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Important Things to Know Before Choosing a Home Loan Company

Kalicia Bateman
Kalicia Bateman | Contributor

A home is the biggest purchase most consumers will make in a lifetime. This step can feel both exciting and stressful. You may feel overwhelmed by the pressure to choose a mortgage lender you can trust and a home loan that fits your individual profile as a home buyer.

How can you prepare? Where can you find the best mortgage rate? Which company provides the best service? And ultimately, which mortgage company is right for you? Well, we may not know you personally, but we know where to start. As you prepare to make a decision, here are some things to consider:

Financial Preparation

When making a lending decision, mortgage lenders (their underwriters, specifically) take your assets and liabilities into account — including your credit history and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. 

Your credit score is one of the most important factors taken into consideration for a mortgage. The average minimum credit score for mortgage approval is 650. If you don’t have a credit score of 650, you should focus on improving your credit. One effective way to improve credit is to pay off debts, especially consumer debt accrued on credit cards.

Another important factor in a lender's approval decision is your DTI ratio. Displayed as a percentage, your DTI ratio is how much money you owe in relation to your monthly gross income. When buying a house, it is important to try and keep this ratio low — generally, your DTI ratio should not exceed 43 percent. If your ratio exceeds 50 percent you will most likely not be approved for a mortgage loan.
Down Payment
Many lenders require as little as 3 percent down for a conventional loan down payment, but any down payment less than 20 percent typically requires you to pay for monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI) until you reach 20 percent equity paid over time.

Aim to save as much as you can towards a down payment for your home with additional savings for repairs, a home inspection, an appraisal, and closing costs.

Costs and Fees

In addition to a down payment, you will typically be required to pay the following costs and fees associated with your mortgage loan:

  • Closing costs
  • Application fee
  • Underwriting fee
  • Origination fee
  • Processing fee
  • Administrative fee(s)

Depending on your mortgage lender, fees may vary, but you will be required to pay closing costs in most (if not all) cases.

Closings costs are paid at the close of a real estate transaction and cover the expense of loan processing, title searches, insurance, taxes, etc. Closing costs are typically 2 to 5 percent of your home purchase price.

To know which fees you will be responsible for, in addition to closing costs, we recommend speaking with your mortgage lender.

Mortgage Rates

Mortgage interest rates fluctuate daily with the market, but you can typically secure a lower rate if you have a high credit score and low DTI ratio.

Some companies list sample interest rates estimates online, making them easily accessible. But other companies require potential customers to inquire over the phone or in person to receive sample rates. All lenders need personal identifying information from prospective lenders to determine the most accurate interest rate quote.

As mentioned above, mortgage rates can change daily or even hourly, so keep in mind that even a company's most accurate estimate is not guaranteed until your rate is locked in.

Loan Types

A variety of mortgage loan types meet specific homebuyer circumstances and needs. It is important to understand the difference between each loan type so that you can determine which is best for you. 

The most common loan types offered by lenders include the following:

  • Conventional Loan (Fixed-Rate Mortgage) — most common loan type suitable for most homebuyers
  • Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) — lower starting rates, but your rate will change periodically based on the market
  • FHA Loan — lower down payment requirement (3.5%), and designed for low-credit borrowers and first-time homebuyers
  • VA Loan — 0% down payment option for U.S. military veterans, servicemembers, and eligible family members
  • USDA Loan — 0% down payment option for qualifying rural property owners
  • Jumbo Loan — intended for amounts above qualifying conforming limits

Not all mortgage lenders offer each loan option above, and some lenders specialize in certain loan types. Some lenders also offer additional specialized loan products.

Your loan officer can help you identify which loan type works best for you and your unique situation. It is important to understand which home loan companies offer the specific loan option that you are looking for so that you can move forward without any hiccups.

Pre-Approval

Many homebuyers seek a pre-approval letter prior to looking at properties and entering into a loan agreement. A pre-approval letter shows you are a serious buyer with available financing, making you a more competitive homebuyer if you put an offer down on a home.

To obtain a pre-approval letter, you’ll need to submit the following relevant documents:

  • ID (driver’s license or passport and social security number)
  • Employment verification (employer’s contact info)
  • Income verification (pay stubs, W-2 forms, tax returns)
  • Assets (bank statements for checking and saving, documentation of investments, retirement accounts)
  • Liabilities (outstanding debts like mortgage, car loans, student loans)
  • Residential history (current real estate holdings, rental history)
  • Other documents (gift letter if you have a family member contributing to down payment)

Since a pre-approval letter is not a legally binding document or an official loan agreement, you do not need to finance your home through the lender that provides your letter. If you think you can get a better loan elsewhere, it’s recommended you keep shopping around.

Customer Service

Many lenders work exclusively online. If having a brick and mortar branch location is important to you, identify local lenders and go from there.

Because home loans are often difficult and complex, effective communication between the company and the customer is essential. When choosing a home loan company, you want to make sure that communication is going to work to your advantage so you won't be confused about the details of your home loan.

Customer reviews will give you important insights. Looking through company profiles, reading reviews, and contacting customer service will help you, as a potential customer, determine if the company's customer service meets your needs.

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Mortgage Lenders Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the top-ranked mortgage lender?

AmeriSave Mortgage is currently the top-ranked mortgage lender based on more than 1,300 verified user reviews. AmeriSave excels in customer satisfaction, service, and attention. Out of the company’s total verified customer reviews on Best Company, 90 percent of them are four-star and five-star reviews.

AmeriSave customers praise the following: 

  • Low interest rates
  • Quick and efficient loan process
  • Easy application process
  • Low closing costs
  • Personable and helpful loan officers

What is an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)?

An adjustable-rate mortgage generally has lower interest rates. However, these interest rates can change periodically, causing monthly payments to fluctuate. The loan begins with a fixed interest rate but after a set period ends, interest rates become unpredictable and may go up or down based on the market.

What is an FHA loan?

FHA loans are government-insured loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. They accept down payments as low as 3.5 percent and credit scores as low as 580. This loan type can be a great option for low-credit borrowers and first-time homebuyers.

If a homeowner defaults on the loan, the FHA will provide a paid claim to the lender of the loan, giving homeowners extra protection.

What is a VA loan?

VA loans are a zero percent down loan type provided by approved lenders. VA loans are government-insured, backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and are only available for active military and their families as well as retired veterans. 

What is a USDA loan?

USDA loans are backed by the United States Department of Agriculture and are available to qualifying rural property owners. USDA loans are meant for low- to moderate-income home buyers, providing lower interest rates with a 0 percent down payment. 

However, not all properties will qualify for this type of loan — you must ensure that the home you're buying is in an approved rural location.

What is a jumbo loan?

Jumbo mortgage loans are home loans that exceed the mortgage loan limits created by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sibling organizations that have a significant place within the mortgage industry.

Often referred to as non-conforming mortgages, Jumbo loans are a bit riskier because they aren’t guaranteed by the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac organizations, meaning the lender is the one who is responsible for any defaults that may occur.

Jumbo loans can be in the form of fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgages, and they typically require a higher down payment than conforming loans.

What is a fixed-rate mortgage?

A fixed-rate mortgage, also called a conventional mortgage, is the most common type of home loan. As the title of the loan suggests, the interest rate of this loan will not change throughout the life of the loan. Because this type of loan has a fixed interest rate, it is easy to look for comparable rates.

A fixed interest rate can prove to be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on how the market plays out. It can be beneficial to you, for example, if you have a rate of 3.8 percent and later the rates go up to 4.5 percent. On the other hand, if you have a fixed rate of 4.5 percent, but later on the rates go down to 3.8 percent, you would be stuck paying more interest on your loan.

What is a home equity loan?

Home equity loans are loans in which you, the borrower, use the equity of your home as collateral; loan amounts are determined by the value of your property.

While this can be a helpful option for some homeowners, often providing lower interest rates, it also presents a risk if you are unable to make payments, since the lender can then foreclose on your property.

Do I have to make a 20% down payment?

You might have heard before that you must pay 20 percent down on a house. While this can be beneficial for lowering your monthly mortgage payments, it may not be a realistic option for all homebuyers.

In many cases, first-time homebuyers pay approximately 7 percent down, and there are loan program options, such as FHA loans or VA loans, that require as little as 3 percent down, or even 0 percent down (VA loans and USDA loans).

A good rule of thumb is to make the highest down payment you reasonably can because it can make payments more manageable in the future. However, if you aren't able to pay 20 percent down, there is no need to panic, there are other options available.

Can I refinance my mortgage loan?

Many lenders offer mortgage refinancing services, allowing you to secure a lower interest rate or later loan terms, which could save you hundreds of dollars each month in mortgage payments.

What is mortgage pre-approval?

The pre-approval process allows you to compare rates from several lenders, and is similar to the pre-qualification process with personal loan products.

Once you choose and are approved by a lender, that lender will write you a pre-approval letter, proving that you have financing for a home purchase.

This letter assists in putting an offer down on a house because it proves to the home seller that you are prepared to make the purchase.

What is the difference between private mortgage insurance (PMI) and homeowners insurance?

Private mortgage insurance is insurance for your lender in case you are unable to make your monthly payment for any reason. In most cases you are required to pay PMI if you make a down payment of less than 20 percent.

Homeowners insurance is insurance for you as the homebuyer, protecting your home and belongings in the case of a destructive event or theft. When you purchase a home you will likely be required to get homeowners insurance.

What is the difference between a loan officer and a mortgage broker?

A loan officer provides mortgage options only from the company that they work for, while a mortgage broker works with multiple mortgage lenders to secure the best options for you.

In the simplest terms, a loan officer is akin to a salesperson for their company, while a broker works on your behalf to secure the best mortgage loan for your needs.

There are many pros and cons to both, but if you are researching online mortgage lender options, you will primarily be working with loan officers.

How do I choose the best lender for me?

Every buyer's situation is different, and many lenders offer similar rates and terms. Thus, it is important to read customer reviews to give you the best idea of whether or not a company is transparent and trustworthy. From reading mortgage lender reviews you'll get a feel for which companies offer the most competitive mortgage rates and provide the best overall service.

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