Steps to PreQualify for a Mortgage
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Finding the right mortgage is one of the most important decisions you'll make in the home buying process. It's imperative that you talk with multiple lenders and compare mortgage rates and their loan options.
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Pre-qualification and Conditional Approval
Before you begin looking at homes, you'll want to know the difference between pre qualification and a conditional loan approval or pre-approval.
A mortgage pre-qualification is an estimate of how much a lender would be willing to loan you. Once you have given an estimate of your income and assets, the lender will provide you with a written statement showing your maximum loan amount based on your debt-to-income ratio. Pre-qualification is only a preliminary decision, and not a full approval. Pre-qualification can help you figure out if buying a home is a viable option and what your price range might be.
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- Provides an estimate of your borrowing power.
- Is based on information you provide verbally about your income, assets, and sometimes a credit check.
- Can often be done online.
- Is offered by most lenders at no cost.
- Is not comprehensive and therefore is not guaranteed or considered any type of loan commitment.
Home Buyer Tip
Regardless of the loan amount you're prequalified for, stick to your budget and the amount you can comfortably afford. Your lender may prequalify you for more than you think you can comfortably afford. If this happens, you can always scale back to a lower loan amount.
How Are Home Loans Approved?
To get a clearer view of the home loan process, it's helpful to know some of the factors that will be considered when your mortgage application is reviewed.
When you apply for a mortgage, your loan officer will forward your application and the supporting documentation to an underwriter layer. It's the underwriter's responsibility to review your loan scenario and the supporting documentation to ensure that it meets the loan program guidelines, to determine whether or not you qualify for the loan.
The underwriter looks at your application to see if it meets these basic criteria:
- Your ability to repay the loan. This requirement basically asks, "Is your income enough to cover the new mortgage payment and all your other monthly expenses?" To figure this out, lenders use your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). To calculate yours, add up 2 things: your projected monthly home payment and your other recurring debt (monthly payments toward loans and credit cards, for example). Do not include expenses like your electric bill or phone bill. Divide that total number by your monthly pre-tax income to find your ratio. Most lenders want your debt-to-income ratio to be 36% or less, but the ratio that works best for you is the one that you can comfortably afford. If you're self-employed, tell your lender so they can help guide you through any specific questions about your employment or income.
- Your likelihood to repay the loan. Your payment history and credit score layer are indicators to lenders of your likelihood to make payments in the future.
- The home value. The underwriter carefully looks at the home value (based on a professional appraisal ordered by your lender) of the property you are purchasing to verify that it meets or exceeds the purchase price. This will also help them ensure the Glossary Term: loan-to-value layer (LTV) ratio fits within the loan program guidelines. To qualify for a conventional loan, most lenders require you to have a loan-to-value ratio of no more than 80-95%. The higher your home's value and the less you owe on it, the lower your LTV ratio.
- For a purchase, the source of funds for your down payment. The underwriter will verify your down payment layer funds. If you have a down payment of less than 20%, you will typically be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which increases your monthly mortgage payment. The underwriter will review your documentation to estimate whether you have enough money to cover closing costs layer. You may also be required to have set aside two or more monthly mortgage payments as reserves layer, depending on the loan program and/or loan amount. Lenders typically require reserves to cover your mortgage payment in case of emergencies or unforeseen events.
As you move forward, keep in mind that your income, debt, credit history, down payment and savings (if applicable), the home's value and your loan program's guidelines will all play a role in whether your loan application is approved.
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