and there are a number of ways to avoid this heartache and disappointment when applying for a mortgage loan.
Getting Your Mortgage Loan Approved
Buying a house is already stressful, and being ill-prepared heightens the anxiety. Why put yourself through this? Learn how to think like a lender and educate yourself on the best ways to get your mortgage loan approved:
1. Know Your Credit Score
It literally takes a few minutes to pull your credit report and order your credit score. But surprisingly, some future home buyers never review their scores and credit history before submitting a home loan application, assuming that their scores are high enough to qualify. And many never consider the possibility of identity theft. However, a low credit score and credit fraud can stop a mortgage application dead in its tracks. You can sign up for Credit Karma and receive your credit score in minutes.
Credit scores and credit activity have a major impact on mortgage approvals. According to the Home Loan Learning Center, a large percentage of lenders require a minimum credit score of 680 (620 for FHA mortgage loans) – and if your score falls below 680, lenders can deny your request for a conventional mortgage loan.
In addition to higher credit score requirements, several missed payments, frequent lateness, and other derogatory credit information can stop mortgage approvals. Pay your bills on time, lower your debts, and stay on top of your credit report. Cleaning up your credit history beforehand and fixing errors on your credit report are key to keeping up a good credit score.
2. Save Your Cash
Requirements for getting a mortgage loan often change, and if you are considering applying for a home loan in the near future, be ready to cough up the cash. Walking into a lender’s office with zero cash is a quick way to get your home loan application rejected. Mortgage lenders are cautious: Whereas they once approved zero-down mortgage loans, they now require a down payment.
Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.
However, down payments aren’t the only expense you must worry about. Getting a mortgage also involves closing costs, home inspections, home appraisals, title searches, credit report fees, application fees, and other expenses. Closing costs are roughly 3% to 5% of the mortgage balance – paid to your lender before you can seal the deal.
Pro tips: If you’re planning to purchase a new home, it’s best to keep the cash for your down payment and closing costs in an account that’s easily accessible when you are ready to buy. We recommend a CIT Bank Savings Builder account which earns 2.20%. Once your account is open, look at your budget (which can be set up through Tiller) to find out how much you can comfortably save each month.
3. Stay at Your Job
I know someone who quit working seven days before she and her husband were to close on their mortgage loan. I have no idea why, and unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well for them. They weren’t able to close on their new home and they lost out on a great deal.
Sticking with your employer while going through the home buying process is crucial. Any changes to your employment or income status can stop or greatly delay the mortgage process.
Lenders approve your home loan based on the information provided in your application. Taking a lower-paying job or quitting your job to become self-employed throws a wrench in the plans, and lenders must reevaluate your finances to see if you still qualify for the loan.
4. Pay Down Debt and Avoid New Debt
You don’t need a zero balance on your credit cards to qualify for a mortgage loan. However, the less you owe your creditors, the better. Your debts determine if you can get a mortgage, as well as how much you can acquire from a lender. Lenders evaluate your debt-to-income ratio before approving the mortgage. If you have a high debt ratio because you’re carrying a lot of credit card debt, the lender can turn down your request or offer a lower mortgage. This is because your entire monthly debt payments — including the mortgage – shouldn’t exceed 36% of your gross monthly income. However, paying down your consumer debt before completing an application lowers your debt-to-income ratio and can help you acquire a better mortgage rate.
But even if you’re approved for a mortgage with consumer debt, it’s important to avoid new debt while going through the mortgage process. Lenders re-check your credit before closing, and if your credit report reveals additional or new debts, this can stop the mortgage closing.
As a rule, avoid any major purchases until after you’ve closed on the mortgage loan. This can include financing a new car, purchasing home appliances with your credit card, or cosigning someone’s loan.
Pro tip: If you currently have a significant amount of debt, you might want to consider a personal loan through Credible. This can help lower your interest rate and consolidate your debt into one monthly payment.
5. Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan before looking at houses is emotionally and financially responsible. On one hand, you know what you can spend before bidding on properties. And on the other hand, you avoid falling in love with a house that you can’t afford.
The pre-approval process is fairly simple: Contact a mortgage lender (or multiple lenders at one time through LendingTree), submit your financial and personal information, and wait for a response. Pre-approvals include everything from how much you can afford, to the interest rate you’ll pay on the loan. The lender prints a pre-approval letter for your records, and funds are available as soon as a seller accepts your bid. Though it’s not always that simple, it can be.
6. Know What You Can Afford
I know from personal experience that lenders do pre-approve applicants for more than they can afford. After receiving a pre-approval letter from our lender, my husband and I wondered whether they had read the right tax returns. We appreciated the lender’s generosity, but ultimately decided on a home that fit comfortably within our budget.
Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
If you don’t meet the qualifications for a mortgage loan, don’t get discouraged. Instead, let it be motivation to improve your credit and finances. Many people have risen above credit problems, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and repossession specifically in order to purchase their first house. Just be sure to implement a realistic plan and stick to it.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of home ownership? If you’re currently working toward this goal, what steps have you taken?