The majority of sellers anticipate purchasers to have a pre-approval letter and will be more open to deal with those who can demonstrate their ability to secure financing. Shopping for a home can be exciting and enjoyable, but serious purchasers should begin the process at a lender's office, not an open house. 

Five Requirements for Mortgage Pre-Approval

To be pre-approved for a mortgage, prospective purchasers must provide evidence of their assets and income, strong credit, and employment verification, among other documents.

• Serious homebuyers should begin the process at a lender's office, not at an open house. • Most sellers anticipate buyers to have a pre-approval letter and will be more ready to negotiate with you if you have one.

To obtain pre-approval, you must provide proof of assets and income, good credit, employment verification, and any other documentation your lender may require.

Pre-qualification vs. Pre-approval

A pre-qualification for a mortgage can be helpful as an estimate of how much a person can afford to spend on a property, but a pre-approval is considerably more significant. It indicates that the lender has examined the borrower's credit and documents to approve a specified loan amount (the approval usually lasts for 60 to 90 days).

By meeting with a lender and securing a pre-approval letter, prospective purchasers gain multiple advantages. They are first able to discuss loan alternatives and budgeting with the lender. Second, the lender will examine the buyer's credit history and identify any issues. Additionally, the buyer will learn the maximum amount they may borrow, which will aid in determining the price range. A mortgage calculator is a useful tool for budgeting expenses.

Requirements for Pre-approval

You'll need five items to get pre-approved for a mortgage. They are proof of assets and income, good credit, employment verification, and any other papers your lender may ask. Here is a comprehensive look at what you need to know to collect the required information and be prepared for the pre-approval procedure:

1. Proof of Income

Buyers are typically required to provide two years worth of W-2 wage statements, current pay stubs indicating  income and year-to-date income, proof of any supplementary income such as alimony or bonuses, and their two most recent tax returns.

2. Proof of Asset

The borrower must provide bank and investment account statements to demonstrate that they have sufficient finances for the down payment, closing expenses, and cash reserves.

The down payment, stated as a percentage of the purchase price, varies depending on the type of financing. Many loans require the buyer to obtain private mortgage insurance (PMI) or pay a mortgage insurance premium or financing charge if the down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price. In addition to the down payment, pre-approval depends on the buyer's FICO credit score, debt-to-income ratio (DTI), and other variables, depending on the type of loan.

Except for jumbo loans, all loans adhere to the requirements of government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Some loans, such as HomeReady (Fannie Mae) and Home Possible (Freddie Mac), are targeted for first-time or low-to-moderate-income homebuyers.

No-money-down Veterans Affairs (VA) loans are available to U.S. veterans, service members, and unremarried spouses. A buyer who receives down payment assistance from a friend or relative may need a gift letter to demonstrate that the funds are not a loan.

3. Good Credit

The majority of lenders require a FICO score of 620 or better to grant a conventional credit, and some even require it for an FHA loan.

The lowest interest rates are normally reserved for individuals with a credit score of 760 or above. In accordance with FHA requirements, borrowers with a credit score of 580 or better can put as little as 3.5% down.

Those with poorer credit ratings must make a greater initial deposit. Lenders will frequently deal with borrowers with a low or somewhat low credit score and offer advice on how to raise it.

The table below illustrates the monthly principal and interest payment for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage based on a variety of FICO scores for three common loan amounts. On a $250,000 loan, a borrower with a FICO score between 620 and 639 would pay $1,288 per month, while a homeowner with a score between 760 and 850 would pay just $1,062 per month, a difference of $2,712 each year.

A person with a FICO score between 620 and 639 would pay $213,857 in principal and interest on a $250,000 loan over 30 years, while a homeowner with a score between 760 and 850 would pay $132,216, a difference of more than $81,000.

A tool provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enables you to determine how your credit score, loan type, property price, and down payment affect your interest rate. The tool is updated twice every week with the most recent interest rates.

4. Employment Verification

Lenders will only extend credit to borrowers with solid employment. In addition to requiring pay stubs, a lender would likely contact the buyer's company to confirm employment and compensation. If a buyer just changed jobs, a lender may wish to contact the old employer.

Self-employed purchasers must supply substantial additional documentation regarding their business and income. According to Fannie Mae, the approval of a mortgage for a self-employed borrower depends on the stability of the borrower's income, the location and nature of the borrower's business, the demand for the product or service provided by the company and the financial strength of the business, and the potential of the business to continue going to generate and allocating sufficient income to enable the mortgagor to make the mortgage payments.

Self-employed borrowers or mortgagor are often required to provide at least the two most recent years of tax returns with all applicable schedules.

5. Additional Documentation

The lender must obtain a copy of the borrower's driver's license, as well as the borrower's Social Security number and signature, in order to pull the borrower's credit report. Be prepared to deliver (as soon as feasible) any additional documentation requested by the lender during the pre-approval session and later on.

The mortgage procedure will go more smoothly the more cooperative you are.

The Bottom Line

A consultation with a lender prior to the home-buying process can prevent a great deal of trouble later on. Gather documentation prior to the pre-approval appointment, and certainly prior to house hunting.

What is the difference between pre-approval and pre-qualification?

Both pre-qualification and pre-approval entail a credit report assessment of the applicant. The distinction lies in the extent of credit evaluation. Pre-qualification involves a brief check of a potential borrower's credit and provides just a broad sense of the mortgage amount and terms for which they could qualify. Pre-approval requires a comprehensive credit evaluation and is only available for a limited period, but it provides the potential borrower with a credit offer from a lender that they can use to make offers in good faith on properties for sale.

What considerations are made for preapproval?

Prior to providing a pre-approval offer, lenders verify key borrower details. These include employment, income, asset, and credit score verifications. At the time of application, a full credit report and credit score are pulled, as opposed to the limited (soft pull) credit report that is commonly used with pre-qualification offers.

Why is it essential to obtain pre-approval?

A person who has been pre-approved for a mortgage has more leverage when negotiating with the seller of a home in which they are interested because they already have mortgage financing in place. Otherwise, the prospective buyer would have to apply for a mortgage before submitting an offer, risking losing the chance to bid on a house.