One of the most common financial rules of thumb is the “30% rule” for buying a home. Like many financial rules of thumb, though, the 30% rule is best taken with a grain of salt. In fact, rather than getting hung up on this rule of thumb, it makes more sense to examine your financial situation, and your individual needs, and get a mortgage that fits your circumstances.
The process for getting a mortgage can be intimidating, especially for first-time home buyers. You have to fill out an application and send in some paperwork. You’ll probably get some sort of preliminary approval and then get asked to send in more paperwork. And it can seem like sending in paperwork just triggers requests for even more paperwork.
Is all of that paperwork necessary? Where does it go? What is it used for? Let’s take a look.
There’s a simple explanation why all the paperwork is required: The paperwork allows your lender to determine whether or not they think you’ll be able to pay back the loan. There’s a certain amount of risk inherent in any financial transaction, and since mortgages can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, lenders want to make sure they’re limiting their risk to the greatest extent possible.
All of the paperwork you submit will be sent to an underwriter, a person who’s basically a risk analyst for mortgages. The underwriter will review all your documentation and figure out the likelihood that you (the borrower) will pay back the loan. What kinds of things are underwriters looking for to make that determination? Although there are statutory requirements, requirements for different types of loans, and differing standards for each lender, there are four basic areas that underwriters attempt to verify when they review your documentation: income, property, assets and credit.
The first of the four parts of the underwriting process is income. This is where the underwriter takes a look at your employment history, your monthly income and how it relates to your debts, and figures out how easy it’ll be for you to make your expected mortgage payments.
What are they looking for? Well, gaps in your employment history or changing jobs a lot may make them feels that you’re a riskier bet than someone who’s been at the same job for 20 years, since any employment disruption can make it harder for you to make payments.
In addition to verifying that you’re employed and for how long, they’ll take at the past couple of years of your income history. Underwriters are interested in a steady income, so fluctuations could be problematic for you, even if your income is on the upswing. If your income goes back down to previous levels, will you still be able to make your payments? How likely is your income to remain at the level it is now, and with it your ability to make payments? These are some of the questions that an underwriter attempts to answer.
This can mean a couple of different things. Some loan programs and lenders may have restrictions based on whether or not the property you’re trying to get a mortgage for is a single family home. So the type of property, be it a co-op, condo, mobile, modular or newly constructed home, can affect how the loan gets underwritten.
Most importantly, the underwriter is looking for the value of the property. Issues can arise if the property is worth less than the value of the mortgage sought. Some loan options and lenders may have restrictions based on loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, so taking a look at the appraisal or other home valuation documents will be a crucial step in the underwriting process.
Just as looking at your income and employment history is important, so too is looking at your assets when determining whether or not to approve you for a mortgage. The underwriter looks at your current bank balances and other assets, primarily to make sure you have the money to make a down payment or pay other out-of-pocket expenses like closing costs. They also look at the source of deposits to make sure the money is actually yours and hasn’t been deposited into your account as a gift or a loan.
Again, this is all in an effort to assess the risk. Someone with a lot of assets in the bank will be better prepared to make mortgage payments should unforeseen difficulties come up. And if some of the funds in your account are actually loans that need to be repaid, the underwriter will worry that these debts will affect your ability to pay back your mortgage.
One of the better predictors of your ability to pay back a mortgage is how you’ve handled credit in the past. Typically, lenders examine your credit score as reported by the three credit reporting agencies, and use that figure to help make a determination on your loan. The higher your credit score, the better your interest rate generally will be, and if your score is low you may need to raise the interest rate on your loan to qualify. Some lenders and loan options may have minimum credit scores needed to qualify; some lenders may even have loan options specifically designed to accommodate the needs of borrowers with lower credit scores.
What This Means for You
Although there may be minimum requirements for all of these categories, there are no checkbox rules about how a loan gets underwritten. The four factors work into a matrix, and are evaluated by underwriters who are guided by government and company guidelines. If you’re weak in one area but strong in the other three, that one area of weakness may not hurt you very much. Each case is evaluated on its own merits, so it’s hard to say how they all play out since the four factors are evaluated together to determine your eligibility for a home loan.
Keep in mind that other documentation may be required depending on your specific situation. It’s important to discuss with your lender the required documents needed to complete your loan successfully.
Have any other questions? Ask them in the comments below!