Best Mortgage Lenders of 2021
Buying a house is a big deal. It’s the most significant investment many of us will ever make. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars you can part with, you will need a mortgage loan to finance your new home.
The “best mortgage lender” is the lender whose strengths line up perfectly with your specific needs.
If you’re thinking about buying or refinancing, keep reading to learn about the best mortgage lenders.
In the process, you may find a lender that can meet your needs precisely, giving you the savings and flexibility you need.
Best Mortgage Lenders For 2021
I recommend the following lenders and services as you shop for your loan. Most of these lenders work well for first-time homebuyers, too:
- 🏆 Quicken: Best Overall
- LoanDepot: Best for Direct Lender
- LendingTree: Best for Comparing Lenders
- Credible: Best for Mortgage Refinancing
- Chase: Best for Conventional Lending
- New American Funding: Best for Bad Credit
- SoFi: Best for High Income/No Credit History
- Better Mortgage: Best for Low Fees
- Mutual of Omaha: Best for Online Pre-approval
- SunTrust Mortgage: Best for Low Down Payments
- USAA Mortgage: Best for VA Refinances
- Veterans United: Best for VA Loans
Quicken Loans (Rocket Mortgage)
Great for: Simple and straightforward applications
Quicken Loans has grown into the nation’s highest-volume mortgage lender, offering new purchase and refinance loans.
Quicken excels with its ease of use as an online mortgage lender. By their nature, mortgages are complex, yet Quicken’s online mortgage application process works seamlessly, even on your smartphone.
The company’s marketing department claims you can apply and get a decision in 15 minutes, especially if you use Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage platform. This quick response may be possible, but I’d set aside at least an hour.
Rocket Mortgage or Quicken Loans’ quick-and-easy process doesn’t always leave room for much nuance. If your credit score is a touch low, or if your debt-to-income ratio needs a little explaining, you may need to shop with another lender.
But if you know where you stand and what you want — and if you’d like to get the application process rolling — give Quicken Loans or Rocket Mortgage a shot.
- Quick and easy to use
- Great for federal or conventional loans
- Fully online application
- No home equity line of credit option
- Strictly by-the-numbers; no nuance
- Lacks personal approach
Best for: Direct Lender
LoanDepot helped pioneer online lending in the 1990s, back in the days of aol.com email addresses and bulky computer monitors.
LoanDepot no longer stresses its online experience, though you can still benefit from its fast digital underwriting process. Instead, LoanDepot has branch offices across the nation and an active phone-based customer service department that can originate and guide you through the loan process.
LoanDepot excels with loans for new construction and for borrowers who would like to buy and renovate a home using one loan.
You’ll find just about every kind of mortgage (USDA-subsidized is one exception).
- Direct lender = no middleman
- Lender credit and cost matching
- Great for new construction & restorations
- Strong phone customer service
- Digital underwriting speeds up the process
- Online experience limited
Best for: The comparison shopper
LendingTree is not an actual lender; it’s a service connecting your online loan application with a variety of lenders so you can compare their quotes.
Even if you don’t choose one of the offers LendingTree presents, you’ll learn a lot about the mortgage lending market by seeing a variety of real quotes.
The service simplifies the process of mortgage shopping, whether you’re buying or refinancing a home.
- Gets you familiar with the market
- A quick way to compare offers
- Can lead to too many loan offers
- Lenders may contact you independently
Best for: Presenting great refinancing options
I’ve always loved Credible as a student loan refinance tool. Now, you can refinance your mortgage with Credible.
Like LendingTree, Credible doesn’t lend money; it connects your application with leading lenders so you can compare quotes.
I especially like the way Credible uses the specific details and challenges from your application to match you with loan offers that address your needs.
Because of this feature, you can spend more time comparing finely tuned details of your loan offers rather than sifting through offers you’d never seriously consider. And Credible says it won’t let lenders contact you independently.
The mortgage application process isn’t entirely online; you’ll have to fill out and upload some paper documentation. But you can still apply quickly enough.
- Cash-out refinance available
- Online application easy to use
- Doesn’t do a hard credit check
- No HELOC option
- Paper application
Best for: Combining traditional and online lending
I’ve included in this list a lot of unconventional options for mortgage lending — from loan comparison tools to all-online lenders to lenders who use unique forms of underwriting.
Chase fits none of these descriptions. It’s a standard, national bank with loan officer-staffed branch offices throughout the nation. Borrowers looking for an in-person lender with a modern approach usually like Chase.
You’ll get a wide selection of loans — new purchases, refinances, home equity lines of credit (HELOC), federally subsidized (FHA loan), conventional, Jumbo. You get the idea.
While you will need to work with an in-person loan officer, you’ll also be able to track your application’s status online and provide digital documentation in many cases.
- A wide selection of loans
- A large staff of loan officers
- Discounts for existing Chase customers
- Annoying fees (a charge to lock-in your rate, for example)
- Apply in-person
New American Funding
Best for: Applicants with lower credit scores
What if you could combine the efficiency of online mortgage lending with the personal approach of a neighborhood bank?
New American Funding thinks you can. If your mortgage or refinance application needs a little massaging, New American can help. First-time home buyers often need this kind of special attention.
This doesn’t mean New American will fund your loan no matter what — it just means the lender will be more willing to work with your challenges when compared to most others.
New American also has a home equity line of credit along with refi and first mortgage loans.
- Manual underwriting offers a nuanced approach
- A full slate of federally subsidized loans
- Offers HELOC as well as refinance
- The application can take longer
- Not available in New York State or Hawaii
Best for: High earners without established credit histories
SoFi got its start as a student loan refinancing lender but has recently expanded into mortgage lending.
SoFi — which is short for Social Finance — has its own unique approach to mortgage underwriting. Compared to other lenders, SoFi doesn’t rely as heavily on credit histories and debt-to-income ratios.
Those numbers still matter, but SoFi will also consider the kind of college degrees you’ve earned to determine your earnings potential in the future.
SoFi doesn’t usually lend to real estate investors; the company prefers working with first-time homebuyers and other single-family home buyers who need large loans.
SoFi also doesn’t issue federally subsidized loans, which means you’ll need to put at least 10 percent down. SoFi also does not lend for home equity or home equity line of credit loans.
- Great for Jumbo loans
- Online application
- Can help applicants with little credit history
- No FHA, VA, USDA loans
- No home equity loans
Best for: Low fee online borrowing
Better.com has financed more than $7 billion in home loans since issuing its first mortgage back in 2016. This online lender uses algorithms to connect borrowers to the right loan.
Securing Fannie Mae funding has helped establish Better.com as a legitimate alternative to conventional lending.
Better.com specializes in simplifying the application process and lowering or eliminating fees such as the origination fee. New home buyers can apply for fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgages, Jumbo loans, and FHA loans.
However, USDA and VA loan shoppers should find another lender.
- Lower fees
- Competitive interest rates
- No VA or USDA loans
- No home equity loans
Mutual of Omaha
Best for: Fast in-app pre-approval
This insurance giant became a mortgage broker almost overnight when it acquired Synergy One Lending. Mutual of Omaha has a wide variety of mortgage products, and it specializes in low-cost loans for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mutual of Omaha has a new app for getting preapproval, and you can chat online with customer service reps. But you can’t complete the entire application online. Instead, you’ll communicate with a loan officer over the phone.
Or, if you happen to live on the West Coast, you could visit a Synergy One Lending office.
- Personalized customer service
- Authorized for almost all loan types
- Pre-qualification via app
- Competitive interest rates
- Application not fully online
- No shorter-term (10 or 12-year) loans
Best for: Lower down payments
SunTrust writes adjustable and fixed-rate mortgages in every state except Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, and Oregon. However, homebuyers outside of the Southeast usually haven’t heard of this Atlanta-based mortgage company.
Shoppers who plan to make low down payments like SunTrust’s Agency Affordable financing programs. Though it’s not a fully subsidized loan, you can still make down payment as low as 3.5 percent because Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae buy these loans. You’d still have to pay PMI on your loan amount and closing costs of course.
Doctors and dentists in SunTrust’s main service area, the Southeast, can also get great deals on conventional mortgages.
- Online application
- Competitive rates
- Not available in all 50 states
- Not best for credit-challenged
Best for: VA loan refinancing (IRRRL)
Only military members or veterans can join USAA which started as an auto insurance company before expanding into banking. As a mortgage lender, USAA excels with VA loans which let qualifying veterans get low-cost loans even with FICO scores as low as 580. Veterans even get competitive interest rates with no down payment in many cases.
If you’re not a veteran or on active duty, you could still join USAA if you’re a qualifying spouse or dependent.
- Mobile-first lending
- Low minimum credit score
- Variety of loan programs
- Great for IRRRL
- Not open to everyone
Best for: VA Loans for first-time buyers
Veterans United has emerged as the largest VA lender in the nation. But veterans can also get great mortgage rates with FHA and conventional loans with Veterans United, if they have a FICO score of 660.
Veterans United’s underwriting process considers your residual income — the money left over each month after you pay the bills. If your debt-to-income ratio raises some questions with a lender, your residual income could help resolve them and get you back on the path to a great home loan.
Military families may also want to check out USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union, both of which specialize in VA lending.
- VA program requires no down payment
- Great 24/7 customer service
- Residual income considered
- Wide variety of loan products
- No home equity line of credit (HELOC)
How Much Does a Mortgage Cost?
A mortgage is a type of loan providing the money you need to buy a home. In exchange for this money, you’ll pay a monthly payment, often for 30 years or possibly even more. You can also find 10-, 12-, 15-, and 20-year terms.
Before applying for a mortgage, you should know:
- Your Credit Score: Your score impacts your eligibility for a mortgage. If you get approved, your score directly impacts your interest rate. And your rate, of course, helps determine the size of your monthly payment. If your credit score needs a little help, start working on it a year or so before you’re ready to buy a house. Typically you’ll have better luck with a federally subsidized (FHA, USDA, or VA loan) if you have a credit score below 620.
- Your Price Range: Home purchase prices vary widely around the country. Determine your price range and use a mortgage calculator to find out how much loan you can afford. If you’re shopping conventional mortgages, you’ll need at least 10 percent of the purchase price to make a down payment.
- The Extra Costs: Mortgages usually require origination fees in the neighborhood of 1 percent of the loan amount, appraisal fees for your new property, application fees, attorney’s fees for closing the transaction, inspection fees to make sure the home’s safe to buy, and so on. Some of these costs could be folded into the loan itself, but it’s better to be prepared. VA loans charge their own origination fee which could exceed 3 percent of the loan estimate.
- Your Loan’s Term: The longer your loan’s term (30 years, for example), the lower your monthly payment. But, longer loan terms have higher interest rates which means they cost more overall.
- Where to Get Insurance: Homeowners insurance coverage is a must. Once you know your home’s price range, start shopping for your homeowner’s coverage. Your Realtor, lender, or credit union may have suggestions about regional insurance companies.
- PMI: Private Mortgage Insurance protects your lender in case you default on the loan, but you’ll have to pay the premiums, which add to your monthly payment. Homebuyers who make a 20 percent down payment will avoid PMI. If not, you can cancel PMI once you own 80 percent of the home (unless you have an FHA loan which now requires PMI throughout the term).
- HOAs and Property Taxes: Your city and county — or your neighborhood or condo development — will levy fees and taxes on your home. These fees and taxes protect your property and improve your neighborhood. They’re a good investment, but you’ll feel the cost. Check on these recurring charges before you complete the mortgage process.
How to Get a Mortgage with Poor Credit
The better your credit score, the more mortgage options you’ll have — that’s just how lending works.
Since different lenders have slightly different criteria, there are no hard-and-fast rules I can cite. But here are some general guidelines.
|Type of Loan||FICO Score Needed||Down Payment Needed|
|Conventional Loan||620||At least 10 percent|
|FHA Loan||580||3 to 3.5 percent|
|FHA Loan||500||10 percent|
|USDA Loan||640||3 percent|
|VA Loan||580||None required|
Unless you’re a veteran who can qualify for a VA loan, your best bet (if you’re struggling to meet the minimum credit score) will probably be an FHA-backed loan which could also require just 3.5 percent as a down payment.
FHA loans have backing from the Federal Housing Authority, which means lenders can take more of a risk with your mortgage and can even extend competitive mortgage rates. The more money you can put down, the better case you can make for borrowing with a shakier credit history.
As I said above, check with New American Funding if you’d like a more nuanced approach to your mortgage underwriting, which could help you make a stronger case.
And, if you’re just starting out with no established credit, but you’re in a high-earning profession, check out SoFi’s options.
Shakier credit means you probably will pay private mortgage insurance which costs about 0.5 to 1 percent of your loan amount each year.
Improving Your Credit Score for a Mortgage
A credit score above 650 or 700 opens a lot of doors — literally and figuratively — when you’re mortgage shopping. Better credit scores secure lower borrowing rates which increase your buying power.
Unless you’re in a big hurry to buy, consider spending a couple of years improving your credit before applying for a loan.
Pay your bills on time, pay down your credit card balances (but don’t necessarily close the accounts), and try not to apply for new auto or unsecured loans.
You can use a free service like Credit Sesame to keep track of your progress.
Looking Beyond Your Credit Score
Even if you have poor credit, you can make a case for better mortgage loan terms if you have:
- A Big Down Payment: Your down payment shows your lender you’re serious about buying the house, and you’re willing to risk your own money to do so.
- Money in the Bank: If you’ve made a sizable down payment and you still have $20,000 in savings, your lender will notice you’re in pretty good shape despite your credit report.
- Long-term Employment: You’ve worked in the same place for 10 years? Your lender should consider this source of stability in your life. If you’re self-employed, be willing to show your tax forms to prove your income.
- Debt-to-Income Ratio: Someone without much debt besides the mortgage can make a stronger case. The percentage of your income you spend on debt determines your debt-to-income ratio.
These factors can’t completely erase the impact of a poor credit score, but they offer evidence you can use to appeal your case.
Finding Customer Satisfaction in Your Mortgage Process
For most homebuyers, getting your dream home with a low borrowing rate and mortgage payments you can afford will be satisfying enough. When a mortgage company can provide this kind of home buying experience, you’ll probably rate it well.
Beginning the mortgage process with a solid credit score, a 20 percent down payment in the bank, and a low debt-to-income ratio will make this possible with almost any lender.
But customer experience includes more than the right loan. Consider:
- How You Like to Shop: Some of us prefer online only mortgage origination. Consider Rocket Mortgage or Better.com. Others prefer a face-to-face experience. Chase or a credit union in your town can provide this.
- Mortgage Company Reviews: Agencies like J.D. Power rate customer satisfaction. You can learn a lot reading online reviews on TrustPilot or ConsumersAdvocate too. Look for common problems in multiple reviews since every lender gets bad reviews from some customers. If you can’t find much information about a lender, check out its NMLS profile.
- Decide on Fixed vs. Adjustable: Most lenders let you choose a fixed-rate loan or an adjustable-rate mortgage. With fixed loans your interest rate and your mortgage payments stay the same. With an adjustable-rate (ARM) loan your mortgage rate would stay the same for a set time, usually 3, 5, or 7 years. Then it — and your monthly payment — would vary each year with the market. ARMs can work well if you plan to sell or refinance your home within a few years.
- Choose Conventional vs. Subsidized: Consider a conventional loan if you have an excellent FICO score in the 640 or higher range and have at least 10 percent and ideally 20 percent to put down. Home buyers with credit challenges should consider a USDA or FHA loan which have lower borrowing standards and require lower (or possibly no) down payments. Veterans have access to VA loans which provide even more freedom in borrowing.
Has Covid-19 Changed The Mortgage Application Process?
The novel coronavirus has affected almost all segments of the economy, including the market for new mortgages and refinances.
Initially, the coronavirus pandemic led to lower interest rates which led to a spike in mortgage applications. Some lenders suspended a few loan programs because of the higher demand, making it harder to apply online, for example.
At the same time, current homeowners started having trouble paying their regular mortgage payments because of job losses and other financial strains. This has created more financial strain for lenders, too — especially non-bank lenders who rely directly on existing mortgage payments to fund new loans.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides guidance to homeowners who can’t afford their payments. The CFPB can also help you manage other credit accounts.
Get Quotes and Know What You’ll Pay
The mortgage process should give you more financial freedom. Owning a home means your monthly house payments become an investment in your future. And your home should gain value, meaning you could earn money by selling it someday in the future.
But too many loans cut into first-time homebuyers’ financial freedom. If you can’t afford the monthly payment, you risk losing what you’ve invested.
Avoid agreeing to a loan you can’t afford by shopping for at least three rate quotes. Compare rate quotes and application fees for different mortgage loans. Ask for a truth-in-lending report so you’ll know how much you’ll pay in interest throughout the loan term.
Remember to consider property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other ongoing fees. And don’t forget the closing costs. Finance them in with your loan only if you have no other choice.
When you’re in control of the borrowing process, you’ll have more freedom now and throughout your journey as a homeowner.