Getting a Loan

When to apply

Some people wait until after they make an offer on a home to get approved for a mortgage, but it is best to do it beforehand. Why?

  1. It lets sellers know you are a serious buyer. Many sellers will not consider offers from those without pre-approval.
  2. It gives you a limit as to what homes to look at. Why put an offer on a house that would require a $500,000 mortgage if you can only get a $300,000 mortgage?
  3. You do not have to rush to find financing after your offer is accepted.

A lender can either pre-qualify you or pre-approve you. These are not guarantees. With pre-qualification, you are given an estimate of what you can afford. It is not a guarantee. When you are pre-approved, you get a commitment from the lender to provide a mortgage for up to a specific amount, barring any major financial changes or problems with the house. If you are just starting to look and not sure when you are going to buy, getting pre-qualified is sufficient. However, once your home search turns serious, it is a good idea to get pre-approved. The pre-approval typically lasts for 45-60 days. At Bethpage, a pre-approval lasts for 90 days.

Finding a lender

Applying at a credit union is often a good place to start because credit union typically offer lower rates and closing costs than banks. Some lenders let you apply for a mortgage online, but if you have questions, you may want to apply in person with a loan officer.

Application criteria

Lenders consider many factors when deciding whether or not to approve a loan and how much to approve you for. They typically include:

  • Your credit score: As discussed previously, many lenders require a score of at least 680 for approval and mid 700s for the best possible rate.
  • The down payment amount and your other assets: Most lenders require you to pay for a certain percentage of the home purchase with cash from your pocket. For example, if your lender requires a 10% down payment and you have $20,000, the most you could borrow would be $180,000 ($200,000 maximum purchase price - $20,000 down payment). The reason for this requirement is that if you have some money invested in the home, you are less likely to walk away. Lenders also like to see that you will have savings post-purchase that you can use to pay the mortgage in case you experience a cash-flow problem.
  • Your employment history: In order to know that you are capable of handling a mortgage, lenders usually want to see a stable employment history (at least two years of consistent employment in the same field).
  • Your income: You will likely have to provide two years’ worth of Form W-2s and/or paystubs to document your employment and income. If you are self-employed, you usually need to provide two years’ worth of tax returns and balance sheets.
  • Your existing debt: Many lenders require that your existing debt payments plus your mortgage payment not exceed 36-38% of your gross income, although some allow a higher percentage. This is called the total debt to income ratio.

After collecting the necessary information, the lender will approve the loan or deny it. If the loan is denied, the lender is required to tell you the reason why. You will probably be disappointed, but use the feedback provided to make changes. If the loan is approved, the lender will tell you the amount you can borrow.

The lender will also provide you with a Truth in Lending Statement, which shows the amount financed (borrowed), annual percentage rate (yearly cost of the loan expressed as a percentage), finance charge (total cost of the loan expressed as a dollar amount), total amount that will be paid back over the life of the loan, number of payments, payment amount, late payment policy, and if there is a prepayment penalty. Be sure to read the statement carefully, and ask for clarification if you have any questions.

Examining your budget

If the lender approves you for a $350,000 mortgage, that means you can afford a $350,000 mortgage, right? Not necessarily. Lenders typically only look at a few factors, namely your income, debt, and down payment. However, you have more expenses than your debt. If you have to pay $1,000 a month in daycare, that reduces the money you have available for your mortgage. While your income and expenses can change after the home purchase (for example, net income often increases due to the tax benefits of owning a home, and utilities often increase too since houses tend to be larger than apartments), creating a budget gives you a better idea of what you can afford to spend than just basing it on a per-approval amount. Subtract your expenses (minus what you are spending now for rent) from your income to get an estimate of the monthly payment you can afford. Don’t forget that you will also have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.