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HomeMortgagesFinancing Your First Home3 Tips for Choosing a Mortgage Lender

3 Tips for Choosing a Mortgage Lender

tl;dr

What You Need To Know

  • Double-check your credit score and review your finances
  • Check your mortgage options and decide on the best fit
  • A preapproval letter gives you an advantage over other buyers (nice!)

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It would be awesome if finding the right mortgage lender were as simple as swiping right on an app (#lender, anyone?).

But you can’t choose a mortgage lender that way because there are too many moving parts.

Your finances and your lender’s terms and services must match to make it work. Taking shortcuts when it comes to choosing a mortgage lender will likely leave you with a loveless, high monthly mortgage payment.

If you’re only staying in the relationship for the sake of the house, you’ll never be satisfied. You need to know what to look for when you’re looking for The One. 😍

Mortgage Lender: Your Agent for Your Real Estate

A mortgage lender is a financial institution that offers mortgage loans. Each lender has unique guidelines to evaluate your creditworthiness, which builds their confidence in your ability to repay the loan.

Having the right mortgage lender means shopping around and comparing many different suitors until you’ve narrowed it down to one.

Mortgage Lenders Beyond Mortgage Brokers: Tons of Options

Before you select a mortgage lender for your home buying journey, it’s important to know exactly which types of lenders you can recruit because each is unique.

Direct lender

As the name suggests, direct lenders loan money directly to you to fund your mortgage, which can lower your fees. This can be a credit union, bank or major lending company.

Mortgage broker

Mortgage brokers act as matchmakers between borrowers and multiple lenders. They help you find a lower interest rate – for a fee. Keep in mind that they’re the ones out shopping for the best loans for you.

Correspondents

Correspondent lenders only carry the loan for a short time. Eventually, they will sell it to a sponsor who will take over the risk.

Portfolio lenders

Portfolio lenders originate mortgages and then carry the loan rather than sell it in the secondary market.

Know Your Credit and Take Good Care of It: Tip #1

Your credit score is one of the most important parts of getting a low interest rate on a mortgage loan. You should know your credit score and know what can jack it up or tank it. Many lenders require a minimum credit score of 580.

There are other aspects of your finances worth examining:

  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) (shoot for 43% and under)
  • Outstanding loans and debt
  • Monthly net income
  • Monthly expenses
  • Budget
  • Financial goals

Know What Type of Mortgage You Want: Tip #2

There’s more to picking a mortgage than figuring out how long of a commitment (aka payment period) you’re looking for. You’ll want to check out the wide variety of mortgage options in the lending pool to reel in the “best catch” for your unique financial situation.

Mortgage terms

Your mortgage term is the length of time it will take for you to make monthly payments until the loan is paid off. The most common terms are 15 and 30 years. There are also 40-, 20- and 10-year terms – and even terms as short as 8 years.

Fixed-rate mortgages

A fixed-rate mortgage is exactly what it sounds like: A mortgage with an interest rate that doesn’t change. This type of mortgage makes it easier to plan out your finances and avoid any nasty surprises that may come from wild interest rate fluctuations.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)

ARMs are – wait for it – mortgages with interest rates that adjust. You’re typically locked in for a fixed rate for a set period of years, then after that, the rate adjusts to meet the market rate every 6 months or a year.

OK, we’re not gonna lie, ARMs can get a little tricky to wrap your head around because they involve complex finance-speak – like “index,” “margin,” “caps” and “ceiling” – that you might not really care about unless you’re getting one.

An ARM may be the way to go in some very specific cases. You know, like when interest rates are high and will likely go down. Or when you just know your rap career is about to blow up, so you’ll be able to afford your payments if interest rates blow up, too.

Government-backed mortgages

Government-backed mortgages are (drumroll, please!) mortgage loans backed by a federal government agency.

“Backed” means that they are guaranteed because they are secured by a federal agency. A guaranteed loan usually means qualification is easier, you pay a lower down payment (or maybe none at all) and you may be able to skip mortgage insurance. What’s not to love?

There are three main types of government-backed loans: the U.S. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loan.

Conventional loans

If you don’t qualify for a government-backed loan, try to qualify for a conventional loan. Conventional mortgages come in all shapes and sizes. They are not guaranteed by any federal agency, which means the standards for qualification tend to be higher. Regardless of that, some lenders require only as little as a 3% down payment.

Closing costs and down payment assistance programs

If your credit is pristine but you’re short on cash, some programs can help with your down payment or closing costs through grants and other assistance, including some that are tailor-made for first-time home buyers.

There Are Times You Should Seek Approval and a Mortgage Preapproval Is One: Tip #3

A mortgage preapproval is like a dry run of the mortgage prequalification process. It happens before you find a house. Unlike prequalification, the lender does a hard credit check for preapproval and carefully scrutinizes your finances.

How preapproval helps

Once the preapproval process is complete, you’ll receive a letter from your lender that indicates the amount of loan you qualify for. Show this letter to sellers to give you an edge over the competition.

The letter indicates that you’re serious about buying a home. It shows that your creditworthiness has been reviewed and passed the test. Preapproval also saves you time because you’ll already know your purchase limit when you make an offer.

Documents you will need

You’ll need the same documents for a preapproval that you’ll need for a loan application. Now is the time to buy that accordion file and do some serious adulting. You’ll need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Bank, savings, checking, investment and other financial account information
  • Outstanding debt obligations (credit card, car loan, student loan, etc.)
  • Most recent 2 years of tax returns, W-2s and 1099s
  • Salary and employer history
  • Proof of income
  • Documentation of where your down payment is coming from
  • Your previous address

Narrowing the Field: Put Them Through an Interrogation

Meeting with your first mortgage lender might feel like “loan at first sight,” but you need to pause before you seal the deal. Like dating, there are other lenders in the sea. This is your opportunity to be a player and explore all your rates and terms before you put a proverbial ring on it.

Keep it casual. Don’t make any commitments until you know you’ve found The One. Meet with several lenders and compare:

  • Their payment terms
  • Their down payment requirements
  • Which lender fees the buyer is responsible for at closing
  • Which fees (if any) can be waived or rolled into the mortgage
  • Their turnaround times are on preapproval, appraisal and closing
  • How well they communicate and how quickly they respond

After you’ve weighed it all out, follow your heart and make your decision.

Love and Lending: It Pays To Be Picky

Don’t leave finding the right mortgage lender to destiny.

Choosing a mortgage lender with the best terms and mortgage options can be the difference between satisfaction and wishing you hadn’t settled.

#icymi

In Case You Missed It

Take-aways

  1. Shopping for a mortgage lender that's a good fit takes time and effort
  2. Mortgage brokers charge a fee to shop around for you because they look for the lowest rates and best terms
  3. A preapproval may be just the thing that snags you your dream home in a competitive market

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