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We spent over 400 hours reviewing the top mortgage lenders and awarding star ratings based on our evaluation of the products and services that lenders offer to consumers who are actively shopping for the best mortgage. To ensure consistency, our ratings are reviewed by multiple people at NerdWallet.
Guaranteed Rate doesn’t shy away from calculated risk. In fact, the online lender embraces it by offering conventional, FHA, VA, USDA and jumbo mortgages for both purchases and refinances. Now, it’s taken a step forward by offering borrowers a simpler and faster digital mortgage process.
Headquartered in Chicago, Guaranteed Rate has closed more than $100 billion in mortgage loans since its inception in 2000. The company has weathered housing booms, busts and everything in between with a single goal: to transform the mortgage industry by offering customers transparency and efficiency.
AT A GLANCE
- Minimum credit score: 620 (580 for FHA loans)
- Offers fixed-rate and adjustable rate loans
- Offers FHA, USDA, VA loans
Moving into the digital age
Online, you’ll find that Guaranteed Rate enjoys high marks and hundreds of positive reviews on sites like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and LendingTree.com. With a more than 95% customer satisfaction rate, Guaranteed Rate is proud of its track record and is working on making customers even happier with its new Digital Mortgage platform, says Kasey Marty, Guaranteed Rate’s executive vice president of secondary marketing.
Launched last July, the new platform offers an entirely online mortgage process. Borrowers can entering their current loan details, see their free credit scores from the three main bureaus, securely upload and digitally sign all of their loan documents. Customers don’t have to speak to anyone to get approved for a mortgage refinance or purchase loan, Marty says.
Guaranteed Rate offers purchase and refinance loans, including cash-out, FHA, USDA, VA, various adjustable rate mortgages and longer-term loans. Borrowers who might feel overwhelmed by the choices the company provides can talk to a qualified loan officer who can walk them through any part of the application process. Keeping rates low while making the process more transparent and accessible helps customers be active participants in the lending process, Marty says.
“We’re confident in our low rates, and we encourage people to compare us to other online lenders,” Marty says. “The platform creates efficiency for all involved, and it drives lower closing time periods and higher quality.”
Who is it for?
Almost anyone with a good credit score, a stable income and solid credit history can use Guaranteed Rate. What sets the online lender apart from its competitors is its willingness to work with borrowers who might not bring a high down payment to the table but are otherwise well-qualified for a new loan or refinance.
As more online lenders shy away from government loans and those tailored to jumbo borrowers, Guaranteed Rate has filled the gap without hesitation, Marty says.
“Other firms have put their gloves up and said that potential compliance and regulation issues make it difficult for them to offer FHA, VA or USDA loans because of delinquencies and defaults,” Marty says. “We feel the opposite. We’re very tight with our guidelines, and we want to enrich the [lending] experience and make lenders accountable.” He adds that loan defaults are rare among Guaranteed Rate’s customers.
How it works
Jason Miller, head of product, and Joshua Smallwood, vice president of software development, gave NerdWallet a step-by-step rundown of how Guaranteed Rate’s Digital Mortgage platform works:
- When you start the process, you can “Explore Loan Options,” where you can choose either a new home loan or a refinance. We’ll walk through the refinance portion.
- Then choose what’s most important to you: lower payments, a lower rate or a shorter term. You can skip this section if you like.
- Next, select how you plan to use the property, for example, a home to live in, vacation home or investment property. Then indicate what sort of property it is, such as a single-family home or a condo.
- In the next few steps you’ll provide your ZIP code and details about the estimated value of your home, your remaining loan balance and how long you plan to own the home. There’s also a question regarding military status to help steer borrowers toward VA products, if applicable.
- Next, you’ll provide your credit score range and indicate whether you’re working with a loan officer. Then you’ll be shown loan rates and product options — all without having to provide personal information, Smallwood says. “Most lenders make you fill out a contact form,” he says. “We don’t, because not everyone wants to talk to a loan officer.”
- Once your loan options pop up, you can choose a product, ask questions virtually or by phone, and get more details. In all, the process to up to this point takes just a few minutes.
- If you decide to apply for a loan, you’ll be walked through the loan application process, which takes about 15 minutes. You’ll be eligible to earn a $250 credit for completing the digital mortgage application at the close of the transaction.
Where Guaranteed Rate shines
- 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.
- Offers a $250 credit for Digital Mortgage customers, which offsets some of the upfront fees.
Where it falls short
- Charges upfront fees, such as a $1,040 loan origination fee and a $150 application fee.
- Offers many products, which might confuse or overwhelm borrowers.
- Rate tool requires several click-throughs to complete.
- Doesn’t consider nontraditional credit history, such as rent and utility payments, for majority of products.
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.