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Finding the right mortgage lender can make or break your homebuying or refinancing experience. With so many different lenders vying for your business, it can be hard to know which ones are worth your time and money.
To help you make the best decision for your finances, Personal Finance Insider does in-depth research on each of the mortgage lenders we review.
What we look for when evaluating mortgage lenders
Each lender we review earns a rating between one and five stars. Ratings are broken up into four different categories, which are weighted equally.
In each category, a lender can earn a ranking between one and five. We then take the average of these numbers to determine its overall star rating.
The categories we look at are:
Together, these categories give us a broad view of what customers experience when they work with a mortgage lender, including the mortgage options they have to choose from, how easy it is to qualify, how much they’ll ultimately spend, and how easy and reliable the lender is to work with.
The more types of mortgages a lender offers, the higher its rating.
We first look at whether a lender offers the most common types of mortgages — conventional, jumbo, and government-backed mortgages such as FHA loans. Then we’ll look at any other types it offers, including home equity options, construction loans, physician loans, non-QM loans, or specialty products that are unique to that lender.
The best lenders offer all of the basic mortgages types (including each of the three government-backed mortgages: FHA, VA, and USDA) and multiple less common mortgage options.
We consider a lender to be affordable when it has options that are available to borrowers with lower incomes or credit scores, and when it has cheaper mortgage features.
Affordable lenders offer multiple government-backed mortgage options, since these loans often have more flexible qualification requirements and lower rates. They also allow low down payments and don’t have super high credit score requirements.
We’ll also find out if a lender has some sort of flexible credit guidelines. This could include allowing borrowers to apply with low credit or non-traditional credit (such as proof of rent or utility payment history), or accepting those with recent negative events on their credit reports.
Lenders will also receive a more favorable rating if they offer products specifically geared toward first-time or low-income borrowers. This could include specialty mortgage products with affordable features like low down payments with no private mortgage insurance, or down payment assistance.
Finally, we’ll consider any other features that may make a lender more affordable, such as charging no lender fees or offering free moving assistance.
To determine how satisfied customers are with a particular lender, we look at two main sources: J.D. Power’s annual Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study, and online customer reviews.
For customer reviews, we use a lender’s Zillow profile rating and its TrustPilot rating, both of which are based on reviews that customers have left on each of those sites. But we’ll only consider those ratings if they’re based on 200 or more reviews.
To measure a lender’s level of trustworthiness, we look at its grade from the Better Business Bureau and the reasons it earned that grade. We’ll also look into any recent controversies or scandals the lender has been involved in, or any action the government has taken against the business.
Our ratings can help you understand which lenders are worth getting preapproved with, but the perfect lender for you is going to depend on your needs and financial situation. As you shop for a mortgage lender, consider which features are important to you to narrow down your options. Then, get preapproved with multiple lenders to see which one can offer you the best deal.
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