August 25, 2022
The excitement of searching for your dream home can easily get stifled by the fear of the unknown. What kind of house can I afford? Can I get approved for a loan? What is the lender going to ask?
It’s beneficial to meet with a mortgage lender early on in your home buying process to establish a relationship and get prequalified for a loan. That relationship will be important after you find a home and officially apply for the loan. The following questions are examples of what your lender will look for – and why – so you can go into the loan office with confidence.
Questions that demonstrate your ability to make regular payments
In early 2022, the average purchase mortgage loan in the United States exceeded $450,000. Lending an individual hundreds of thousands of dollars to be paid back over multiple decades comes with risk. Your lender will do their best to understand your ability to pay back the loan consistently for the entirety of the loan.
What is your work history and status?
Be prepared to share details about your employment history for the past few years. Generally, lenders want to see you’ve been working for at least two consecutive years without large gaps of unemployment. A gap doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get approved, but it’s important to be upfront and ready to talk about the details.
Your lender will also need to know if you’re self-employed. It’s possible to get a mortgage loan if you’re not a W-2 employee, but it requires additional documentation to prove your income.
Do you plan to change jobs in the near future?
While situations do come up, it’s recommended to not change employment while buying a new home. The prequalification, preapproval, and approval of your mortgage loan are based on current income documentation you provide. Any change could disrupt or delay the process.
What is your credit history?
Your credit history paints a picture of how responsible you are in paying back debt. Your lender will conduct a credit check when you officially apply for a loan. Before that, they may ask if you have an idea of your credit score and if there is anything in your credit history that could negatively affect it. This is also your opportunity to offer information that may support a less-than-stellar credit history that may not appear on your report.
Tip: Review your credit history and correct errors before starting the homebuying process.
Questions that determine how much house you can afford
It’s not enough to know you can make payments. If the payments are too high, it will be detrimental for both you and the lender. This set of questions provide insight into how much house you can realistically afford without causing financial hardship.
What is your current salary or average monthly income?
Depending on your employment status, you’ll be asked to share details about how much money you regularly make. Paystubs, W2s, tax forms, profit-and-loss statements, and other documents may be requested as part of the application.
What do you currently pay for housing?
Do you already have a mortgage loan or pay monthly rent? If these payments are current, it tells a lender what you can already afford in your home buying budget.
How much money do you have for a down payment?
The amount you have for a down payment, and where it came from, is of great interest to a mortgage lender. It helps determine the loan amount, whether you’ll have to pay mortgage insurance, and if a government-backed FHA loan may be worthwhile.
Lenders like to see the down payment coming from a savings account you’ve built over time or from selling a home.
Do you currently have debt?
Payments from cars, credit cards, and student loans reduce the amount of income that can go toward your mortgage. You’ll be asked to disclose all of your debt to give your lender an accurate picture of your net worth.
Do you have a co-signer or co-borrower?
If your credit score or other details are leaving the lender on the fence about your eligibility, they may ask if someone else can co-apply with you. A trusted friend or family member can help those that can’t qualify for a mortgage on their own by serving as a co-signer or co-borrower. See the pros and cons of buying a home with a friend or partner.
Are you involved in a divorce or lawsuit?
This may feel especially personal, but a lender needs to know everything that affects your income and expenses. Paying alimony, child support, or ongoing legal fees are details they must know upfront.
Questions for worst-case scenarios
You’ve heard the phrase, “Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.” Nobody wants to think about experiencing hardships, but it’s part of a lender’s due diligence to ensure both parties are covered if financial strain occurs.
What are your total savings and assets?
Can you keep up with payments if income is suddenly halted from a job loss or death in the family? A breakdown of your total assets will make this answer clear. Include current cash, physical assets such as vehicles and boats, and other assets that could convert to cash like retirement accounts and investments.
Other questions mortgage lenders ask
Some information lenders ask for doesn’t fall into a clear category. See what other questions your loan officer may ask to help with the logistics and overall success of your mortgage.
Are you working with a real estate agent?
Just like a financial partner, it’s recommended to find a real estate agent you trust to walk with you through the homebuying journey. The right agent will be knowledgeable, available, and work well with all parties involved.
What will the property be used for?
The purpose of the property can affect the type and terms of your mortgage. Some mortgage types, like FHA loans, have requirements and restrictions on rentals or investment properties.
Are you a veteran or active duty servicemember?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers special mortgages to eligible servicemembers, veterans, and surviving spouses. VA loans have benefits such as no down payments and low interest rates that may be attractive for those who qualify.
Do you have a closing date in mind?
If you’re just starting your search you may not have a target timeline. But if you do, your mortgage lender will want to know the timeframe you’re expecting.
What is your race, ethnicity, gender, and age?
These questions may seem off-putting, but they’re there for good reason. Lenders are required to abide by laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on race, national origin, gender, age, marital status, or because one receives public assistance. Data is collected and reported to ensure no illegal or unfair practices are occurring in communities.
Bonus: Questions to ask your lender
You may feel like you’re the one in the hot seat, but meeting with a lender is a two-way conversation. You want to feel comfortable and trust they’re going to work in your best interest. Here are a few key questions to get you started.
What type of mortgage is best for me – and why?
This goes beyond the mortgage options they offer. It ensures the lender has examined your situation and is prepared to suggest a solution (or multiple options) that makes sense for you. Each option will have pros and cons, so it’s important you understand the reasoning behind their suggestions. Remember: the decision will ultimately be yours.
Can you walk me through the loan estimate?
A mortgage loan estimate details important figures including your estimated down payment, interest rate, monthly payment, and total closing costs. It’s not an approval, but a tool to see a full picture of a potential mortgage. All lenders use the same three-page document, making it helpful to compare multiple estimates. This is not a time to skim the fine print; take a close look and ask questions about the fees and terms.
What does _______ mean?
Remember, your lender lives and breathes mortgages every day. This could be your first time, or one of the few times in your lifetime, you enter their world. If a term, fee, or anything else doesn’t make sense, ask for clarification. If they seem impatient answering questions, it’s a sign you should look elsewhere.
Being an informed homebuyer
Financing is just one part of the homebuying process, but it’s a big one. Understanding the information a lender needs and preparing your financial documents ahead of time will aid in your success and speed up the homebuying process.
Get more homebuying support from PenFed: