What Is a Mortgage Broker? 4 Questions to Ask Before Using One

A mortgage broker helps you apply for loans, finds competitive interest rates and negotiates terms.
Phil Metzger
By Phil Metzger 
Edited by Johanna Arnone

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A mortgage broker acts as an intermediary between you and potential lenders. The broker’s job is to compare mortgage lenders on your behalf and find interest rates that fit your needs. Mortgage brokers have lists of lenders they work with, which can make your life easier.

Mortgage brokers are licensed and regulated financial professionals. They gather documents from you, pull your credit history, and verify your income and employment, using the information to help you apply for loans and negotiate terms in a short time.

Once you settle on a loan and a lender that works best for you, your mortgage broker will collaborate with the lender’s underwriting department, the closing agent (usually the title company) and your real estate agent to keep the transaction running smoothly through closing day.

A mortgage broker can save you time and may offer you a wider array of options than if you shop on your own. But brokers don’t work for free, so you should expect to pay for their services at some point in the process.

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1. What makes mortgage brokers different from loan officers?

Loan officers, as opposed to mortgage brokers, are employees of one lender who are paid set salaries, plus bonuses. Loan officers can write only the types of loans their employer chooses to offer.

Mortgage brokers, meanwhile, deal with many lenders to find loans for their clients. Mortgage brokers, who can work within a mortgage brokerage firm or independently, may be able to give borrowers access to a broad selection of loan types.

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2. How does a mortgage broker get paid?

Mortgage brokers are most often paid by lenders, sometimes by borrowers, but, by law, never both. That law — the Dodd-Frank Act — also prohibits mortgage brokers from charging hidden fees or basing their compensation on a borrower’s interest rate.

You can also choose to pay the mortgage broker yourself. That’s called "borrower-paid compensation." Though even when the fee is paid by the lender, often it is rolled into the loan itself, meaning the borrower eventually still pays the bill.

Shop around for mortgage brokers and ask how much to expect to pay in fees, which are typically 1% to 2% of the loan amount. The competitiveness — and home prices — in your market will have a hand in dictating what mortgage brokers charge. Federal law limits how high compensation can go.

3. Is a mortgage broker right for me?

You can save time by using a mortgage broker; it can take hours to apply for preapproval with different lenders, and then there's the back-and-forth communication involved in underwriting the loan and ensuring the transaction stays on track.

However, that convenience comes at a cost, which is something to consider if you’re especially tight on funds. You also might sacrifice a sense of control and direct interaction with a lender when you turn the process over to a broker, a feeling that could be unnerving when making such a big purchase.

If you seek expert guidance and streamlined lender comparisons, and you are willing to pay a premium for these services, a mortgage broker may be right for you.

🤓Nerdy Tip

When choosing a lender, pay attention to lender fees. Specifically, ask what fees will appear on Page 2 of your Loan Estimate form in the Loan Costs section under "A: Origination Charges." Then, take the Loan Estimate you receive from each lender, place them side by side and compare your interest rate and all of the fees and closing costs.

That head-to-head comparison among different options is the best way to make the right choice.

4. How do I choose a mortgage broker?

The best way to find a mortgage broker is to ask friends and relatives for referrals, but make sure they have actually used the broker.

Learn all you can about the broker’s services, communication style, level of knowledge and approach to clients.

Another referral source: Ask your real estate agent for the names of brokers that they have worked with and trust. Some real estate companies offer an in-house mortgage broker as part of their suite of services, but you’re not obligated to go with that company or individual.

Finding the right mortgage broker is just like choosing the best mortgage lender: It’s wise to interview at least three people to find out which services they offer, how much experience they have and how they can help simplify the process.

Check your state’s professional licensing authority to ensure they have mortgage broker’s licenses in good standing.

Also, read online reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau to assess whether the broker you’re considering has a sound reputation.

» MORE FOR CANADIAN READERS: Mortgage brokers in Canada: What they do

Frequently asked questions

A mortgage broker finds lenders with loans, rates, and terms to fit your needs. They do a lot of the legwork during the mortgage application process, potentially saving you time.

Mortgage broker fees most often are paid by lenders, which may add to the total cost of a loan, though they sometimes can be paid directly by borrowers. Competition and home prices will influence how much mortgage brokers get paid.

Mortgage brokers will work with many lenders to find the best loan for your situation. Loan officers work for one lender.

The best way to find a mortgage broker is through referrals from family, friends and your real estate agent. But don’t just take their word for it. Do your homework when selecting a mortgage broker by investigating their licenses, reading online reviews and checking with the Better Business Bureau.

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