Buying a home is likely one of the biggest moves you’ll make in your personal and financial life, and your home may represent one of your largest assets.
If you take out a mortgage to help you buy it, you will end up making mortgage payments — and if your lender ends up servicing your loan after closing — you will make payments to that lender, possibly for decades. That’s why it’s important to shop around before committing to a mortgage lender and loan program that’s right for you.
Today, borrowers have more choices than ever. With the rise of online and marketplace lenders, there’s increased competition, which fuels improvements in process, service, and cost — and can mean a much better experience for you.
With so much choice, however, finding the right lender can feel overwhelming. To help simplify the process, we’ve listed five key things you may want to consider when shopping for a mortgage lender.
1. Does the lender offer competitive interest rates?
A good first step is to get the lay of the land by looking at various lenders and the rates and fees they advertise. Taking this step may help you understand what the market looks like overall and who may be offering competitive rates.
Remember that the rates and programs you are ultimately eligible for will likely depend not only on the lender you choose but also your needs and financial situation. However, this initial comparison can give you a baseline to start working from.
You’ll also want to look at the common loan types offered. Interest rates for fixed-rate loans do not change over the life of the loan. Interest rates for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) can change over the life of the loan and are influenced by benchmark interest rates.
Hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages are mortgages that offer an initial fixed rate for a certain period of time. These hybrid ARMs often offer a low introductory rate for either 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years. Some hybrid ARMs will also offer an interest-only payment option for a specified period of time such as 10 years.
When the initial fixed-rate period is over, the interest rate is normally reviewed on an annual basis for adjustment. Although the benchmark index tied to the ARM rate may have moved much higher, these loans typically have yearly and annual interest rate caps to control rate and payment fluctuations.
When talking to a lender about their mortgage offerings, it’s a good idea to not only ask about interest rate, but also about APR, or annual percentage rate. This figure takes into account certain fees like broker fees, points, and other applicable credit charges, giving you an easier way to compare loan offers.
2. Does the lender offer loan products with terms that suit your needs?
Your needs and financial situation can play a large part in which mortgage programs you choose and are eligible for. For example, some lenders require a 20% down payment to qualify for a mortgage.
If you can’t pay 20%, lenders may require that you have private mortgage insurance (PMI), which covers them in case you default on your mortgage payments. Mortgage insurance premiums vary depending upon many factors.
It’s a good idea to ask your chosen lender how much insurance payments will add to your monthly payment. Also keep in mind that, in certain circumstances, PMI does not apply, such as with some jumbo loan programs. In addition, PMI can be eligible for removal from your home loan later if certain criteria is met.
If you can’t afford a 20% down payment, you can look for lenders who offer more flexible down payment requirements. Also, consider what term — the length of time you’ll be paying off your loan — works best for you. See what kinds of terms lenders offer and the interest rates that accompany those terms.
A shorter term will likely come with higher monthly payments, but lower interest rates that result in lower interest charges over time. Not everyone can afford those higher monthly payments, however, in which case a longer term may be preferable. Note that longer terms usually mean that you end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
Once you’ve found a loan with rates and terms that work for you, you can typically obtain a rate lock from your lender, generally for the time it takes to close on the transaction, such as 30 or 45 days.
You may have to pay a fee if you want to lock in the rate for a longer extended period of time. However, once you do, it will guarantee that you have access to the mortgage at a specific rate during the lock-in period, even if interest rates rise while your loan is being processed.
First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.
3. What type of origination, lender, and other fees might you be responsible for?
We’ve already alluded to the fact that you’ll likely be on the hook for other costs in addition to your down payment. One good idea is to request a Loan Estimate (LE) for any mortgage you’re considering to see a solid estimate of what costs you may be on the hook for.
Keep your eye out for things like:
• Commissions Mortgage brokers are paid on commission, which is either paid by you, your lender, or a combination of both.
• Origination fees These fees may cover the cost of processing your loan application.
• Appraisal fees Appraisal fees cover the cost of having a professional come in and put a value on the home you want to buy. You must have a property valuation of some type in order to borrow money to buy a home and in most cases a full appraisal is required.
• Credit report fee This covers the cost of the bank obtaining your credit report from the credit reporting bureaus.
• Discount points Optional fee the borrower can pay to reduce or buy down their interest rate.
Unless you receive a seller or lender credit towards closing costs, the added fees will impact the overall cost of buying the home, so doing your research and reading the fine print up front might pay off.
Depending on the loan terms and fees charged, some will be paid upfront at the beginning of the application process (such as credit report and appraisal), while other fees might be paid at loan closing (such as lender fees and title insurance).
In some cases, under certain loan programs, you can borrow the money to cover these fees, which will increase your overall mortgage payment(s). Therefore, having a clear understanding of what fees you’ll owe is critical to understanding how much you’ll end up paying.
It’s a good idea to request from your lender a quote on all the costs and fees associated with the loan. A Loan Estimate (LE) is a typical form used to disclose loan fees to a borrower. Ask questions about what each fee covers. Have your lender explain any fees you don’t understand, and then find out which ones may be negotiable or can be waived entirely.
4. How much of the process is online vs. on paper or in person?
How much facetime you have to put in to apply for a mortgage can vary by lender. Some online banks will have you complete the process entirely online, while brick and mortar banks may require an in-person visit.
In the past, applying for a mortgage required a lot of physical paperwork. But much of this has now been replaced by online interactions. For example, you are now likely able to send your financial information like bank statements and W-2s electronically.
Lenders who complete much, or all, of the mortgage application process online may be able to offer lower rates or fees, since they don’t have the cost of brick and mortar bank locations and their employees to maintain.
That said, if you’re someone who likes face-to-face help, you may consider a lender that allows you to apply in person or a lender who utilizes facetime.
5. How quickly can the lender close once you’re in contract?
Once you’ve found the home you want to buy and you’re under a purchase contract with the seller, the amount of time it takes to close on a loan can vary. Depending on the situation, you may have to wait for inspections, appraisals, and all sorts of paperwork to go through before you can close.
However, your lender may offer you ways to speed up the process. For example, you may be able to get preapproved for a loan, which takes care of a lot of potentially time-consuming paperwork upfront before you’ve even started shopping for a home.
Ask your lender how much time their closing process usually takes and what you can do to expedite it. Especially if you’re crunched for time, their answer can have a big impact on which lender you choose. After all, the faster you’re financed, the sooner you’ll be able to move in.
Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.
*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.
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.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.