Photo of people reviewing mortgage documents on a table

10 Q&As About the Mortgage Preapproval Process

The Essential House-Hunting Guide for First-Time Homebuyers, Part Three: Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage

One of the most important steps in the homebuying process is getting preapproved for a mortgage. To help you understand how this process works and why getting a preapproval letter from a lender is something you should do as soon as possible, we have gathered advice from several local professionals, including financial planners, real estate agents, and, of course, mortgage brokers. We’ve put their tips and insights into this blog post, which answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the mortgage preapproval process.

10 Frequently Asked Questions about Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage

1. Why should I get preapproved for a loan?

Getting preapproved is beneficial to your homebuying process for many reasons, including the following:
  • You have the opportunity to consult with a lender on your loan options and budgeting for a home.
  • You learn the maximum amount you can borrow, which helps you refine your price range even more.
  • You and the lender can identify any potential credit issues or other financial red flags and discuss how to address them before you get any further into your hunt for the right home.
  • You are able to demonstrate to sellers that you have the backing to get the money you will need to purchase their home, which may make you a more attractive buyer.
  • You can make an offer as soon as you find the home you want.

2. What’s the difference between loan preapproval and loan prequalification?

While getting prequalified for a loan can provide you with an initial understanding of how much you can afford to spend on a home, it is not nearly as valuable in the homebuying process as having a preapproval letter from a lender. To get prequalified, you typically only have to answer a few questions about your finances, and none of the information you provide is verified. For this reason, a prequalification is only an estimate of what mortgage you might be able to afford, and it is certainly not a guarantee that the lender would loan you this amount. On the other hand, to provide you with a preapproval letter, a lender will check your credit, verify financial resources, and much more, so it demonstrates to sellers that you are a serious buyer who is likely to be able to get the necessary financing to purchase their home.
3. When should I get a preapproval letter?

You should start the conversation with a lender at least two months before you think you will be ready to buy. However, if you are aware that you have credit history issues that could affect your ability to borrow, you should start this conversation even earlier and get advice on how to put yourself in a more favorable loan position. The following are a few credit score pointers our mortgage experts provided:
  • Don’t apply for new credit of any kind.
  • Don’t pay off old collections or charge-offs.
  • Keep balances low on credit cards (below 30% of the available limit) and other revolving accounts.
  • Don’t consolidate debt to one or two cards or close credit card accounts.
  • Don’t make any adjustments or transfers in your asset picture, like changing investments, closing accounts, or opening new accounts, before speaking with your loan officer.
  • Don’t make large, unexplainable deposits into bank accounts or transfer money between bank accounts.
  • Don’t make changes to your employment or income.

4. Does a preapproval letter ever expire?

A preapproval letter does have an expiration date. Most lenders allow mortgage preapproval letters to remain effective for 120 days, while others may only guarantee mortgage preapprovals for 30, 60, or 90 days. If your preapproval letter expires before you’ve purchased a home, you can generally contact your lender and answer a few quick questions to establish that nothing has changed about your financial situation since the initial preapproval process. Then, they will update the letter for you with an extended expiration date. However, if you’ve had any changes in employment, taken on a new loan, made a large purchase, or made any other moves that have affected your finances, a longer conversation will likely be necessary.
5. What information will I need to give the lender for preapproval?

Even though this is just the preapproval for your home mortgage, you should expect the lender to be very thorough in their analysis. For this evaluation to take place, the lender typically needs the following documentation and information:
  • Proof of income. You may be asked to produce W-2 wage statements from the past one to two years; your most recent pay stubs that show current income and year-to-date income; proof of any additional income such as alimony or bonuses; and the most recent year’s tax returns.
  • Proof of assets. Your lender will likely ask you to provide recent bank statements and investment account statements to prove you have funds for a down payment and closing costs, as well as cash reserves.
  • Credit reports. There are three credit reporting agencies that your lender will check: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The information on these reports typically affects the interest rate the lender is willing to give you, how much of a down payment they may require from you, and what type of loan they are willing to approve.

There could be additional paperwork requested along the way. If that’s the case, our mortgage experts recommend responding as quickly as possible to ensure that you get approved in a timely manner and don’t hold up your homebuying process.

6. What might raise red flags for a lender?

As a lender reviews your employment history, credit score, available assets, personal qualification factors, and more, the following circumstances might positively or negatively impact a lending decision:


History of being in the same line of work for at least two years
Staying current on all existing accounts
Credit score of 680 or higher
Normal credit card use
Documented savings or other source of funds to cover a down payment and closing costs


Multiple job changes, income instability, or multiple employment gaps
Late payments on any existing loans
Credit score of less than 620
Change in the billing credit card information for any monthly services
Lack of funds for a down payment or closing costs

7. Will I be turned away if I do not have funds for a down payment or my credit score is low?

There are several options for first-time homebuyers to get a mortgage, even if you have minimal to no funds for a down payment and a poor credit history. However, most of these loans are government-sponsored ones. The two types of government-backed, no-down-payment mortgages are USDA loans and VA loans. You will find that there are specific criteria you must meet to qualify for these zero-down-payment loans. If you are not eligible for these loans, you might want to look into a government-backed FHA loan, which allows for lower down payments—as low as 3.5%—and is available to individuals with low credit scores, nontraditional credit history, or no credit history at all. If you have good credit but just don’t have a lot saved for a down payment, a conventional home loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac is an option that requires only 3% down.
8. What is the difference between a mortgage broker and a direct lender?

A mortgage broker’s role is to help homebuyers identify the best lender for their specific situation. There are many benefits to using a mortgage broker, including:
  • Unbiased assistance in assessing your needs and financial situation.
  • Coordination of gathering the information and documents the lender will require and sending all of this to a bank or lender for your loan approval.
  • Access to multiple lenders and a variety of quotes to help you find the best rates.
  • Personalized communications that regularly update you on your application and where you are in the loan preapproval process.

A direct lender, on the other hand, is a bank or other financial institution that decides whether you qualify for the loan and, if you do, hands over the check. If you have a relationship with a financial institution or private entity that provides mortgage loans, you may want to deal directly with it. But while the process might move a little faster this way because there is no go-between, you could be leaving money on the table by not shopping around your mortgage for the best interest rate, closing costs, lender fees, and more.

9. How do I find a mortgage broker to work with?

With so many different loan programs to choose from and countless ways to structure a loan in terms of the amount, term, payment, interest rate, and more, it is critical to find a mortgage professional who can help you with your specific needs. Because your broker should be one of your greatest advocates during the homebuying process, you will want to make sure this person is knowledgeable, experienced, reliable, and trustworthy. So, how do you find the right person? Asking for a referral from a friend or family member who has recently bought a home is a good place to start. You can also contact the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association (MMBA) at 617-570-9114 for assistance in locating a broker who is in your area. After you’ve received one or more referrals, it’s wise to do an online search to see if any reviews—positive or negative—pop up. This might help you narrow down your choices. Once you have identified a few brokers you’re interested in, schedule consultations with them so you can evaluate which one you want to work with throughout the homebuying process.
10. Do I have to stick with my preapproval lender for my actual mortgage?

Just because you work with a specific broker or lending institution for the preapproval process does not mean that you have to stay with them for your final loan. Once you have your preapproval in hand, you can shop around for better interest rates or special offers on closing costs. Or you may want someone who provides better customer service and spends more time educating you about the process. Whatever your reason, it is perfectly fine to explore using other lenders in the future.

Now that we’ve answered your questions about getting preapproved for a mortgage, we encourage you to get started on this process. Why the urgency? Let’s say you were to find a house or condo that you want to make an offer on, but you don’t have your financing in order yet. In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s very likely that you would lose out on the property to another buyer who has a preapproval letter and proof of financial backing in hand.

Gilbert Insurance Has Gathered More Advice for First-Time Homebuyers

If you’re looking for more guidance on the homebuying process, you’re in luck. We have created a blog series for first-time homebuyers that walks you through the four essential steps to get to a successful house-hunting outcome.

In Part One of this series, we provide information to help you gain a better understanding of your financial situation, including how much you might be able to spend on a new house or condo. Then, in Part Two, we give you a downloadable worksheet of questions that should help you focus your search on properties that have the key characteristics you most want and need in a home.

Our fourth and final installment of this series is dedicated to helping you find the best real estate agent for you and your house-hunting requirements. There may be nobody who will play a more important role in the homebuying process than this individual, so we provide you with recommendations from our network of experts on how to identify someone who has the right professional qualifications and personal characteristics to get you across the finish line and into your new home.

Make sure to follow Gilbert on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn so you can get alerts about these and other upcoming blog posts that might interest you. Also, when you start to put together a team of experts to assist you, we hope you’ll contact Gilbert for help with all of your home or condo insurance needs.

Decorative photo of a chat icon

Affordable Insurance That You Can Depend On

Contact us today for a free quote and consultation from our team of experienced insurance professionals!