Comparing the Top Mortgage Lenders
Whether you’re a first-time buyer or you’ve done this before, purchasing a new home is always a complex process. Getting a mortgage can be particularly challenging given the costs, fees, and paperwork involved. The purpose of this website is to help you understand how to get a mortgage for your home purchase and compare the best mortgage lenders. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the mortgage lending market so you don’t have to go to the trouble of researching it yourself.
Types of Mortgages
Conventional Home Loans
The most common form of mortgage is a conventional mortgage, also known as a conforming loan. This type of home loans involves two parties: the borrower (you) and the lender. Most lenders require at least a 20% down payment on a conventional mortgage, e.g., if the home costs $300,000, the lender requires at least a $60,000 down payment and loans out the remaining $240,000. In recent years, an increasing number of lenders have begun offering low down payment mortgages with minimum down payment of as little as 3%.
Jumbo loans are loans that exceed the legal conforming loan limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Because jumbo loans involve more money and therefore greater risk to the lender, they typically have stricter qualifying requirements. In 2021, the maximum conforming loan limit at $548,250 in most U.S. counties, meaning any loan above that amount is considered a jumbo loan. The limit is higher in some counties with higher property prices, going as high as $822,375 in America’s most expensive counties – namely the greater New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles areas, the entire states of Alaska and Hawaii, and a handful of wealthy small towns in various states. If you’re buying in Dallas or St Louis, to give two examples, a jumbo loan is anything above $548,250; but if you’re buying in Los Angeles or an exclusive ski town like Aspen, Colorado, a jumbo limit is anything above $822,375.
This is a government-backed loan administered by the Federal Housing Administration for buyers with poor credit or little money for a down payment. FHA loans come in two forms: 3.5% down payment for borrowers with credit of 580-619, or 10% down payment for borrowers with 500-579 credit. The one catch with FHA loans is that it requires monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI), which you can stop paying once you reach 20% equity. Many, but not all, mortgage lenders offer FHA loans. Most lenders only offer FHA loans to borrowers with credit of 580+ or 600+, but a handful serve borrowers with as little as 500 credit. Therefore, if you have poor credit, it pays to shop around for FHA loans.
VA loans are a government-backed loan administered by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The minimum credit requirement for a VA loan is usually 620+, the same as a conventional loan, but the big prize here is the down payment requirement or rather the lack of one. That’s right: VA loans don’t require any down payment, so you can take out a loan for the full value of the property. The following people may apply for a VA loan: veterans who have served at least 90 consecutive days of active service in wartime or 181 days of active service in peacetime; members of the National Guard and Reserve who have served at least 6 years; and spouses of veterans who died in the line of duty or as a consequence of a service-related injury.
USDA loans are a niche government-backed loan administered by the US Department of Agriculture.
Like other government-backed loans, lenders may only offer USDA loans to borrowers who meet the qualifying requirements – in this case, the main requirement is purchasing in a rural or semi-rural area. USDA mortgages require no down payment but do require monthly PMI until you reach 20% equity.
Types of Rates
Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common type of mortgage, especially among first-time home buyers. As the name suggests, fixed-rate mortgages are mortgages with fixed rates for the entire duration of the loan. When you take a fixed-rate mortgage, you pay more in year one than you would with an adjustable-rate mortgage. However, you protect yourself from the risk of having to pay a higher rate and higher monthly installments later in life. Given that interest rates are close to all-time lows in 2021, the only direction that rates can realistically go from here is upward – which is why locking in a fixed-rate mortgage is currently a better option than betting on an adjustable rate.
Adjustable-rate mortgages, also known as ARMs or variable-rate mortgages, carry higher risk and higher reward than fixed rates. An ARM is always cheaper than a fixed-rate mortgage in year one, but it carries the risk of higher interest rates in the long-term. ARMs have two components: the number of years the initial rate gets locked in for; and the intervals at which rates get updated. Most lenders offer ARMs of 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, or 10/1. A 3/1 ARM refers to an ARM with a fixed rate for the first three years and a rate update every year after that. The shorter your fixed period, the better your introductory rate (and the riskier the loan). Because of their unpredictable nature, ARMs are best for borrowers with high risk appetite or borrowers who plan on selling the home or paying off the mortgage early.
Average Mortgage Rates for Purchase Loans
Each lender sets its own mortgage rates, with some updating rates on a daily basis. Of course, the market in which the lenders operate is the same for everyone, and all lenders are influenced by the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate, so all lenders tend to fall within a certain range at any given time.
As of April 1 2021, the average mortgage rates were:
3.18% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage
2.45% for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage
2.84% for a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage
How to Apply for a Mortgage
Whenever a lender provides a mortgage loan to a borrower, they take on a certain amount of risk because there is never a 100% guarantee that the borrower will have the ability to pay back the entire loan. The best protection for the lender is the property itself, which the lender can seize or foreclose if the borrower defaults on payments. The other way lenders protect themselves is by running a background check on the borrower.
When assessing a borrower, the lender is likely to take into account credit score, income, expenses, and the size of the down payment. In order to run an assessment, your lender is likely to ask for the following:
Social security number
Recent pay stubs
W-2s or I-9 from the past two years
Proof of other sources of income
Federal tax returns
Recent bank statements
Details of other debts, e.g., auto loans or student loans
Our Top Mortgage Lenders
What to Look for When Comparing Mortgages
The monthly payments on a mortgage comprise principal, as in the amount remaining on your loan, and interest, as in the money the lender collects for providing the loan. Your APR, or annual percentage rate, consists of the interest rate plus certain other lender fees. The lower the interest rate / APR, the lower your monthly payments to the lender.
The repayment term, or loan duration, is another important factor when comparing mortgages. The typical repayment term is 15-30 years although some lenders offer mortgages with terms as short as eight years. There is no right or wrong when it comes to repayment terms; what’s best for you depends largely on how much you can afford to pay each month. The shorter the term, the higher your monthly payments but the less you’ll pay in interest over the life of the loan. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payments but the more you’ll pay your lender in the long run.
Closing costs are the fees and charges owed to the lender when the loan begins and usually range from 2-6% of the loan value. Therefore, if you take out a $300,000 loan and your closing costs are 3%, this means you’ll pay the lender $9,000 in upfront fees. Closing costs may include origination fees, property appraisal, title fees, taxes, and various other costs – some of which go directly to the lender and some which the lender collects on behalf of third parties. Closing costs vary from lender to lender, so knowing each lender’s approximate closing costs can assist you in doing a proper comparison.
Ease of application
Gone are the days when you had to walk into a physical branch to apply for a mortgage. These days, the best mortgage lenders let you apply online, sometimes through a fully automated online mortgage platform and other times with phone assistance from a loan agent. If convenience is important to you, then keep an eye out for digital-friendly lenders.
Customer service is always important, but even more so when we’re talking about six-figure deals. Always search for a lender that’s transparent about rates and fees, open about the requirements, and has good reviews. Be suspicious of lenders that hide or make it difficult to find important information.