Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Most Important Factors to Getting Approved for a Mortgage

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

iStock

When David Inglis and his wife decided to move to San Diego last year, they were expecting a relatively smooth process. They’d keep the house they owned in Los Angeles and rent it out as a source of passive income, then they’d buy a new house in San Diego. They even had a 20% down payment ready to go.

“The problem was that we found renters and had to get out of our current house and close on the new house within 21 days,” Inglis, 40, a yacht broker, tells MagnifyMoney. That gave them just 21 days to get a mortgage — easier said than done. As Inglis put it: “Getting approved for a mortgage is a process, to say the least.”

With what felt like a moment’s notice, the couple had to gather up and submit everything from tax returns to current income statements, and do mountains of paperwork in between to get pre-qualified for a loan. From there, their lender picked through their credit scores, debt-to-income ratio, employment history — you name it. They closed on their new house in the nick of time at the end of 2017, and it was anything but a stress-free experience.

If you’re new to the whole buying-a-house thing, locking down a mortgage loan isn’t something that happens overnight. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it though. One recent Value Insured survey found that the vast majority of younger folks—a whopping 83%, in fact—still associate buying a home with the American dream.

At the starting line? There are a number of important factors that go into determining if a lender will approve you for a home loan. Here’s everything you need to know.

Getting approved for a mortgage — 5 things lenders are looking for

Credit score

Remember: A mortgage is a type of loan. When you’re applying for any type of financing, your credit score is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. This three-digit number essentially provides lenders with a general idea of your creditworthiness.

If you have accounts in collections or a history of making late payments, for example, you’ll have a lower-than-average score, which directly affects your loan options. That means you could get hit with higher interest rates or bigger mortgage insurance premiums, or both.

“Your credit score is really important on conventional loans,” John Moran, founder of TheHomeMortgagePro.com, tells MagnifyMoney. “Some other loan programs are less credit-sensitive.”

For conventional home loans, Moran says your credit score has to be at least 620, but for FHA or VA loans, you may be able to get away with a score in the 500s. But it’s not just about getting approved. The lower your score, the higher your mortgage rate will likely be — and that can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of your loan over time.

FICO, America’s leading credit reporting agency, looks at several important factors when determining your score. Your payment history, amounts owed, and length of credit history are chief among them. If you’re aiming for a home in the next year or two, you’ve got time to improve your credit if you start now.

Trust us — it’ll be worth the effort. You can see below what estimated mortgage rate folks would get based on their credit score and how much it could cost them over time. For our purposes, we’ll assume they’re all getting a $250,000 30-year fixed rate loan.

Score Range

APR

Monthly Payment

Total interest paid

760-850

3.914%

$1,181

$175,224

700-759

4.136%

$1,213

$186,760

680-699

4.313%

$1,239

$196,072

660-679

4.527%

$1,271

$207,462

640-659

4.957%

$1,335

$230,777

620-639

5.503%

$1,420

$261,180

Source: Calculated using the MyFico Loan Savings Calculator
Rates current as of Feb. 2, 2018.

You can find a detailed breakdown of your credit score by pulling up your credit report for free. Your report unpacks your credit history for lenders, so it’s vital to know what’s on it. This is crucial because you could end up spotting an error that’s weighing your score down.

If your credit score could use some work, don’t fret—there are plenty of ways to give it a good boost before buying a home. Establishing credit history, keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30%, and making consistent on-time payments are all on the list.

Debt vs. income

Your credit score goes hand in hand with your current debt load. Lenders specifically zero in on how your debt relates to your income. Together, this determines what’s known as your debt-to-income ratio (DTI)..

To calculate out your DTI, it’s fairly simple: Add up all your monthly debt obligations (not including your current housing payment unless you own the home and plan on keeping it), then divide that number by your gross monthly income. So if you pay, for example, $2,000 a month toward debt and you’re grossing $4,500, your DTI comes in at about 44%.

What’s a good DTI? Strive for 36% or less.

Fannie Mae, which sets the lending standards for the vast majority of mortgage loans, generally requires a maximum total DTI of no more than 36%. However, if the borrower meets certain credit and reserve requirements, they can generally get away with 45%.

Why? A high DTI is a red flag to lenders that you may not be able to afford a new monthly loan payment. In a lot of ways, it’s more telling than your credit score.

“The only thing that really matters to lenders is how this new monthly payment and your other debts relate to your income,” said Moran. “One of the quickest ways people can turn things around is by paying down revolving debts like credit cards and lines of credit, which increases your available credit and decreases your credit utilization ratio.”

He adds that making a smaller down payment in order to pay down revolving debt might improve your chances of qualifying since doing so will boost your credit score relatively quickly. Knocking those balances down also lowers your monthly minimum payment, so you may be able to qualify for a larger loan. In other words, your DTI isn’t the end-all-be-all when applying for a mortgage loan, but it’s pretty important.

Down payment

Lenders also look at how much of a down payment you can make, which ties directly back into your debt-to-income ratio. According to Bob McLaughlin, director of residential mortgage at financial services company Bryn Mawr Trust, putting down a higher down payment makes you more likely to get approved since it essentially decreases the risk for the lender. As a result, better loan terms and interest rates will likely be on the table.

“If you have the ability to put 20% down, you also avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance, which makes it easier to qualify,” he said.

Another perk is that you’ll have more equity in your home as well as a lower monthly mortgage payment. But for many, saving for a 20% down payment is a serious barrier to homeownership. Not surprisingly, a 2016 report put out by the National Association of Realtors found that the average down payment for first-time homebuyers has fallen in the 6% range for the last few years. The good news is that according to Moran, you can still get approved with a lower down payment.

“You can put 0% down for VA loans, 3.5% for FHA loans and even as little as 3% for conventional loans,” he said.

“There are people all the time buying homes with these minimum down payments, but it really all boils down to what you’re comfortable with and the kind of monthly payment you can handle.”

FHA and VA loans are usually the first low down-payment loans that come to mind, but options like personal loans and USDA loans may also be worth considering. Just keep in mind that taking this shortcut could potentially translate to a financial burden — low down payments typically necessitate higher insurance rates and extra fees to protect the lender.

That said, lenders are really looking at your big financial picture, not just your down payment size. If you’re putting down less, but have a good score and a steady source of income, you’re much more likely to get approved for a mortgage loan than someone with a lower score and/or spotty employment status.

Employment history

Our insiders say that your income and employment history are just as important as your credit score, DTI and down payment size. Again, it all comes down to lenders feeling confident that you can indeed repay your loan.

“You have to fit the underwriting guidelines per your profession, and there is little flexibility there,” said McLaughlin.

Piggybacking on this insight, Moran says that the ideal situation is if you’ve worked for the same employer for two years and you’re salaried. The second ideal way to get the green light is if you’re an hourly worker who’s been with the same company for at least two years.

But all this begs one obvious question: What about self-employed folks? The freelance economy is growing rapidly. According to the latest Freelancing in America survey conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, these folks are predicted to make up the majority of the U.S. workforce within the next decade. Moran says that for these workers to qualify for a mortgage, they’ll need to have a two-year work history.

Check out our guide on getting approved for a mortgage when you’re self-employed.

“It’s a little bit of a kiss of death to start self-employment right before applying for a home loan,” he said.

“Most lenders won’t approve you because they want to be sure you’ll be able to afford your new loan payment. The only way to really prove you have a steady income is with two years’ worth of tax returns.”

In rare cases, Moran adds, you may be able to get away with one year, but it’s not the norm. Things are different of course, for self-employed newbies who are applying with a spouse who works a steady 9-to-5, which could tip the scales in their favor. Again, it’s all about the big picture. That said, a new salaried position will typically erase doubts stemming from a spotty employment history, as long as you have about two months’ worth of pay stubs, according to McLaughlin.

Loan size

All the factors we’re highlighting here are interwoven. The size of the loan you’re applying for fits right in. The higher your loan amount, the higher your monthly payment, which impacts that all-important DTI.

This is why you may be more likely to get approved if you’re seeking a lower amount. But whether you’re looking for $100,000 or $400,000, it really boils down to how big of a monthly payment your budget can absorb. (LendingTree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney, has a Home Affordability Calculator that can help you figure this out.)

The general rule of thumb here is to keep your mortgage loan (including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) at or below 28% of your total income. Moran has worked with ultra-conservative folks who like to keep that number at 25%, but he says it really varies from person to person.

“Some people like to travel and don’t want to be house poor; others are homebodies and just really want a nice house because that’s where they’re going to spend their time,” he said.

“It’s all a trade-off, but either way, lenders will only pre-qualify you for what they think you can actually afford.”

How to get preapproved for a mortgage

Pre-approval is a term you’re likely to hear in the home-buying process. This is when the lender takes into account everything from your credit score and debts to employment history and down payment size to offer you a maximum loan amount.

When you come to the table with a pre-approved offer of lending from a bank, you’re already way ahead of the competition. And this can really give you an edge. When you’re living in a metro where most people are coming with double-digit down payments and pre-approvals to boot, you’re competing with very attractive borrowers.

Pre-approvals will ding your credit score, but the hit won’t be too bad if you complete several mortgage applications over a short time period, like 30 to 45 days. Multiple inquiries should only count as one hard inquiry on your credit report.

A good rule of thumb is to get mortgage quotes before you apply for pre-approval. You can get quotes quickly from different lenders at LendingTree by filling out a short online form.

Included in a pre-approval letter will be the estimated loan amount you might qualify for and your estimated mortgage rate.

The pre-approval process is also meant to prevent you from making offers on homes you can’t afford. But this doesn’t mean you have to actually take out a loan for the full amount. Many choose to get preapproved for their top number, then dial back during negotiations.

Final word

When it comes to mortgage approval factors, there are a lot of moving parts. Far and away, your credit score and debt-to-income ratio carry the most weight for potential lenders. From there, your ability to prove that you’re steadily and reliably employed is equally important.

At the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’re applying for a loan that you’ll actually be able to repay hiccup-free. The larger your down payment, the better your odds—especially if it eliminates the need for PMI. Either way, it’s probably in your best interest to meet with lenders before you start house hunting.

“You don’t want to put the cart before the horse by going with a realtor to look at houses, only to fall in love with something you can’t afford,” added McLaughlin. “Your emotions can definitely make the mortgage application process more stressful, which is why it’s best to go through the prequalification process first.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Condo, House or Townhouse: Which Is Best for You?

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

iStock

Buying a home allows you to choose a residence that fits your lifestyle.

Should you buy a house in a suburb or a historic downtown? What about a condo within walking distance of a train station? Or maybe a townhouse in a new urban infill community?

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or are looking for a second home, choosing between a condo, house or townhouse requires you to consider location, maintenance and price. The good news is these housing styles have some overlap, so choosing one over the others may involve less sacrifice than you might expect.

What’s the difference between a condo and a townhouse?

Condominiums — called condos for short — are a kind of ownership, while townhouses and houses (stand-alone structures that most people would consider traditional, single-family homes) refer to physical structure styles.

Condos

Condos can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, though they are often similar in size and appearance to an apartment. At the same time, some condos can be quite expansive. They typically are private residences that are part of a building of multiple-unit communities, although some detached condominiums are available. Condos are occupied by an individual or a family and are often found in urban areas where land for construction is scarce.

Condos can also come in many configurations beyond apartment-style buildings, said Mark Swets, the former executive director of the Association of Condominium, Townhouse, and Homeowners Associations — “Condos have less restrictions. They can be converted from old office buildings or loft space.”

Regardless of their location or size, condo owners share ownership of common areas and facilities that are maintained by a board comprised of members elected from the condo community. The board collects dues from the community’s condo owners and uses the money to maintain and operate common areas and amenities, like community pools, gym facilities and landscaping.

Townhouses

Townhouses typically are vertical, single-family structures that have at least two floors and must be separated by at least one ground-to-roof wall with any other residence that may be attached to it.

Townhouses, which are individually owned, can be lined up in a row or arranged in a different configuration. Owners buy both the structure, including its interior and exterior, and the piece of land on which the townhouse is built, which may include a small yard.

In some cases, townhouses may be classified as condos. The way they’re categorized depends on what’s outlined in the declaration and bylaws for each association, Swets said.

Comparing condos, townhouses and houses

To help you decide which house and ownership type is best for you, we’ve highlighted comparisons as we look at condo versus townhouse, house versus condo and townhouse versus house.

Condo vs. townhouse

Benefits

Risks

Condos and townhouses both offer the opportunity to get to know neighbors and build a strong community and walkable amenities such as a pool or clubhouse, with generally less maintenance than a house. Condos may offer a variety of extra features, with new developments providing luxury conveniences such as rooftop bars, doormen and catering kitchens.Condo and homeowners association (HOA) fees can be expensive, and you’re trusting the HOA or condo association to provide satisfactory upkeep of the property. Condo fees tend to be higher than townhouse HOA fees — as much as several hundred dollars more — because condo associations typically provide more maintenance and amenities, and they can charge owners extra fees to pay for one-time facility expenses.

House vs. condo

Benefits

Risks

While condos offer a range of amenities and maintenance for the exterior of the property, owning a single-family home frees owners from the rules and restrictions of condo ownership. Buyers looking for privacy, a rural or suburban lifestyle or a larger property will have more options with a single-family house.Owning a single-family home means that the owner must pay for damage and upkeep to the interior and exterior that insurance doesn’t cover. Condo associations are liable for the exterior property and, if stated in the bylaws, “common elements” such as the roof and windows.

Townhouse vs. house

Benefits

Risks

Owners of both single-family houses and townhouses own their units, giving them freedom to improve and renovate as they see fit — within any guidelines for changes set by HOAs.Single-family homeowners assume responsibility for their property. Townhouse owners may not be liable for repairs, upkeep or incidents that occur outside their unit or the land on which it sits, depending on their HOA.

How to choose between condos and townhouses

Here are some factors to consider when deciding on what kind of residence to buy.

Maintenance

A single-family house gives you the freedom to fix up or renovate as you please, but you’re also responsible for repairs and maintenance. As a condo owner, the monthly fee you pay to a board or association may take care of maintenance such as mowing, exterior repairs and snow shoveling. Townhouse HOA fees may include maintenance of the community’s common areas, such as a shared backyard or playground, but that’s not always guaranteed.

“If I were to look at a condo, it would be because I didn’t want to worry about the maintenance outside,” said Lori Doerfler, immediate past president of the Arizona Association of Realtors. “If I wanted to have a piece of land but not a lot of yard, a townhome would be a good choice.”

Location and lifestyle

Condos, townhouses and stand-alone houses can offer a wide range of lifestyles and locations. Homebuyers should think through whether they’re interested in an urban, walkable lifestyle, a suburban neighborhood or something in between. Where you live also will determine your commute to work and proximity to family and friends.

Ownership restrictions

While condos can offer convenience and amenities, they also come with monthly dues and occasional assessment fees for special community projects, such as clubhouse repairs, and property rules, which can be strict. Single-family homes, especially those in neighborhoods without a homeowners association, have few or no restrictions.

Buyers should always check the community’s bylaws to understand the rules.

“I always want to get the covenants, conditions and restrictions to the buyer,” Doerfler said. “They describe the requirements and limitations of what you can do with your home as well as the grounds.”

Monthly fees

Any type of dwelling may come with a monthly fee to help pay for upkeep of the community’s amenities, which might include a gym, pool, clubhouse access and landscaping. Owners of a single-family house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association will pay monthly or annual HOA fees, and condo and townhouse owners will likely pay fees every month to their community board or association.

HOA fees typically can range from about $200 to $300 a month; other factors may contribute to how much the fee will be, like your location, unit size and available amenities. Monthly condo association fees can go as high as $700 or more, also depending on the amenities and services provided.

When factoring your monthly mortgage payment, be sure to add in the HOA or condo association fees to determine how much you’ll pay to live in the dwelling. Fees could significantly increase your cost, putting a seemingly affordable home out of reach.

Lending and price

Where you live will determine the price that you’ll pay for your home. Homes in desirable locations, such as a lively downtown area or a neighborhood with a good school district, can cost significantly more than homes with a long commute to a city.

Interest rates vary by lender and location, so it’s important to comparison shop with multiple mortgage lenders before making a decision.

Another consideration for each dwelling type is its resale value. It’s helpful to research resale information for similar homes in the community or neighborhood, and make a note of how long those properties were on the market before they were sold. You should also keep in mind that association fees could have an impact on whether a home is resold.

The bottom line

Your decision to buy a condo, house or townhouse should depend on:

  • What you can afford
  • How much maintenance you’re OK handling
  • Where you want to live
  • The type of community in which you want to live

For example, a family with kids may want a house with a big yard near a good school, while a single professional may be more interested in a downtown condo within walking distance to the office and nightlife.

As you consider which dwelling to buy, be sure to include the costs of condo or HOA fees in your housing expenses to determine whether your new home fits your lifestyle and your budget.

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Marty Minchin
Marty Minchin |

Marty Minchin is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marty here

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply

Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Why Lying On Your Mortgage Application Just Isn’t Worth the Risk

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

iStock

It’s been more than a decade since the housing meltdown when “liar loans” were frighteningly common, and unfortunately the number of borrowers who lie on their mortgage applications is on the rise yet again.Leading up to the housing crisis, unethical housing professionals took advantage of loan programs that didn’t require income or asset documents, and encouraged borrowers to lie on their applications to meet the approval guidelines. That often meant pushing homeowners and homebuyers to borrow more than they could afford.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 all but eliminated liar loans in the aftermath of the housing bust, but that hasn’t stopped lying on applications from making a comeback. The crime committed when lying on a home loan application is called mortgage fraud, and with new laws making it punishable with jail time and million dollar fines, it just isn’t worth the risk.

Why people lie on mortgage applications

There are a number of reasons someone might lie on a mortgage application. The two most common are fraud for housing and fraud for profit. We’ll discuss what each is and provide some examples of how they might work.

Fraud for housing

This type of fraud is related to consumers that make up or inflate information on some part of their loan application to get a home, or keep the home they have. Examples might include convincing an employer to write a “new job letter” with a salary made up to qualify, or trying to persuade an appraiser to come in at a particular value to support a cash-out refinance.

The primary motivation for this type of fraud is to either buy a home, or access some of the equity that has been built up on a home. Home equity is the difference between what your home is worth, and the balance of any mortgage financing.

Fraud for profit

Industry insiders such as real estate agents, loan officers, attorneys, appraisers and even title companies are usually the perpetrators of fraud for profit. They use the entire loan process to steal cash and equity from both lenders and homeowners. Because of the sheer magnitude of economic damage fraud for profit schemes do to local housing markets, the FBI focuses most of its resources on them.

In some cases, home buyers may be part of a real estate fraud scheme involving real estate agents, mortgage loan officers or appraisers to acquire multiple properties in a short period of time, with the intent to immediately flip them for sale at a profit. In more sophisticated fraud rings, sellers may buy and sell houses within a certain area to artificially drive up values.

Unethical loan officers or real estate agents may try to convince inexperienced real estate investors to participate in these schemes, and in many cases they may indicate that there is no harm in a little white lie. But mortgage fraud is mortgage fraud, and you don’t want to be on the other side of the law if the FBI begins scrutinizing an application.

We’ll explore the most common types of mortgage fraud, based on recent reports and studies by Fannie Mae and Corelogic.

Seven common lies on mortgage applications

Lies on a mortgage application don’t just include things like stating you make more money than you actually do, or that you received a gift from someone who isn’t really related to you. You can also commit fraud by leaving off information like properties you own with no loans on them.

Corelogic issued a Mortgage Fraud Report in 2018 listing the most common types of fraud being found on loan applications. Although they are ranked based on how frequently they occur, any type of mortgage fraud is considered a federal crime, and will put the applicant at risk of prosecution.

Lies about your income

If you’re misrepresenting how much income you make or embellishing your employment history to try to get approved for a mortgage, you’re committing income fraud. Your income carries a lot of weight when a lender is determining whether you’ll be able to repay a mortgage loan. In fact, your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, a measure of how much debt you have compared to your pre-tax income, is just as important as your credit history.

Your employment history is also important, and lenders prefer that you have at least a two-year history of earnings at your current job, with steady pay and no gaps in employment. However, you can get a mortgage if you’ve just started a job, or have recently received a large raise.

Dishonest borrowers and their employers may generate job letters with inflated starting salaries, or showing a large raise with manufactured paystubs. The income allows them to meet the DTI requirements on houses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

The number of applications with evidence of income fraud rose more than another type of mortgage fraud according to Corelogic’s mortgage fraud report in 2018.

Lies about living or not living the home you’re buying

Occupancy fraud is when the applicant lies about how they plan to occupy the property to take advantage of lower interest rates or down payment requirements. When you fill out an application you indicate how you will occupy the property you are buying or refinancing. You may choose to live in the property as a primary residence; on occasion as a second home (commonly called a vacation home); or as an investment property that you intend to rent out to tenants to earn income.

Interests rates and down payment requirements are the lowest on primary residences, which may motivate an applicant to lie about living in a property, even if they are really going to rent it out.

Another example of occupancy fraud involves buying an investment property, but indicating it is a second home to get better rates and make a lower down payment. This is most common with out-of-state buyers who may eventually plan to retire in the location they are buying, but rent the property out until they reach retirement age.

Lying about an investment property you actually plan to live in is called reverse occupancy fraud. Current lending guidelines allow you to qualify for a mortgage using the market rent on a property you are buying as an investment property.

Buyers with a lot of liquid assets, but very little income, may commit reverse occupancy fraud so they can get the benefit of the rental income on the property they are buying to qualify.

Lies about who is benefiting from the transaction

Transaction fraud arises when one or more parties to a purchase or refinance transaction lie about why they are getting a mortgage, or try to influence people with cash or profit incentives to buy a property on their behalf.

When you buy a home, you typically sign a purchase contract agreeing to a sales price, and costs associated with the sale of the property. Everyone involved in the transaction has to agree to how much they will be paid, and disclose whether they are related to anyone who is buying, selling or representing a buyer or seller. If the parties agree to terms they believe are fair, and there is no relation either by business or family, that would be considered an “arms-length” transaction.

Lenders do allow financing on non-arm’s length transactions, but scrutinize them to make sure all the parties are working in each other’s best interests.

Reverse mortgages fraud is a type of transaction fraud that has been on the rise as reverse mortgages have risen in popularity. A reverse mortgage allows a senior citizen to access equity in their home in a lump sum, or to create monthly income and does not require a monthly payment.

A child or unscrupulous loan officer might convince an aging parent to take out a reverse mortgage with promises of investing the money, or offer them a large commission or bonus for buying a house with a reverse mortgage. The predators in these schemes are usually trying to earn large commissions, or take the cash from the reverse mortgage proceeds, and the seniors may not even be of sound mind to understand they are being taken advantage of.

Lenders perform thorough checks of contracts and parties involved, and may require higher down payments, or flat out deny a loan if they believe a non-arm’s length party is trying to coerce the borrower to take out a mortgage.

Trying to convince an appraiser to lie about a home’s value

When a home is placed for sale, the seller provides certain disclosures about the condition of the property and real estate agents agree on a fair market value. An appraiser is hired to inspect the property and determine if the agreed upon price is fair based on the recent sales of similar homes nearby.

Before the housing meltdown, lenders, borrowers or real estate agents could pick any appraiser they wanted. Unfortunately, as the housing market heated up during the boom years, appraisers were chosen based on their ability to “hit a value,” which lead to sales at inflated prices.

When the housing market collapsed in 2008, many of these homes dropped in value rapidly, resulting in loan balances being higher than their market value. This phenomenon was called “being underwater,” and resulted in a high rate of foreclosures, as homeowners found themselves with homes that were worth thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, less than their loan balances.

To prevent this problem in the future, the government passed appraisal independence requirement laws that require lenders use a random rotation of appraisers. Many lenders now employ appraisal management companies with a roster of dozens of appraisers in different housing markets, and lenders, borrowers and real estate agents risk regulatory and legal action for attempting to influence an appraiser’s opinion of value.

Not disclosing other real estate you own

Many borrowers mistakenly assume if they own real estate with no mortgage they don’t have to disclose it on the application. In other cases, they may intentionally leave the property off of their application so they are eligible for first time homebuyer programs.

Whatever the reason, this is a form of fraud, and could result in a loan denial, even if the loan is initially approved. Lenders perform a series of quality control measures, which include checking national public records databases to be sure your name or social security number are not tied to ownership of a real estate anywhere else.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage on a property, you are responsible for paying property taxes, and in most cases maintaining homeowner’s insurance. Lenders will take the annual amounts and divide them by twelve, and count the monthly payment against you when you are qualifying for a new loan.

Many of these quality control tests are done right before closing, so it’s just not worth lying on your application by omitting real estate you own, because you could end up with an 11th hour closing crisis, or worse a declined loan.

Stealing someone else’s identity to get a mortgage

According to a study by Javelin Strategy in 2017, a research based advisory firm, 16.7 million people in the U.S. were affected by some form of identity theft in 2017. Examples of identity fraud include manufacturing a social security number, or using someone’s — such as an elderly parent’s — identity to obtain a home loan.

Given how long the average loan process takes and how intensive the identity checks are, it’s the rarest form of mortgage fraud. However, if you have an elderly parent, and they indicate that they are receiving notices about past due credit that they never opened, you may want to take action immediately to determine if someone is testing the waters with their identity information.

Lying about the source of down payment funds

One of the first red flags a lender will look for on your bank statements is large deposits. Lenders want to know where the funds for your down payment came from for a few reasons.

The first is, they want to make sure a third party is not providing funds as part of a straw-buyer scheme. A straw-buyer is usually someone with good credit and stable income, and is paid a fee to take out a mortgage on a home they don’t intend to live in, or make payments on.

The buyer may be given the down payment in cash, or as a gift by fraudulently filling out a gift letter indicating a family relationship with the buyer. Because lenders don’t generally request proof of relationship with gift funds, this type of asset fraud is hard to track, and may not be discovered unless there is a fraud investigation later.

To avoid having to document a large cash deposits, more sophisticated straw buyers schemes may involve mortgage lenders producing forged bank statements. The straw buyer may also be given small amounts of cash by a real estate agent or investor to deposit over time, making it look like they are saving up for the down payment themselves.

The other red flag with large deposits has to do with money laundering. According to a report from Accuity, a global risk insurance company, real estate money laundering schemes reached $1.6 trillion a year across the globe.

Crime syndicates and drug cartels try to make their businesses look legitimate by using the funds derived from illegal activities to make “normal” purchases, such as buying real estate. Anti-money laundering measures are designed to scrutinize any funds used to buy and sell real estate, and watch for patterns of deposits that would indicate an individual is trying to stay just under the threshold for cash deposits that might trigger a money laundering investigation.

Why it’s not worth it to lie on a mortgage application

There are a number of reasons you should avoid lying on an application. The consequences are severe, and laws passed since the housing crisis deal more harshly with incidences of mortgage fraud than in past years.

You could go to jail and be fined

Under current U.S. federal and state laws, a conviction for mortgage fraud could result in a 30-year federal jail sentence, and up to $1 million in fines.

Your loan could be called due

If a lender finds that you committed fraud, they have the right to call the entire loan balance due. If you are unable to sell the home, you could end up with a foreclosure, and the lender could sue you for any losses they incur on the resale.

Your employment options could also be severely limited in the future. Businesses take financial fraud very seriously, especially when they are making hiring decisions. If you have a conviction on your record for any type of mortgage-related fraud, your ability to get a job could be severely limited.

Financial service employment will be virtually impossible, and employers may not consider you for any position that puts you close to a source of money, even if it’s just running a cash register at a convenience store or using a computer system to input food orders at a restaurant as a waiter.

What to do if you spot fraud in your neighborhood

If someone has asked you to lie on a loan application, or you know someone in your neighborhood who has indicated that a “little lie” won’t hurt anyone, you should be aware of the proper authorities to contact. The cost of mortgage defaults due to fraud is often paid by homeowners in the neighborhood when the loans inevitably default once the scheme is discovered by authorities. In large scale mortgage fraud rings, like the ones that occurred during the housing meltdown, taxpayers can end up on the hook for bank bailouts.

You can take action by contacting the following agencies to prevent or investigate mortgage fraud:

U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network: Provides information and resources on mortgage fraud.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Besides providing information about homeownership, you can contact a HUD counselor. They are trained to spot mortgage fraud, and may have resources for contacting the appropriate authorities in your area.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI does investigate financial crimes involving mortgage fraud, so you can contact them if you feel there is a major fraud scheme going on in your neighborhood or town.

Final thoughts: Lying on a loan application is not worth it

Lenders have a great deal of responsibility for making sure loan applicants can repay their mortgages. Besides making sure you have the income, assets and credit to support your loan request, lenders need to verify the documentation provided is valid and verifiable.

There are a number of different reports lenders run to protect themselves from making fraudulent loans, because they can be asked to buy back a loan if an audit by a regulatory agency discovers they didn’t take proper fraud prevention measures. If any housing professional suggests that you omit or lie about something on your application, notify the proper authorities. It’s not worth risking jail time, million dollar fines or becoming unemployable because you lied on a mortgage application.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply