In the world of mortgage lenders, SoFi is looking to stand out by opening its lending doors to jumbo borrowers who earn high incomes but have little saved up for down payments.
This approach differs from traditional lenders that are hesitant about entering the jumbo lending arena. With stiff credit scoring criteria and strict debt-to-income ratios, other lenders are more apt to reject applicants than is SoFi, which will look closely at their disposable income as a more comprehensive way of approving them for a home loan.
AT A GLANCE
- Offers purchase, refinance, ARMs and fixed-rate loans.
- No application or origination fees.
- Operates in 25 states and Washington, D.C.
Breaking the mold with a nontraditional approach
SoFi was among the first lenders to offer an all-digital lending platform, complemented by an unusual underwriting approach that some might characterize as risky.
SoFi offers jumbo and interest-only loans, and while it analyzes FICO scores as part of its application process, it considers factors such as professional history and career prospects, free cash flow (income) and history of responsible bill payments to determine an applicant’s overall financial health. Further, it doesn’t charge private mortgage insurance — even on loans for which less than 20% is put down, says Michael Tannenbaum, SoFi’s vice president of mortgages.
Like many of its rivals in the online mortgage lending industry, SoFi (short for “Social Finance”) offers an entirely digital mortgage refinance application to make the process easier for borrowers. It also goes the extra mile by providing other benefits that go beyond lending, such as career services and community events, which range from happy hours to informational and networking events. It’s what Tannenbaum calls “white-glove service.”
In many cases, SoFi borrowers report they wouldn’t be homeowners without a SoFi mortgage, Tannenbaum says. Its unique criteria allow borrowers to qualify for more financing than traditional lenders offer, and SoFi prides itself in offering flexible down payments ranging from 10% to 50%, even on jumbo loans.
“Sixty-five percent of the business we do is first-time home buyers; it’s a big deal we’re opening up to the jumbo first-time market,” Tannenbaum says. “In competitive markets, real estate agents are hounding lenders to close, close, close, but everyone has been slowed down by [regulations]. A lot of the process is a black blob for home buyers, especially first-timers.”
SoFi is doing its best to change that.
How it works
In one sitting, SoFi gives you an upfront, underwritten loan approval, showing potential sellers that you’ve been vetted as a trustworthy and highly qualified buyer with the financial ability to purchase a home. That’s a stark contrast from many other mortgage players out there that will ask you dozens of questions, then transfer you to someone else so you can start the process all over, Tannenbaum says.
With a fully underwritten and quoted rate upfront, SoFi borrowers have more clout when they write offers. When you choose and get approved for a specific product, you’ll be introduced to and work with a loan officer who will shepherd your application through underwriting, answer your questions, and help guide your loan to the closing table.
“We have the best of both worlds in that we’re a true retail originator from our rates to our products to our servicing,” Tannenbaum says.
Here’s a step-by-step look at SoFi’s platform:
- Get Started page — In this initial step, you’ll enter all of your personal information such as your name, address, phone number, birth date and citizenship status to set up your account.
- Mortgage Eligibility — Here, you’ll enter details to help SoFi determine your ability to either refinance or take out a new home loan. Information collected includes whether you’re applying for a refinance or new loan, your state and county, whether you have another residence (and whether you plan to keep it), your marital status, and if you have child support or alimony expenses. You’ll also indicate whether you want to add a co-applicant.
- Check My Rate — Enter your purchase price, down payment and loan amounts to get an accurate rate quote from SoFi.
- Rate Quotes/Preapproval — SoFi will show you a variety of loan products and options that match your needs. Once you select one, you can then move on to continue the preapproval process and loan application online.
Who’s it for?
If you have a solid, high income, a little bit of money saved up and a reliable history of making timely payments, you’re an ideal SoFi customer. You’ll need a minimum down payment of at least 10% of the purchase price for new loans. A sizable chunk of SoFi customers (as many as 40%) either work in or have an interest in technology, which makes the jump to obtaining a mortgage online not such a big leap, Tannenbaum says.
Borrowers looking for government-backed loans will have to go elsewhere; SoFi doesn’t offer those products, and offers only one adjustable-rate product: a 7/1 ARM.
Where SoFi shines
- Considers nontraditional credit history.
- Offers flexible down payments ranging from 10% to 50%, even on jumbo loans.
- Average closing time of 28 days.
- Doesn’t require PMI on any of its loans (even when less than 20% is put down).
- Doesn’t charge loan origination, application or broker commission fees.
Where it falls short
- Requires minimum loan amount of $100,000, which prices out lower-cost markets.
- Asks for an account sign-up and personal information before providing rate quotes.
- Difficult to know whether you might qualify for a loan with no income requirements in place.
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Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.