How to shop for and compare mortgage lenders
You don’t have to go with the first lender you find
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Buying a home is a big financial decision, and getting a mortgage is one of the biggest parts of that process. That's why shopping around for the right mortgage lender is essential. There are many different lenders out there, and they all offer different rates and terms.
Checking details like interest rate, the length of the loan and fees can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run. You also want to ensure you choose a lender that you trust and are comfortable working with.
- Consider the type of mortgage you want and choose one that suits your circumstances, future plans and risk tolerance.
- Get pre-qualified with a lender before shopping for a home to estimate how much you can borrow.
- Getting loan estimates from multiple lenders can help you narrow your search, and you may be able to use these estimates to negotiate better rates and terms.
Consider the type of mortgage you want
You can get many types of mortgages, including conventional, jumbo, adjustable-rate, fixed-rate and government-guaranteed mortgages. But not all lenders offer the same options. So, determining the type of mortgage you want can help you narrow your choices.
As you compare mortgages, consider your circumstances, future plans and risk tolerance, says Dennis Shirshikov, head of growth at Awning, a company that supports rental property owners.
“Let's say you're planning on living in the home for a long time, and you like the idea of a fixed payment,” said Shirshikov. “A fixed-rate mortgage might be the best choice. On the other hand, if you know you'll only be there a few years, you might lean towards an adjustable-rate mortgage, which typically has a lower initial rate.”
If you’re risk-averse, a fixed-rate mortgage might be a more comfortable decision since you know the rate will never change.
“I recall a couple who were planning on starting a family and wanted the stability of fixed payments, despite the higher initial rate,” said Shirshikov. “Their peace of mind was worth the cost.”
» MORE: How does a mortgage work?
Understand repayment terms
A loan’s repayment terms primarily consist of two things: the interest rate and how long you have to repay the loan.
Fixed-rate mortgages feature an interest rate that never changes, whereas the interest rate on adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) changes at set intervals.
As you decide which type of interest rate you prefer, consider whether you prefer a consistent monthly payment or are comfortable with potential rate fluctuations, says Loren Howard, founder of Prime Plus Mortgages. If you’re uncomfortable with interest rate changes, it’s best to avoid an ARM.
With most mortgages, the loan is fully repaid at the end of the repayment term. The most common repayment term is 30 years, but terms can range from 10 to 25 years.
Some ARMs amortize your monthly principal and interest (P&I) payment based on a long term mortgage, like 30 years, but with a shorter repayment term — meaning you must pay off the remaining balance in full before the term expires (commonly in five to 10 years). This lump-sum payment is often referred to as a balloon payment.
When considering a mortgage with a balloon payment, evaluate if you can make this payment when the loan comes due, either with cash or by refinancing the remaining balance into a new mortgage. If you can’t repay the balance when it comes due, you risk losing the home to foreclosure.
Check current mortgage rates
According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was 6.78% as of July 20, 2023. However, mortgage rates change daily — sometimes multiple times — so it’s important to carefully monitor rates when shopping for a mortgage. A good rate falls near the current average.
You may qualify for a better-than-average rate if you have good-to-excellent credit. But if your credit score is low, expect to pay a higher rate.
You can also get a better rate by doing such things as making a larger down payment and only getting a loan you can afford. Lenders typically look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to see how easily you can afford the loan. This ratio typically shouldn’t exceed 36% to 43%.
Shop around for different lenders
When comparing mortgage lenders, consider these factors to ensure you get the best deal and service possible.
- Customer service: You should be able to contact a representative quickly and easily if you have any questions or problems.
- Online access: Most mortgage lenders have an online presence. Check out the websites of the lenders you're considering to see how easy they are to use.
- Reviews: Reading online reviews, such as those published on ConsumerAffairs, can help you learn about other borrowers’ experiences with different lenders.
- Seek referrals: Ask friends, family and real estate agents for recommendations.
Once you've considered these factors, you can start narrowing down your lender pool. If you still can’t decide, consider working with a mortgage broker. A mortgage broker can help you compare rates and terms from multiple lenders and find the best deal.
Seek pre-qualification for a mortgage
A mortgage pre-qualification estimates how much money you can borrow to buy a home. The amount is based on your income, existing debt and credit score. A pre-qualification is not a guarantee of a loan, but it can give you an idea of what you can afford and help you decide where to apply for a mortgage.
To get pre-qualified, you'll need to provide a lender with basic information, such as your job history and details about your income, debts and assets. The lender will use this information to calculate your DTI and credit score and determine how much money you can borrow.
Once pre-qualified, you'll receive a letter from the lender stating how much money you can borrow. This letter can be helpful when making an offer on a home, as it shows the seller you're serious about buying and have the means to do so.
Get pre-qualified by multiple lenders before you start making offers on homes. This will give you a better idea of the interest rates and terms available. It will also help you negotiate the best deal on your home.
Here are some tips for getting pre-qualified for a mortgage:
- Make sure your credit score is in good shape.
- Get your finances in order by paying down debt and having a steady income.
- If you don’t get pre-qualified with the first lender you try, continue to shop around, as each lender has different lending requirements.
» MORE: How to buy a house
Get a loan estimate and compare
After you apply for a mortgage, you’ll get a loan estimate. This document provides detailed information about your loan terms, including the interest rate, monthly payment and closing costs. Review this document carefully before you agree to any loan.
Multiple mortgage estimates within a 45-day window only count as one hard inquiry on your credit score.
Here are some things to pay close attention to in your loan estimate:
- Interest rate: Check if you’ll receive a fixed rate that will never change or an adjustable rate that will change occasionally.
- Repayment term: Terms commonly range from 10 to 30 years. If you choose an adjustable-rate mortgage, see if you’ll be required to make a balloon payment before the loan is fully repaid.
- Closing costs: These are the fees you’ll pay to close on the loan, such as appraisal fees, title insurance and origination fees.
- Annual percentage rate (APR): This includes the interest rate as well as other fees associated with the loan.
- Monthly payment: This is the total amount of money you’ll have to pay each month, including the principal and interest and any taxes or insurance that are escrowed into your monthly payment.
Get loan estimates from at least three lenders before deciding where to get your mortgage. This will help you compare terms and rates to find the best deal possible.
Remember that when you apply for a mortgage, the lender will check your credit, and a hard credit inquiry will temporarily lower your credit score. However, if you get multiple mortgage loan estimates within 45 days, it only counts as one hard inquiry, so you won’t need to worry about this if you’re shopping around for a mortgage.
In addition, some lenders use a soft credit check to pre-qualify or preapprove you for a loan. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score.
You’re not obligated to accept the first offer you receive. You can negotiate with lenders for a better interest rate, lower closing costs or other concessions.
Here are some tips for negotiating with lenders:
- Do your research and get preapproved by multiple lenders. This will give you a good idea of available rates and terms.
- Be prepared to walk away from the deal if you don't get the terms you want. Lenders are more likely to negotiate if they know you're serious about taking your business elsewhere.
- Be polite and professional, but don't hesitate to ask for what you want. Keep in mind you're the one who's going to be paying the mortgage, so you deserve to get a good deal.
When talking to lenders, mention the loan estimates you've gotten from other lenders. This will show them you're serious about getting the best deal possible. You can also ask them to match or beat other lenders’ rates and terms.
Negotiating a mortgage can be complex. If you're uncomfortable doing it yourself, consider using a mortgage broker instead.
How do I know if a lender is reputable?
To determine if a mortgage lender is reputable, check online reviews and ratings, verify the lender’s licensing and credentials with relevant authorities and compare the loan estimate it provides against other well-established lenders.
Is a mortgage broker the same as a lender?
No, a mortgage broker and a mortgage lender are not the same. A mortgage broker acts as an intermediary, connecting borrowers to potential lenders, while a mortgage lender directly provides the funds to purchase a property to the borrower.
What does an underwriter look for in your application?
A mortgage underwriter evaluates your application to understand your creditworthiness, income, employment history, DTI and the property's appraised value. This analysis aims to assess how risky the loan is and determine if you meet the lender’s qualifications.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Request Loan Estimates from multiple lenders." Accessed July 21, 2023.
- Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Average in the United States." Accessed July 21, 2023.
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