The home buying process involves many steps, but it always starts with getting pre-approved for a mortgage. A pre-approval letter shows that a lender has checked your credit report and approved you to take out a mortgage.
It can be tempting to skip over the pre-approval process and go straight to looking at potential homes, but this is almost always a mistake. Getting pre-approved will ensure that sellers take your offer more seriously and it will give you more room to negotiate on your offer.
Plus, getting pre-approved gives you a better idea of what kind of home you can afford to buy. Let’s look more closely at what pre-approval is and how you can get started.
Why You Should Get a Pre-Approval Letter
If you’re pre-approved for a mortgage, this means that a lender has done a credit check, reviewed your income and assets, and determined that you’re eligible to buy a home.
You’ll receive a pre-approval letter outlining how much you’re approved to borrow and what your interest rate may be. Getting pre-approved is important for several reasons.
For one thing, getting pre-approved alerts you to any potential problems with your credit or income. Many people have issues with their credit that they need to clear up before obtaining a mortgage will be possible.
If you know about these problems, you can take the necessary steps to clean up your credit first. That way, you can go into the home buying process knowing that all of those issues are resolved. It’s much harder if you go house hunting first, find a home you love, and then realize you’re not prepared to buy it just yet.
For that reason, getting pre-approved will help you be taken more seriously by sellers and listing agents. Sellers want to accept an offer that they are reasonably certain will end up going through.
Getting pre-approved assures them that you’re in a position to be able to close on the home. This is especially important in a seller’s market where there could be multiple offers for one home.
And finally, getting pre-approved for a mortgage gives you more clarity when you start looking at different homes. Without a pre-approval letter, you’re really just guessing when it comes to the type of home you think you can afford. Getting pre-approved takes all of the guesswork out of it.
Pre-Approval vs. Pre-Qualification
Many people use the terms pre-approval and pre-qualification interchangeably, but they are two different things. Getting pre-qualified is similar to pre-approval, but it’s not quite as accurate or thorough.
When you get pre-qualified for a mortgage, your lender won’t pull your credit and won’t ask for as much financial information. This obviously makes it much less time-intensive for you, but it also means that the information you receive is an estimate that could change.
In comparison, when you get pre-approved, your lender will check your credit and do a more thorough examination of your financial situation. Because this process is much more comprehensive, you’ll receive a more accurate estimate of how much you’re approved to borrow.
What Documents Do You Need for Pre-Approval?
Your lender will require a lot of documentation before they’re willing to pre-approve you for a mortgage. This can make the pre-approval process more tedious.
But the good news is, you already have access to all of the information needed. So it’s really just a matter of gathering all of the necessary paperwork to submit to your lender.
Here is an overview of the documents and information you’ll need to get pre-approved:
- A good credit score: Unless you’re applying for an FHA loan or VA loan, you’re going to need a good credit score to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Most lenders require a minimum credit score of 620 to qualify. However, you’ll receive the lowest interest rate if your credit score is 760 or higher.
- Employment information: Your lender is going to want to see proof of employment before they’ll be willing to pre-approve you for a mortgage. You’ll need to provide copies of your tax returns as well as your annual W-2. Your lender may even contact your employer to verify your employment status and income.
- Proof of assets: You’ll also need to provide evidence that you can afford to pay the down payment and closing costs on your new home. This can typically be done by providing bank statements. If you aren’t able to pay the standard 20% down payment, then you’ll need to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI).
- Your debt-to-income ratio: You’ll need to let your lender know about any outstanding debts you have since this will affect your debt-to-income ratio. You can provide a list with all of your outstanding debt as well as the loan balance and minimum monthly payments.
- Additional documents: Your lender will likely want additional information, like your Social Security Number and your driver’s license. And if you’ve been through a divorce or owe alimony payments, you’ll need to provide documentation of that as well.
How to Get Pre-Approved for Your Mortgage
Hopefully, by this point you understand what pre-approval is and why it’s so important. Here are the five steps you’ll need to take to get pre-approved for your mortgage.
1. Check your credit report
Before you even begin the pre-approval process, it’s a good idea to request a copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus. You can receive your free annual copies at AnnualCreditReport.com.
That way, you’ll go into the pre-approval process already knowing where you stand when it comes to your credit. And this will give you a chance to review your credit report for any errors or delinquent accounts. It’s a good idea to resolve these issues before applying for pre-approval.
2. Gather the necessary documentation
Take the time to gather all of the necessary paperwork before you approach your lender. This ensures that you go into the process prepared, and will help things move along much more smoothly.
3. Submit your application
Now it’s time to apply for pre-approval. Many lenders make it easy to apply for pre-approval online. Answer all of the questions as accurately as you can, and submit all of the necessary paperwork.
It may be a good idea to apply for pre-approval with multiple lenders. This will allow you to compare your options and get the most favorable terms possible.
4. Receive your offers
Once your lender has reviewed your credit score and financial information, you’ll receive several recommended mortgage options. At this point, you’ll see how much you’ve been approved for and your recommended loan types. You’ll also get an idea of what your estimated monthly payments and interest rate might be.
5. Receive your pre-approval letter
Once you’ve chosen your mortgage option, your lender will send you a pre-approval letter. You can take this letter with you as you begin shopping for your home.
Applying for pre-approval is probably the least exciting part of the home buying process, but it’s an important first step every new homebuyer should take. Getting pre-approved will let you know what kind of home you can afford, and it will give you an advantage when you’re negotiating with sellers.
However, keep in mind that a pre-approval letter is not a guarantee. If you suddenly lose your job or your financial situation unexpectedly changes, then the previous offer will no longer stand. But it’s as close to a guarantee as you can get before finally closing on your home.
Why does it matter if I receive a pre-approval letter?
It’s essential to get pre-approved for your mortgage for a couple of reasons. First, it gives you a realistic picture of the type of house you can afford. And sellers will take your offer more seriously if you’ve already been pre-approved for a mortgage.
What is the difference between pre-qualification and pre-approval?
Getting pre-qualified for a mortgage is much less thorough than the pre-approval process. Your lender won’t run a credit check, and they won’t review your finances as carefully. This makes it much less accurate than receiving a pre-approval letter.
If you go through the process to get pre-approved, then it’s likely you’ll be able to close on a home, unless something drastic happens. But if you’ve only been pre-qualified, your offer could change once the lender does a more in-depth credit check and financial review.
When should I get pre-approved?
You should apply for pre-approval before you start looking at homes. That way, you’ll know what kind of home you can afford before you start the homebuying process.
Will getting pre-approved for a mortgage hurt my credit score?
When you get pre-approved for a mortgage, your lender does a hard inquiry on your credit report. Typically, this can hurt your credit score slightly. However, multiple hard inquiries for a mortgage shouldn’t hurt your credit score.