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5 Tips for Finding the Best Mortgage Lenders

NerdWalletMay 31, 2019

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Before buying a home, shop around for the best mortgage lenders. Get tips on finding the right lender for you, and see our top picks for a variety of needs.

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at Rocket Mortgage

Rocket Mortgage: NMLS#3030

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 

at Rocket Mortgage


Why we like it

Ideal for anyone who appreciates smartphone app service, support and time savings. Rocket Mortgage offers a fully digital home loan experience with a large variety of mortgage products.

Pros

  • The site caters to self-service users who want to apply for a home loan without talking to a human unless it’s absolutely necessary.

  • With your authorization, accesses asset statements from 98% of U.S. financial institutions.

  • Tells you the loan amount you’ll qualify for within minutes.

  • Rocket Mortgage’s document and asset retrieval capabilities can save you a bunch of time and hassle.

Cons

  • Doesn't offer home equity loans or HELOCs.

  • If you’re a “look me in the eye” type of customer, you’re out of luck.

  • Doesn’t consider alternative credit data. It just looks at credit scores and debt-to-income ratios, the way most mortgage lenders always have.

Read Full Review
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at Chase

Chase: NMLS#399798

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 

at Chase


Why we like it

Ideal for first-time home buyers who want to talk to a loan officer in person or on the phone, and for homeowners who want to refinance their mortgages in 60 days or less. Chase offers a full line of mortgage products and account management tools.

Pros

  • Allows electronic submission and tracking of documents.

  • Existing Chase customers can get discounts.

  • Offers a wide selection of purchase and refinance mortgages.

Cons

  • Charges rate lock, origination and underwriting fees.

  • You have to speak with a mortgage banker to get complete info on products and requirements.

Read Full Review
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at Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans: NMLS#3030

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 

at Quicken Loans


Why we like it

Ideal choice for convenience and quick-response customer service. Quicken Loans provides just about all the services your neighborhood lender does — with online convenience.

Pros

  • Quicken Loans couples a fully online application with available mortgage advisors for those who want a human touch.

  • Instantly verifies employment and income for more than 60% of working Americans.

  • Offers custom fixed-rate loan terms that are between eight and 30 years.

  • Provides FHA-backed loans, USDA loans as well as products offered by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that require down payments as low as 3%.

Cons

  • Doesn't offer home equity loans or HELOCs.

  • If you’re a “look me in the eye” type of customer, you’re out of luck.

  • Doesn’t consider alternative credit data. It just looks at credit scores and debt-to-income ratios, the way most mortgage lenders always have.

Read Full Review
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at Reali Loans

Reali Loans: NMLS#991397

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
5% 

at Reali Loans


Why we like it

Ideal for tech-savvy home buyers and refinancers in its multi-state lending territory. Reali Loans has an automated lending platform that offers round-the-clock access to application and loan-management tools.

Pros

  • Boasts of closing loans quickly.

  • No upfront origination or broker fees.

  • 24/7 access to your loan and its progress.

  • Transparent platform that automates (and shortens) the refinance process.

Cons

  • Currently operates in a limited number of states.

  • Doesn’t offer USDA government loans.

Read Full Review
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at New American

New American Funding: NMLS#6606

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 

at New American


Why we like it

Ideal for borrowers who need to be evaluated on the basis of nontraditional credit. New American Funding offers FHA and VA loans, works with down payment assistance programs, and helps borrowers whose credit histories don't fit the mold of traditional banking.

Pros

  • Uses manual underwriting to evaluate creditworthiness.

  • Offers full online mortgage application, rate quotes, document upload and loan tracking.

  • Home equity lending sets it apart from most non-bank lenders.

Cons

  • Services not available in all 50 states.

Read Full Review

Guaranteed Rate: NMLS#2611

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 


Why we like it

Ideal for borrowers who are looking to apply for a mortgage and manage the process through online tools, whether buying or refinancing. Guaranteed Rate offers FHA, VA and USDA loans for borrowers who meet robust guidelines.

Pros

  • Works with most borrowers as long as they have good credit scores and incomes.

  • Provides a user-friendly digital platform that’s thorough in covering all types of borrowing scenarios.

  • Has a 95% customer satisfaction rate, according to company data.

Cons

  • Charges some fees, such as a $1,290 lender fee, which includes a $150 application fee.

  • Offers many products, which might confuse or overwhelm borrowers.

  • Several click-throughs required for personalized rates.

Read Full Review

Citibank Mortgage: NMLS#413108

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National / Regional 
National 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 


Why we like it

Ideal for first-time home buyers or those with weaker credit. Citibank Mortgage, a large-scale lender with a full menu of home loan products, offers low down payment options and considers alternative credit data.

Pros

  • Low down payment options.

  • Discounts for Citibank customers.

  • Looks at alternative credit data like rent history and child support payments.

  • Available in all 50 states.

Cons

  • Charges a mortgage application fee.

  • Did not disclose origination fees, which may vary.

  • Can't complete loan online.

Read Full Review

Bank of America: NMLS#399802

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Min. Credit Score 
620 

Min. Down Payment 
3% 


Why we like it

Ideal for borrowers who prefer a traditional bank. Bank of America offers a wide array of mortgages and online account management tools. It also has first-time home buyer loans with low down payments and no mandatory mortgage insurance.

Pros

  • Allows borrowers to apply entirely online.

  • Offers down payment and closing cost assistance programs.

  • Accepts alternative credit data for some loan types.

  • May give existing customers a discount on mortgage lender origination fees.

Cons

  • Charges an application fee of $1,170, on average.

  • Has a high volume of consumer complaints, even for a big national bank.

Read Full Review

5 tips for finding the best mortgage lenders

To get a jump-start on the mortgage loan process, use these five tips to find the best lender for you.

1. Get your credit score in shape

Not everyone can qualify to buy a home; you have to meet certain credit and income criteria to assure mortgage companies you can repay the loan.

A low credit score signals that lending to you is risky, which means a higher interest rate on your home loan. The higher your credit score and the more on-time payments you make, the more power you’ll have to negotiate for better rates with potential lenders. Generally, if you have a score under 580, you’ll have a tough time qualifying for most types of mortgages.

To elevate your credit score, first make sure your credit reports are accurate and free of errors. Get your report from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each is required to provide you with a free copy of your report once every 12 months.

Next, try to pay off high-interest debts and lower your overall level of debt as quickly as possible. By lowering your debt, you’ll improve your debt-to-income ratio. Paying off credit cards and recurring loans before you buy a home will also free up more money for the down payment.

2. Know the lending landscape

Understanding the major players will help you navigate the crowded lending field. Here are the most common types of home lenders:

  • Credit unions: These member-owned financial institutions often offer favorable interest rates to shareholders. And many have eased membership restrictions, so it’s likely you can find one to join.
  • Mortgage bankers: They work for a specific financial institution and package loans for consideration by the bank’s underwriters.
  • Correspondent lenders: Correspondent lenders are often local mortgage loan companies that have the resources to make your loan, but rely instead on a pipeline of other lenders, such as Chase, to whom they immediately sell your loan.
  • Savings and loans: Once the bedrock of home lending, S&Ls are now a bit hard to find. But these smaller financial institutions are often community-oriented and worth seeking out.
  • Mutual savings banks: Another type of thrift institution, like savings and loans, mutual savings banks are locally focused and often competitive.

Check if each lender you consider is registered in the state where you're shopping. You can do that through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System Registry. Also, search the Better Business Bureau for unbiased reviews and information.

3. Get preapproved

Getting a mortgage preapproval letter before you start looking at houses will give you an edge when bidding against other buyers. The letter shows the seller that you're a serious buyer whose loan is likely to close. It's evidence that a lender has evaluated your finances and figured out how much you can afford to borrow, and therefore how much house you can afford.

Getting preapproved now will also save time later. When you're ready to make an offer on a home, lenders will already have the information they need to process your home loan.

To get preapproved, you’ll have to provide lenders your financial information. Here’s a list of what a lender typically requires:

  • Social Security numbers for yourself and any co-borrowers
  • Bank, savings, checking, investment account information
  • Outstanding debt obligations, including credit card, car loan, student loan and other balances
  • Two years of tax returns, W-2s and 1099s
  • Salary and employer information
  • Information about how much of a down payment you can make, and where the money is coming from

Get preapproved by more than one lender. Then you can compare Loan Estimate forms from each one to determine who offers you the best rates and terms.

4. Compare rates from several mortgage lenders

Start by searching for the best mortgage rates online. Keep in mind that the rate quote you see online is an estimate. A lender or broker will have to pull your credit information and process a loan application to provide an accurate rate, which you can then lock in if you’re satisfied with the product.

Once you have several quotes in hand, compare costs and decide which one makes the most financial sense for you. Use your research as leverage to negotiate for the best mortgage rates possible.

While there’s more to finding a good lender than picking the lowest rate, that doesn’t mean the rate isn’t important. The total interest you pay over the life of the loan is a big figure, and a low rate can save you thousands of dollars.

» MORE: Use our mortgage calculator to find out your monthly mortgage payment.

5. Ask the right questions and read the fine print

Narrow your choices by asking for lender referrals from friends, family or your real estate agent, or by reading online reviews. Once you have some names, it’s time to ask:

  • How do you prefer to communicate with clients — email, text, phone calls or in person? How quickly do you respond to messages?
  • How long are your turnaround times on preapproval, appraisal and closing?
  • What lender fees will I be responsible for at closing? (Fees may include commission, loan origination, points, appraisal, credit report and application fees.)
  • Will you waive any of these fees or roll them into my mortgage?
  • What are the down payment requirements?

» MORE: 7 programs for first-time home buyers

Also, check with your mortgage lender or broker if buying discount points to lower your rate makes sense. If you buy points, you’re paying some interest upfront in exchange for a lower rate on your mortgage.

This might be a good move if you plan on living in the home for a long time.

Principal and interest payments on a mortgage aren’t the only costs of buying a home; you should ask your lender about others, including closing costs, points, loan origination fees and other transaction fees. If you’re unsure of something, ask for an explanation. For more on those fees, see Mortgage closing costs explained.

Most mortgage lenders will require an “earnest money” deposit to start the loan process. Ask the lender to specify under what circumstances the earnest money cannot be returned, and if the answer is vague, keep shopping around.

Always examine the fine print on your loan documents. These will tell you the exact finance terms, who pays which closing costs, what items are and aren’t included with the home, whether there’s a home inspection contingency, the closing date and other important details.

More from NerdWallet
Compare online mortgage refinance lenders
Compare mortgage rates
Get preapproved for your mortgage

Last updated on May 31, 2019

Methodology

NerdWallet's selection of mortgage lenders for inclusion here was made based on our evaluation of the products and services that lenders offer to consumers who are actively shopping for the best mortgage. The six key areas we evaluated include the loan types and loan products offered, online capabilities, online mortgage rate information, customer service and the number of complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a percentage of loans issued. We also awarded lenders up to one bonus star for a unique program or borrower focus that set them apart from other lenders. To ensure consistency, our ratings are reviewed by multiple people on the NerdWallet Mortgages team.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's 5 Tips for Finding the Best Mortgage Lenders