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Mortgage Commitment Letter: Overview, Types, and If You Need One

By Emma Diehl · September 22, 2022 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Mortgage Commitment Letter: Overview, Types, and If You Need One

A mortgage commitment letter is a step beyond pre-qualification and pre-approval and could give a homebuyer an edge in a competitive market. It lays out the loan details and indicates that a buyer has an agreement for a mortgage.

But who should obtain a mortgage commitment letter and when? Read on for the answers.

What Is a Mortgage Commitment Letter?

A mortgage commitment letter — conditional or final — is a step close to finalizing a mortgage but short of “clear to close.” The letter signals to the seller that the buyer and a chosen financial institution have forged an agreement.

Buyers may seek a conditional mortgage commitment letter when they’re house hunting, and a final commitment letter when they’re ready to make an offer on a specific home.

In both types of loan commitments, the lender outlines the terms of the mortgage.

Recommended: Buying in a Seller’s Market With a Low Down Payment

Types of Mortgage Loan Approvals

In the mortgage process, buyers will hear “approval” thrown around a lot. But not all approvals are built equally, and each type signifies a different part of the process.

Pre-qualification

Getting pre-qualified is often an early step for buyers in the home search. It’s quick, can be done online, and doesn’t require a hard credit inquiry.

To get pre-qualified, buyers provide financial details, including income, debt, and assets, but no documentation, so this step serves as an estimate of how much home they can afford.

Pre-qualification can help buyers create a realistic budget, but the amount, interest rate, and loan program might change as the lender gets more information.

Pre-approval

Pre-approval is slightly more complicated, requiring a hard credit inquiry and documentation from the buyer.
Lenders may ask for the following:

•   Identification

•   Recent pay stubs

•   W-2 statements

•   Tax returns

•   Activity from checking, savings, and investment accounts

•   Residential history

Armed with this information, a lender will give buyers a specific amount they’ll likely qualify for.
Pre-approval also shows sellers that a buyer is serious about a home, as it means a lender is willing to approve them for a mortgage.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


Conditional vs Final Commitment

Pre-qualification and pre-approval can be important steps during the home search. But especially in a seller’s market and in certain cities, the mortgage commitment letter can become an important tool.

While a mortgage loan commitment letter can show a seller that the buyer is serious, not all letters are the same.

A conditional mortgage approval letter, the most common type, means that the lender will approve buyers as long as they meet certain conditions.

Conditions could include:

•   No change to the buyer’s finances before the closing date

•   Proof of funds to cover the down payment and closing costs

•   Passing of a home inspection

•   An appraisal

•   Proof of homeowners insurance

•   No liens or other problems with the property title

A final commitment letter means the lender has unconditionally approved the buyer for a loan to purchase a home. However, this doesn’t mean the buyer is guaranteed a loan; it just means the lender is ready to approve the mortgage.

Having a mortgage commitment letter in hand is a good way to ensure that nothing will go wrong during underwriting.

Recommended: See Local Housing Market Trends by City

How to Know If You Need a Mortgage Commitment Letter

Buyers don’t need to provide a mortgage commitment letter to a seller. Still, that extra step beyond pre-approval indicates how serious they are about a property.

Since it may require a little extra work, it shows sellers that a buyer is less likely to back out, especially due to financing issues.

A mortgage commitment letter could convince a seller to take a buyer more seriously in a seller’s market. And it could calm the nerves of buyers who face home-buying angst, including the challenge of covering a down payment and closing costs (even if they plan to roll closing costs into the loan).

How to Get a Mortgage Commitment Letter

Getting a mortgage commitment letter might sound like a hassle during an already stressful home-buying process, but doing so could save buyers time and provide a sense of relief as they creep closer to closing.

First off, buyers will need to be pre-approved. If they have chosen a home, once under contract, their lender or underwriter will want more information, which may include:

•   A gift letter if another party is helping with the down payment

•   Employment verification

•   Explanation of any late payments

•   Proof of debts paid and settled

From there, it could be a back-and-forth between the lender and buyer, with the lender asking for clarification or additional documentation. Common issues that arise include:

•   Tax returns with errors or inconsistencies

•   Unexplained deposits into buyer bank accounts

•   Multiple late payments or collections on a credit report

•   Unclear pay stubs

At this point, the lender may grant a conditional commitment letter, with the caveat of additional information and an appraisal. If the buyer has an appraisal and meets lender expectations with documentation, they’re likely to get a final commitment.

Contents of a Commitment Letter

A commitment letter will vary from lender to lender but generally include the following details:

•   Loan amount

•   Loan number

•   What the loan is for

•   Mortgage loan term

•   Type of loan (FHA, conventional, etc.)

•   Lender information

•   Expiration date of the commitment letter

What happens after the commitment letter? The lender and underwriter will continue to iron out the mortgage details, aiming for clear-to-close status before the closing date on the property.

The Takeaway

A mortgage commitment letter is like a short engagement before the wedding: It signals an agreement before the real deal. Buyers in an active seller’s market might find a mortgage commitment letter advantageous.

Shopping for a mortgage? SoFi can help.

With mortgage tools and resources, SoFi is an online mortgage lender designed to guide buyers through the process, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put just 3% down.

Getting pre-qualified is a snap.

FAQ

How long does it take to get a mortgage commitment letter?

It typically takes 20 to 45 days to get a mortgage commitment letter. The average closing process takes 50 days.

Does a mortgage commitment letter expire?

Yes.

How long is a mortgage commitment letter valid?

Timing can vary by lender, but the length of commitment is typically 30 days.


Photo credit: iStock/MartinPrescott

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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