How to Get a Mortgage

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Contributor, Benzinga
April 7, 2023

So, you’re ready to buy a house and not sure where to start when it comes to how to get a mortgage?  Buying and financing a home purchase is one of the biggest financial decisions in anyone’s life.  It’s likely the largest purchase you will ever make in your lifetime.

So, making good choices are crucial because once you sign it’s a done deal.  How do you know if you're making smart choices? The best thing you can do is educate yourself and use sound judgment in the decision-making process. 

For instance, should you apply for a conventional loan or an adjustable-rate mortgage? Do you need to find a mortgage broker?

Weighing wants against needs and focusing on logical choices instead of emotional ones.


There’s nothing fun about crunching your budget numbers, but if you can’t afford the expenses of a new home then perhaps it's best to wait until your financial picture improves.  Budget items to consider:

  • Down payment
    • Most lenders require a house down payment of anywhere from 5% to 20% of the purchase price as a down payment.  If you don’t have 20% to put toward the purchase, a lender may require you to have Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI – default insurance) which will add to your monthly payment.  Or they may require a 15% second mortgage, which still means you need 5% to close the loan. There are loan programs that offer low or no down payment mortgage options such as FHA, VA, or USDA loans.  If you don’t have at least 5%, do your homework on other loan programs and determine if you are eligible.
  • What Can You Afford
    • A Mortgage expense isn’t just the monthly principal and interest payment, because there are additional expenses associated with homeownership.  Lenders will include the property taxes and insurance into your monthly payment when evaluating your ability to make the mortgage payment. These figures are included whether you have an escrow account set up to pay your taxes and insurance or not.  
    • In addition to property expenses, you should evaluate whether or not you can afford the utilities.  If the house is larger than your previous dwelling will it cost more to heat or cool? These are factors to adjust for in your budget.
    • Lastly, can you afford home repairs?  You should have enough money saved up to cover any costly home repairs.  There should be enough savings room in your budget to account for periodic home improvements to keep a home up to date.  Eventually, a roof will need to be re-shingled, or windows will need to be replaced. Will your budget allow for you to keep up with repair and maintenance of the property?  If not the home could fall into disrepair, and you could potentially lose money when you try to sell.
  • How a Lender determines what you can afford
    • Lenders determine whether or not you can afford a mortgage payment by calculating a debt-to-income ratio.  A higher debt-to-income (DTI) could mean your loan poses a higher risk which might mean you get a higher rate.
      • Debt to Income Calculation
        • Add up the minimum monthly payments on ALL debt (car payments, installment loans, credit card, deferred student loans 1% of balance).  Also, include the new mortgage principal and interest payment plus the monthly figure for taxes and insurance.
        • Income is your monthly gross pay before any deductions.
        • DTI = (total debt/income) * 100
        • 35% or less is considered optimal, 36% to 49% could use some work, and 50% or higher mean you probably won’t be approved.

Get Your Financial House In Order

If your budget and Debt to Income ratio look good, then the next step is to get your financial house in order.  Pull a free annual credit report from all three of the credit bureaus and review your reports.  Make sure all the items on your report have been reported correctly. 

Pay close attention to any past dues or collections. If any items are incorrect, you will want to dispute those items and clear up your credit before applying for a mortgage loan.  Or if they are correct, you want to get delinquencies up to date or pay off collections. 

You can request your credit score if you’re not sure what it is or if you’re concerned it might be too low.  A score of 640 is typically the minimum excepted credit score for most mortgage loans. If you have a score on the lower end of the spectrum, expect to pay more in interest at a higher rate.  

You should determine if your score needs to improve.  You can pay off or pay down any unsecured debt; especially credit cards.  As for late payment histories, unfortunately, the only remedy is time.

You must make consistent on-time payments over an extended period of time to raise your credit score.

Prepare to Apply

If all your ducks are in a row, including the fact that you have the highest credit score possible, you can prepare for that application process.  It's best to get as much of your financial paperwork together and ready as possible.  Any number of issues can throw a mortgage application off the rails (i.e., title issues, collateral concerns, inspection issues). 

If you are prepared with the things you know are customary you can avoid any unnecessary hiccups in the process.

  • Documentation
    • Get all the requested documentation promptly.  A lender can’t close your loan without the proper documentation, and a failure to provide information promptly could cause closing delays.
      • Income:  Last two pay stubs showing the pay period and YTD earnings, plus last year's W-2’s
      • Tax Returns:  At least the last year, two years for self-employed borrowers and three years for FHA.
      • Asset Statements:  Bank statements for any savings or checking accounts; plus any 401k; funds from closing including down payment must be traceable in an account for at least 90 days (that means no stashed cash it must be deposited in an account)
      • Sales Contract: once you have signed a sales contract for your dream home, forward it to your lender so that the process can move forward
    • If you are getting a home inspection, make sure to schedule and complete in the allotted time frame.
    • You must obtain homeowners insurance before closing and provide proof to the lending officer.  You will need to pay for the first year of insurance upfront before closing. So if you plan on shopping around, do so promptly and don’t wait until the last minute.

Once you have your house picked out, documentation in order and you know your financial picture is sound and you can afford all expenses, it’s time to apply for that loan.  Call your bank to schedule an application appointment or apply online. There may be additional documentation required so be patient and prompt with the process.

The application process can be tedious and stressful, but it’s worth it in the end.

See Benzinga's How to Get Pre-approved for more tips.

Frequently Asked Questions


1) Q: How do I get pre-approved?


First, you need to fill out an application and submit it to the lender of your choice. For the application you need 2 previous years of tax returns including your W-2’s, your pay stub for past month, 2 months worth of bank statements and the lender will run your credit report. Once the application is submitted and processed it takes anywhere from 2-7 days to be approved or denied. Check out our top lenders and lock in your rate today!


2) Q: How much interest will I pay?


Interest that you will pay is based on the interest rate that you received at the time of loan origination, how much you borrowed and the term of the loan. If you borrow $208,800 at 3.62% then over the course of a 30-year loan you will pay $133,793.14 in interest, assuming you make the monthly payment of $951.65. For a purchase mortgage rate get a quote here. If you are looking to refinance you can get started quickly here.


3) Q: How much should I save for a down payment?


Most lenders will recommend that you save at least 20% of the cost of the home for a down payment. It is wise to save at least 20% because the more you put down, the lower your monthly payment will be and ultimately you will save on interest costs as well. In the event that you are unable to save 20% there are several home buyer programs and assistance, especially for first time buyers. Check out the lenders that specialize in making the home buying experience a breeze

Get Ready for Take Off

Rocket Mortgage® is an online mortgage experience developed by the firm formerly known as Quicken Loans®, America’s largest mortgage lender. Rocket Mortgage® makes it easy to get a mortgage — you just tell the company about yourself, your home, your finances and Rocket Mortgage® gives you real interest rates and numbers. You can use Rocket Mortgage® to get approved, ask questions about your mortgage, manage your payments and more.

You can work at your own pace and someone is always there to answer your questions — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Want a fast, convenient way to get a mortgage? Give Rocket Mortgage® a try.