Churchill Mortgage takes an unusual approach when it comes to mortgage debt. Its goal is to get you to quit paying a mortgage. Churchill Mortgage calls it “debt-free homeownership.”
Wait. A mortgage lender advocating a debt-free goal?
Helping clients own a home free and clear is the “Churchill Mission.” It began with a fledgling radio host pitching advertising to the company 25 years ago.
AT A GLANCE
- Minimum credit score 620. Lower on an exception basis.
- Offers all government programs: FHA, VA and USDA.
- A debt-free company espousing radio host and author Dave Ramsey’s financial strategies.
The Dave Ramsey factor
“We were Dave’s very first advertiser,” says Matt Clarke, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Churchill Mortgage. “When Dave decided to get on the air, we had just started up Churchill Mortgage, and the owner of the company and Dave were friends.”
The founder and CEO of Churchill Mortgage, Mike Hardwick, at first declined the advertising proposal, thinking few people would listen to Ramsey “talk on the radio about personal finance,” Clarke says. Ultimately, Hardwick decided to give it a go.
Today, Ramsey claims more than 12 million listeners on around 575 radio affiliates. Clarke says Ramsey accounts for 40% to 45% of Churchill’s new customers every month. Churchill Mortgage funded $1.5 billion in loans in 2016.
The relationship with Ramsey has affected the way Churchill Mortgage does business, Clarke says: “We believe in what Dave teaches.”
» MORE: Calculate your refinance savings
After declaring bankruptcy in the mid-’80s, Ramsey began preaching the benefits of a debt-free lifestyle in churches across the South. He wrote a book, “Financial Peace,” the first of six New York Times best-sellers, and started his radio show.
Ramsey’s financial advice is stringent. He says would-be homeowners should pay off all of their debt — credit cards, car loans and student debt — before buying a home. Even after becoming a homeowner, among Ramsey’s “7 Baby Steps” is the goal of paying off a mortgage early and living a debt-free life.
Churchill Mortgage practices what Ramsey preaches.
“We run our company debt-free,” Clarke says. “We’ve never borrowed a dime for anything. All of our net worth — I think about 150% of our net worth — is sitting in cash. That’s also how we try to educate our customers. We believe everyone we talk to deserves to see how they can get on a path towards debt-free homeownership.”
Churchill Mortgage loan products
Churchill Mortgage offers purchase, refinance and jumbo home loans, as well as Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Affairs and Department of Agriculture government-backed loans. The lender doesn’t originate home equity loans or lines of credit but will “broker them out,” Clarke says. That’s basically handing the loans off to other lenders that will make such second mortgages on home equity.
The company doesn’t have minimum or maximum loan amounts.
A minimum FICO credit score of 620 is generally required, but Churchill Mortgage can write loans below that credit score “on an exception basis,” Clarke says.
The lender also offers loans to customers without credit scores, using alternative data such as utility bills and rent payment histories. (As the Churchill Mortgage website says, “Dave Ramsey listeners will know that Dave has not had a credit score for a very long time and is doing just fine.”) Churchill Mortgage loan advisors will help customers find relevant state housing and rural/farm programs.
Churchill has more than 30 branch offices and operates in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
The Churchill Mortgage loan process
Select the “Start here” button on churchillmortgage.com and enter what Clarke calls “some high-level information.” That info is routed to a call center in Nashville, Tennessee, and you’ll get a call to continue the loan process.
“We have the ability for you to do a lot of the online application, but we believe that a voice-to-voice connection is what most people truly want and need,” he says. “Some want to be totally self-directed, and if they do, we’ll send them links to fill out an online application and get rolling. But generally, we’re collecting some quick information, and we’re getting someone on the phone with them.”
During the paperwork process, you can upload documents online to Churchill, and the company uses e-signatures, too. Average closing time is 30 days.
Clarke says the typical Churchill Mortgage customer carries a 714 FICO score and a $220,000 loan. Lender fees average $1,000.
What Churchill Mortgage does best
- Takes a wealth-building approach to mortgage financing.
- Offers annual mortgage reviews to help borrowers stay on track toward their goal of living debt-free.
- Uses alternative data for borrowers without a traditional credit history.
What Churchill Mortgage falls short
- It’s not everywhere. Churchill Mortgage serves 44 states and the District of Columbia.
- Some borrowers, particularly in expensive urban areas, may be put off by the debt-free homeownership strategy the company espouses.
- For mortgage shoppers, the lender offers little specific information on its website, such as sample mortgage rates on varying loan products.
Clarke acknowledges the Churchill mission is a bit different from that of other mortgage lenders. He says it’s a matter of helping clients make the right decision on the path to being debt-free. “It’s not always about rate. It’s not always about payment. It’s about can you position the mortgage in a way that allows you to build wealth over time?”
Clarke says that’s especially important when it comes to refinancing.
“Lowering a payment is not always the best thing, if you can have a slightly higher payment and go from 30 [-year] to a 15 [-year mortgage] and that times in well with your children going to college, or it times in nicely with you getting towards retirement age.”
Updated Sept. 14, 2017.NerdWallet’s star ratings for mortgage lenders are awarded 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.