Letters

What’s a Preapproval Letter for a Mortgage?

TLDR

What You Need To Know

  • A mortgage preapproval letter is a non-binding document that indicates a lender believes you have a good chance of qualifying for a mortgage
  • A preapproval letter doesn’t guarantee you’ll qualify for a mortgage, but it’s a sign that you’re serious about buying a home
  • Prequalification letters and preapproval letters can help you move closer to closing on a home, but most home sellers prefer a preapproval letter

Contents

During your home buying journey, your real estate agent or a home seller might ask you to provide them with a mortgage preapproval letter. And hopefully, your answer will be, “Of course!” A preapproval letter is an important document. It’s a clear signal that you’re serious about buying a home and can make a serious offer.

In some cases, not having a preapproval letter might even keep you from making an offer on a home.

Are you interested in giving yourself an advantage in our hypercompetitive real estate market? We can tell you how to get a preapproval letter for a mortgage and break down the crucial information contained in the letter. 

What Is a Mortgage Preapproval Letter?

A mortgage preapproval letter is a non-binding agreement from a mortgage lender, like a bank, credit union or online lender. The letter is proof a lender believes you can qualify for a mortgage based on the information and paperwork you’ve submitted. The letter will also outline what type and size loan you can qualify for.

The key thing to remember about preapproval letters is that they are non-binding. That means a lender’s assessment of your ability to qualify for a mortgage can change if your financial situation changes. It also means that you aren’t committed to the lender. Nothing is stopping you from changing lenders if you get a better offer.

Why do you need a mortgage preapproval letter?

Getting a preapproval letter is a critical component of the mortgage application process. The letter can help you:

  • Know your price range: A preapproval letter indicates the amount of money a lender is willing to lend you to buy a home. While you may not buy a home at your maximum preapproval limit, it’s useful for home buyers to know where the limit is.
  • Build trust with the seller: A mortgage preapproval letter demonstrates to sellers and other relevant parties that you are a qualified buyer who is likely to make an offer soon.
  • Shorten the approval process: Preapproval lays the groundwork with a potential lender and helps accelerate the final approval process. You might close on your dream home even sooner. 

What does a mortgage preapproval letter look like?

A preapproval letter communicates that you would likely qualify for a mortgage.

The letter will include your name and address, the name and contact information of your prospective lender and:

  • The type of loan: Are you approved for a conventional or a government-backed loan, like a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan?
  • The loan terms: Terms include the length of the loan, the interest rate and whether the loan is a fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).
  • The approved property types: Your loan may be limited to primary residences or may not allow you to buy a condo or other type of shared housing. 
  • The maximum loan amount and loan-to-value (LTV) ratio: This indicates the size of the loan and the maximum home value the lender will approve. The amount could affect your required down payment.

What is a preapproval letter vs. a prequalification letter?

Prequalification letters and preapproval letters can help you move closer to closing on a home, but most home sellers prefer a preapproval letter. 

A prequalification letter is easier to get because you don’t need to provide as much information to a potential lender.

A preapproval letter usually requires a few more steps, including providing a lender with financial documents, such as bank statements and tax returns. A preapproval letter indicates that a lender has thoroughly reviewed your finances and believes they can likely issue a mortgage to you.

In the end, preapproval letters carry significantly more weight than prequalification letters. A preapproval letter can be the thing that sets you apart from other buyers when you make an offer on a home.

How Do You Get a Mortgage Preapproval Letter?

To get a preapproval letter, you’ll need to submit paperwork that supports what you’ve told a lender about your income and debt obligations, including tax returns, pay stubs, W-2s, bank statements and more.

When should you get preapproved for a mortgage?

Most preapproval letters are only valid for a limited time. If you wait too long before you make an offer on a home, you may need to start the preapproval process from scratch.

Your lender should specify how long the preapproval letter is valid. Preapproval letters are typically valid for 30 – 90 days, but you may be able to extend the duration of your preapproval letter. Ask your lender how and when you can do that.

How long does a preapproval for a mortgage take?

The time it takes to be preapproved for a mortgage will depend on the lender. Once you’ve submitted all the necessary paperwork, most preapproval applications are approved or declined within 3 business days. In some cases, you may be able to get your letter within 24 hours.

How many preapprovals should you get?

Getting multiple preapproval letters could potentially help you get a better deal because you can compare lender offers. And in a competitive market, you may be able to use an offer letter as leverage to convince another lender to extend a better offer.

But you must be careful if you apply for multiple preapproval letters. Most preapprovals require a hard check on your credit. Hard checks can temporarily lower your credit scores by a few points. If you apply for too many preapproval letters, the hits to your credit score can start to add up.

To help avoid the impact of applying for multiple preapproval letters, submit all your applications during a 14-day window. The credit bureaus will treat the hard checks as a single hard check. 

Is the preapproval process different for government-backed loans?

The preapproval process will be the same whether you use a government-backed loan or a conventional mortgage to buy a home. But government-backed loans may require additional forms and paperwork.

Preapproval Letter Today, Homeowner Tomorrow

Getting preapproved to buy a home is an important step in the home buying process. The step doesn’t give you “total clearance” to close, but securing a preapproval letter can mean you’re accelerating your progress toward the closing table. With a preapproval letter in hand, you’ll be in a great position to make a serious offer on a home.

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In Case You Missed It

  1. Generally, a preapproval letter will carry a lot more weight than a prequalification letter

  2. It is difficult to make a competitive offer on a home without a preapproval letter

  3. Getting a preapproval letter might have a minor impact on your credit score

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