How to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

If you are a home buyer seeking a mortgage, all that’s required to receive a pre-approval letter is to choose a lender, confirm eligibility and submit your application details and documents. It may take up to 10 days to get pre-approval once you provide proof of identification, income, assets and debts.

Advertising & Editorial DisclosureLast Updated: 12/15/2022
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When you are ready to purchase your dream home, you should consider mortgage pre-approval. Lenders carry out the pre-approval process to determine how much of a loan each home buyer can qualify for their new home purchase.

Mortgage pre-approval allows you to estimate how much of a loan you need and assures the seller that you can afford the property. The amount indicated in the pre-approval letter, which is valid for a maximum of 90 days, is based on your assets, credit score and income level.

Key Takeaways

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Mortgage pre-approval provides you with information about how much you can get from a lender for a home purchase. Typically, pre-approval lasts up to 90 days, although some lenders give as little as 60 days.

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Pre-approval and pre-qualification are different processes. While pre-qualification determines how much mortgage you can get from a lender, pre-approval offers proof that you can get a specific loan amount from the lender at a specified interest rate.

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Pre-approval for a mortgage helps you budget accordingly and focus only on homes within a specific price range. If you have a pre-approval letter, you are more likely to get an offer accepted by the seller.

What Is Mortgage Pre-Approval?

Mortgage pre-approval is the lender’s commitment to offering you a specific amount of financing for your home. It shows the seller that you have the requisite creditworthiness and financial capability to purchase the home.

Getting pre-approved by a lender means you meet their mortgage loan requirements. Lenders generally consider the following factors:

  • Credit Score: A higher score gives you a better chance of getting pre-approved for a good mortgage amount and lower interest rate.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Mortgage providers use this information to ensure you do not receive more funding than you can manage to repay.
  • Income level: Lenders use your current pay stubs to determine your income level and may verify your employment status before granting a pre-approval letter.
  • Dispute statement: Any pending disputes associated with your credit report may negatively affect your mortgage application process. It is advisable to resolve the dispute before applying for mortgage pre-approval.
  • The home value: Some lenders request a home inspection to ensure the property is worth the amount you receive.

After pre-approval, you will receive a letter from the lender that includes information like the loan amount and repayment duration, down payment, interest rate and the offer's expiration date. Note that approval does not bind you to the lender. You may consider alternative institutions if you need better terms.

How Long Does It Take to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage?

It may take ten days to receive a mortgage pre-approval, depending on how soon you put the application documents together. To speed up the process, ensure you have all the paperwork ready before submitting your application.

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WHEN TO GET PRE-APPROVED

You may be tempted to apply for pre-approval before shopping for your ideal home. While this is an excellent idea, note that pre-approvals have an expiration date, generally within 60 – 90 days. That means you should only start the process if you are committed to purchasing a home within the next two or three months.

As a home buyer, having a pre-approval letter gives you a competitive edge over potential buyers with no pre-approval. It is, therefore, vital to ensure you take advantage of the pre-approval period to identify the best seller and lender for your needs.

If the pre-approval letter expires before you decide on your purchase, you can apply for a new one. Although there are no restrictions on the number of pre-approval letters you can receive, the lender will conduct a credit inquiry at each application, which can hurt your credit score.

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CONTENTS OF THE PRE-APPROVAL LETTER

A pre-approval letter is a vital document in the mortgage application process indicating how much the lender is keen to offer. Although the letter increases the chances of a home seller accepting your offer, it does not serve as a loan contract, and there is no guarantee that you will receive financing from the lender.

Pre-approval letters typically remain valid for 60 to 90 days, but some lenders may offer 30 days maximum, depending on the home buyer’s profile. The letter contains information such as:

  • The loan amount: Refers to the amount of loan a lender is willing to offer minus the down payment amount.
  • Loan type: The loan program offered by the lender and duration.
  • Loan term: The length of the loan, for instance, a 15-year fixed-rate loan.
  • Monthly installments: Outlines the monthly repayment, including the principal amount and interest plus insurance, HOA and utility fees.
  • Interest rate: Indicates the total interest on your loan.

Mortgage rates are negotiable, and if you are not happy with your pre-approval limits, you can speak to your lender for a review. You may also consider other lenders since a pre-approval letter does not tie you to any specific financial institution.

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EFFECT ON CREDIT SCORE

An integral part involved in getting pre-approved for a mortgage is checking your credit score. There is a high chance of receiving a good mortgage offer if you have a good credit score.

The pre-approval process also influences your credit score since lenders conduct a hard credit inquiry, which involves a close review of your credit report. As a result, home buyers should ensure they request pre-approval only when serious about purchasing a home in a short period. Nonetheless, the effect of a hard credit check on your credit score is based on your overall creditworthiness.

Home buyers should also take note of the expiration date of the pre-approval to avoid the need to request a new one.

Documents Required to Get Pre-Approved

To process your pre-approval request, lenders will ask for details about your income level, assets, credit score and debt-to-income ratio. You will need to prepare the necessary paperwork beforehand to ensure these are available upon request. Having all the information on time can help shorten the pre-approval process significantly.

Generally, you will need the following:

  • Personal identification documents, such as Social Security number and driver's license
  • Proof of income – The documents required to prove your income and employment status include:
    • Current pay stubs
    • Tax returns
    • W-2s
    • Proof of additional income sources, such as bonuses
  • Proof of assets – These include bank and investment statements as well as brokerage accounts.
  • Proof of DTI – Monthly debt and real estate debt statements
  • Credit history

To ensure the process progresses smoothly, put all the documents together and submit them as soon as the lender places a request.

Pre-Approval vs. Pre-Qualification Comparison

While shopping around for a mortgage, be careful not to confuse pre-approval and pre-qualification, which are two different processes with different purposes. So, what’s the difference between the two?

There is little difference between pre-approval and pre-qualification, and some lenders may use the terms interchangeably. However, pre-qualification is often carried out before pre-approval and is based on a generalized view of your financial history, including credit score, debt-to-income ratio and income level. Lenders use this information to determine how much you can borrow.

Unlike pre-qualification, mortgage pre-approval entails verifying and documenting your debts, assets, and income. The pre-approval process involves a hard credit inquiry, which may harm your FICO score.

It is also essential to note that neither pre-qualification nor pre-approval guarantees you a mortgage from any lender. If you are sure about your profile, you can save time by skipping the pre-qualification process and just getting a pre-approval. Before applying for a mortgage, you will still have the opportunity to compare rates between lenders for the best offer.

Pre-Approval vs. Pre-Qualification
  • Feature
    Pre-Approval
    Pre-Qualification
  • Purpose

    Confirms your creditworthiness
    without a contract.

    Estimates how much mortgage you
    qualify for from a particular
    lender based on the information
    you provide.

  • Duration

    May take a couple of days based
    on how soon you provide the
    requisite paperwork. The
    pre-approval letter expires in
    at most 90 days.

    Almost immediate.

  • Information Required

    Proof of income, employment,
    debt, assets and credit history.

    Information about your assets,
    income, credit record and debt.

  • Process

    • Prepare the necessary
      documentation and submit
      it to the lender.
    • Get your credit score
      checked through a hard
      inquiry.
    • Receive your pre-approval
      letter.
    • Prepare the necessary
      information or documentation
      and submit to the lender.
    • The lender reviews the details
      and informs you of your loan
      limits.

Steps to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

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    Step 1: Choose a Mortgage Lender

    The best mortgage lender may offer features apart from a low interest rate. While the mortgage process is somewhat similar across financial institutions like banks, credit unions and private lenders, some lenders may charge additional fees during origination and others may offer more quality service than others. You can determine the best lender for your situation by comparing offers across multiple companies.

    Some factors to look out for include:

    • Interest rate
    • Application process and duration
    • Down payment requirements
    • Mortgage insurance requirements
    • Application fees

    You may check out reviews about a specific lender from previous customers to establish whether you might get a positive customer service experience.

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    Step 2: Check Your Credit & DTI

    On average, lenders require 620 as a minimum credit score and not more than 45% DTI to approve you for a mortgage. However, your rates may differ from one loan program to another. You may review your credit score information through the annual free credit report request service website. Other options include contacting the nationwide credit bureaus. For your debt-to-income estimate, you can use MoneyGeek’s debt-to-income ratio calculator.

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    Step 3: Apply & Submit Documents

    Once you identify an ideal mortgage lender and determine the application requirements, the next step will be submitting the necessary documentation. These include proof of income, such as pay stubs and tax returns, personal identification documents like your Social Security number and driver’s license and proof of assets.

    The lender will review your financial and credit score information before offering you a pre-approval letter with the estimated loan amount and terms. Some lenders will require you to apply for pre-approval in person, while others may allow you to complete the process online, which may be faster. You will receive pre-approval in a couple of days.

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    Step 4: Receive Pre-Approval Letter

    The faster you provide the required paperwork for pre-approval, the sooner you receive it. So, how long does a pre-approval for a mortgage last? Once you receive the pre-approval letter, it will typically be valid for 60 to 90 days, although the actual duration will depend on the lender.

    A pre-approval letter confirms your seriousness about purchasing a home and proves to the seller that you can afford to pay for it. A mortgage pre-approval also helps you stick to your budget since the lender determines an ideal amount for your needs before you receive the loan.

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WHY GET PRE-APPROVED FOR A MORTGAGE?

Unlike pre-qualification, pre-approval for a mortgage is crucial for the following reasons:

  • It enables the seller to establish how much you can get for a mortgage.
  • Eases the negotiation process for you.
  • Helps you focus only on homes you can afford.
  • Gives you a competitive edge over other interested parties.
  • Makes closure quicker.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mortgage Pre-Approval

The pre-approval possess plays a vital role in ensuring you find a home within your price range. MoneyGeek responded to the following questions to help you determine how to get pre-approved for a mortgage and when to consider applying for pre-approval.

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