It’s a challenging time for homebuyers. Demand for housing is on the rise as the economy continues to soar and job opportunities increase. At the same time, housing supply is down in many parts of the country and mortgage rates are at a seven-year-high, averaging at 4.62% for a 30-year fixed loan as of June 18, 2018.
If you can get preapproved for a mortgage before you put in an offer on a home, it will give you an edge, especially if you are in a highly competitive market.
“A preapproval makes your offer stronger and more attractive to the person selling the house,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney.
In this post, we’ll explain what it means to get preapproved for a mortgage, and how you can do it the right way.
What is a mortgage preapproval?
A mortgage preapproval is essentially when a lender looks at some of your financial information, credit history and employment record, and determines you are eligible for a loan of a certain amount.
They will tell you how much you have been preapproved for and also what your mortgage rate will be. At this point, you can choose to lock in your mortgage rate, or wait to compare their offer with preapprovals from other lenders.
When you have a preapproval, a lender is telling you they are almost certainly going to qualify you for a loan. And when you are competing against other buyers for the same home, that document tells the home seller that you are a reliable candidate. It gives them an incentive to go with your offer, because you’ve been preapproved and it’s likely you’re going to be able to get a mortgage without any issues.
A preapproval can also be helpful to you and your real estate agent. The lender will preapprove you for a certain loan amount, so you will know exactly what you can afford. Your real estate agent then has a good idea of what properties to show you based on your affordability and preferences. In fact, some real estate agents will ask if you’ve been preapproved for a mortgage loan before they even agree to take you house hunting.
There is no guarantee that the borrower will get a final approval. There are plenty of things later in the mortgage process that could derail your application, such as a poor home inspection or a home price that is higher than the home’s appraised value.
How to get a preapproved for a home loan
Identify at least three potential lenders.You should plan on getting preapprovals from at least three different lenders to be sure you’re getting the best rate possible. Even a small difference in mortgage rate can add tens of thousands of dollars to your total loan costs, so that’s why we recommend comparing offers to secure the lowest rate possible. Start with your current bank and check offers from a credit union and online lenders as well.
Of course, if you are merely looking to obtain preapproval to bolster your initial offer on a home, it’s fine to get just one lender preapproval. That will be enough to satisfy any home seller or their agent. But once you are really ready to lock in a lender, that’s when it’s crucial to get offers from other lenders as well. Before there is a property attached to your preapproval, Kapfidze said, you can always switch to another lender.
Get your documents ready to go. Many lenders today will ask for documents electronically and you may even be able to upload documents directly through their website. If you get all your documents organized on your computer, you’ll be sure to have them all ready to go. Different lenders ask for different sets of paperwork, but most lenders require the following documents:
- Your ID
- Two months of bank statements
- Verification of employment, usually in the form of your pay stubs from the last 30 days or W-2s from the past two years (1099s for those who are self-employed)
- Documentation for other sources of income, if applicable
- Social Security number and address
Expect an answer within 24 hours. Most lenders can process a preapproval within 24 hours if the borrower submits all the paperwork on time, said Doug Crouse, a mortgage loan originator with UMB Bank in Kansas City, Mo. However, that also depends on how quickly lenders move and how timely borrowers provide the needed information. In some cases, the preapproval process could take up to 10 days.
If you are preapproved for a mortgage, a lender will issue a letter stating the estimated loan amount and mortgage rate you qualify for based on your financial conditions. Once you have a preapproval letter in hand, you can start searching for homes within your price range.
How preapprovals impact your credit
Getting preapproved will result in a hard pull on your credit, which could make a minor dent in your score. This shouldn’t deter you from shopping around and comparing multiple offers, however. If you get multiple mortgage applications in a short period of time — 14 to 45 days usually — it will only count as one hard inquiry on your credit file and should not damage your score significantly at at all.
If you’re denied for preapproval, it could be for a number of reasons, such as a low credit score, high debt-to-income ratio or a small down payment, Kapfidze said. According to a recent study by LendingTree, the most common cause of mortgage denials was a tie between the borrower’s credit history and their debt-to-income ratio. Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is how lenders determine what percentage of your monthly income is going to be needed to cover your monthly debt obligations, including your potential mortgage payment.
You don’t need perfect credit to get a mortgage. To get the best possible rate, you’ll need a credit score of at least 760, but a credit score of 620 can generally qualify you for a conventional home loan. It will just come with a higher mortgage rate and cost you more money over the lifetime of the loan in interest charges. Do all that you can to improve your credit score before applying for a mortgage.
There are other mortgage options that accept a lower credit score. For instance, someone with a score of 500 may qualify for an FHA loan. We have a list of loan options for borrowers with poor credit here.
Really, the preapproval process is more straightforward than it sounds, and it’s a lot more simple than the actual loan application process — lenders are simply looking for signs indicating that you will be able to repay the loan at this stage.
Preapproval vs. pre-qualification
These terms are often used interchangeably in the mortgage business but they can mean very different things.
Pre-qualification is typically a prerequisite of a preapproval. Lenders may ask prospective borrowers to fill out a pre-qualification form, where a loan officer will gather a few details from you face to face or online, including your income, assets, debts and credit. Based on the preliminary information, they estimate the size of a loan they may qualify you for.
Because at this stage lenders will not verify any information about you, there is typically no hard credit pull required. It’s a good first step in that it helps you gauge how big a home you can afford.
Lenders may issue a pre-qualification letter indicating what your home purchase limit is. If you’re casually shopping for a mortgage or you’re just curious how much you might qualify for, a pre-qualification quote is a good first step for that reason. There’s no risk that you’ll ding your credit score for nothing.
However, pre-qualification is not as serious as a preapproval, and many home sellers will want to see a preapproval when they review your offer. If you’re truly serious about putting a bid on a home, get a mortgage preapproval first.
In a tight housing market, a buyer with proof of preapproval can get a competitive advantage than those who don’t have it — sellers are more likely to take the offer from a buyer who’s preapproved for a loan. This is why preapproval should be done before house hunting.
Benefits of shopping around for mortgage offers
Just like buying anything else, you would want to shop around for a mortgage, because the first offer may not be the best offer.
According to LendingTree’s recent Mortgage Rate Competition Index, borrowers could save 0.62% in interest rate by shopping around. On a 30-year mortgage, a borrower could potentially save $28,890 on a $300,000 loan. That’s almost 10% of the entire loan amount. (Note: MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree)
Crouse recommended borrowers check with two or three lenders to make sure they are getting the best deal in rate and costs. Once you’ve shopped around and received quotes from different lenders, then you can go forward with the one that you feel most comfortable with.
Alternatively, you can use this online tool, which will match you with multiple mortgage lenders, to compare quotes before applying for a preapproval.