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Buying a house is a big deal. It’s the most significant single 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 (or refinance) your home.
Finding the “best mortgage lender” to buy or refinance your home means working with a lender whose strengths line up perfectly with your specific needs.
If you’re thinking about buying a house or refinancing, keep reading to learn about the best mortgage lenders.
In the process, you may also find a lender that can meet your needs precisely, giving you the savings and flexibility you need.
Best Mortgage Lenders for 2020
I recommend the following lenders and services as you shop for your loan. Most of these lenders work well for first-time buyers, too:
Best-for: The comparison shopper
I’m listing LendingTree first because this service can save you a lot of time.
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: 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 application process works seamlessly, even on your smartphone.
The company’s marketing department has claimed 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.
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’ll need to look elsewhere.
But if you know where you stand and what you want — and if you’d like to get the application process rolling — give Quicken 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: Presenting great refinancing options
I’ve always loved Credible as a student loan refinance tool. Now, you can refinance your mortgage online 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 best fit 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 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
- Application not entirely online
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 those 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, 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)
- Application not entirely online
Best for: New construction and restoration
LoanDepot helped pioneer online lending in the 1990s, back in the days of aol.com email addresses and bulky computer monitors.
Ironically, the lender no longer stresses its online experience, though you will benefit from its fast digital underwriting process.
Instead, LoanDepot has branch offices spread around 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).
- Great for new construction & restorations
- Strong on-phone customer service
- Digital underwriting speeds up the process
- Online experience limited
- Rates and fees can be hard to estimate before underwriting
LoanDepot While LoanDepot's online platform may not be as jazzy as its competitors, it makes up for it with its brick and mortar branches spread out across the nation and great phone-based customer service. LoanDepot is great for new home loans and refinancing options.
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 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 other online lenders.
Unlike many online lenders, New American also has a home equity line of credit along with refinances 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 buyers 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
How Much Does a Mortgage Cost?
A mortgage is a 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 credit score impacts your eligibility for a mortgage and the amount you’ll pay in interest, which directly impacts your payment amount. If your credit 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 loan if you have a credit score below 620.
- Your Price Range: Home prices vary widely around the country. Determine your price range and use a mortgage calculator to find out how much loan you can afford.
- The Extra Costs: Mortgages usually require origination fees in the neighborhood of 1 percent of the loan amount, appraisal fees for your new property, 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.
- Your Loan’s Term: The longer your loan’s term (30 years, for example), the lower your monthly payment. But, longer loan terms cost a lot more in interest throughout the life of your loan.
- Where to Get Insurance: Homeowners insurance coverage is a must. Once you know your home’s price range, start shopping for your homeowners coverage.
- 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. If you can put down 20 percent of the home’s value, you can avoid paying PMI. If not, you can cancel PMI once you own 80 percent of the home (unless you have an FHA loan).
- 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.
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 with your credit score) will probably be an FHA loan.
FHA loans have backing from the Federal Housing Authority, which means lenders can take more of a risk with your mortgage. The more money you can put down, the better case you can make for a lower credit score.
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.
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.
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 sizeable down payment and you still have $20,000 in savings, your lender will notice you’re in pretty good shape despite your credit history.
- Long-term Employment: You’ve worked in the same place for ten years? Your lender should consider this source of stability in your life.
- 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.
Best Online Mortgage Providers
Some homebuyers like having a one-on-one loan officer they can visit in person at a local bank branch.
Others just want an online application they can submit on their own schedule, uploading documentation as needed.
Either way works well, and you should choose the approach that works with your schedule and comfort level.
If you’re working with an online lender, make sure the lender meets your requirements before you start filling out forms:
- Federal Loans: Not all lenders have the authorization to lend money through the FHA, USDA, and VA programs.
- Access to Funds: Will your lender cut a check, transfer funds to you, or leave you out of the process, sending the money directly to the seller?
- Who to Contact: Does the lender have customer service available around the clock?
- Quicken Loans: Has set the standard for online mortgages. Rocket Mortgage, which is operated by Quicken, has a streamlined application but has the same underwriting guidelines as Quicken.
- Credible: Shop customized quotes for your refinance.
- LendingTree: Let banks reach out to you with their offers to finance or refinance your home.
- New American Funding: This lender can deliver online lending with a more human touch.
- SoFi: High earners without much credit history can still get a good loan with this online lender; especially good for first-time buyers.