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How mortgages are 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. 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). 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.
  • Your likelihood to repay the loan. Your payment history and credit score 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 loan-to-value (LTV) ratio fits within the loan program guidelines. (For more complete information, read The home appraisal process.) 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 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. You may also be required to have set aside two or more monthly mortgage payments as reserves, 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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