Mortgage prequalification is an informal evaluation of your creditworthiness and how much home you can afford. Prequalification indicates whether you meet the minimum requirements for a loan and how big that loan may be. Prequalification is an important step for those who aren’t sure whether they’re financially ready for homeownership. If you’re confident in your finances or have already been prequalified, you might want to get preapproved instead.
What is mortgage prequalification?
Prequalification is how lenders determine if you fit the basic financial criteria for a home loan.
To get prequalified, you tell a lender some basic information about your credit, debt, income, and assets, and it tells you how much you may be able to borrow. “Tell” is the key word here. The information used for prequalification is self-reported, which means the lender typically doesn’t verify it or look at your credit report.
How to use the prequalification calculator
Our prequalification calculator can provide an idea of what to expect before you talk to a lender. All we need are a few pieces of information about you and your finances:
- Enter your annual income before taxes.
- Enter the term of the mortgage you’re considering.
- Enter the interest rate for your mortgage type or use today’s mortgage rate.
- Select your credit score range. (Not sure? Get your free credit score.)
- Tell us about your employment status.
- Tell us if you have a down payment.
- Tell us about past foreclosures or bankruptcy.
- Enter your monthly recurring debt payments.
After completing each required field, you’ll see the loan amount we recommend, as well as a higher loan amount. We show two prequalification amounts because:
- Different loans have different debt-to-income requirements. For example, conventional loans usually have stricter DTI requirements than FHA loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
- It’s not always smart to borrow 100% of what a lender offers. The maximum loan amount is the most the lender is willing to loan you, not what makes sense for your budget. A higher loan amount will mean a higher monthly mortgage payment. Borrowing too much could make it difficult to ride unexpected financial bumps, such as a job loss or a big medical bill.
What’s behind the prequalification calculation?
The debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, is a common formula that lenders use for mortgage prequalification, and it comes in two varieties: front-end and back-end.
Front-end DTI is the dollar amount of your home-related expenses, including the future monthly mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance and homeowners association fees, divided by your gross monthly income.
Your back-end DTI ratio is the sum of your home-related expenses plus all your other monthly debt — including credit cards, student loans, personal loans and car loans — divided by your gross monthly income. Conventional mortgage lenders generally prefer a back-end DTI ratio of 36% or less, but government-backed loan programs may allow a higher percentage.
NerdWallet’s prequalification calculator looks at back-end DTI while also considering other aspects of your credit profile, such as employment, credit score and down payment.
What’s the difference between prequalification and preapproval?
Unlike prequalification, preapproval requires proof of your debt, income, assets, and credit score and history.
To get preapproved, you’ll supply documentation such as pay stubs, tax records and proof of assets. Once the lender verifies your financial information, which may take a few days, it should supply a preapproval letter you can show a real estate agent or seller to prove you’re ready and able to purchase a home.
Keep in mind, prequalification doesn’t guarantee preapproval. You can still be turned down if your financial documents don’t support the numbers you reported.
» MORE: Learn more about the difference between prequalification and preapproval
Does prequalification affect your credit score?
Getting prequalified does not affect your credit score. Lenders usually base prequalification on the information you provide and don’t pull your credit report.
When a lender checks your credit report, it counts as a “hard inquiry.” Too many hard inquiries can lower your credit score if they reveal you’re trying to open many new credit lines in a short period. But multiple hard inquiries in a short time frame as a result of shopping for mortgage rates generally do not hurt your credit score.
How to prequalify for a larger loan amount
Don’t like the prequalification amount our calculator shows? You could prequalify for more if you:
- Improve your credit score: Three ways to do this quickly include correcting errors on your credit report, using less of your credit limit and paying bills on time and in full each month.
- Consolidate or pay off debts: If you have high-interest debt spread out over several credit cards, consolidating it will reduce your monthly debt payments. Eliminating debt completely, through larger or more frequent payments, is even better. Reducing expenses and following a budget will help.
- Increase your income: A higher gross income will improve your DTI ratio (especially if your debt stays the same) and may qualify you for a larger loan amount. You may be able to achieve this by asking for a raise or starting a side hustle.
How long does it take to get prequalified for a mortgage?
Because it’s an informal, nonbinding evaluation, you can get prequalified in a day or two, sometimes less. Depending on the lender, prequalification can happen in person, over the phone or online.
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