How Do You Get Preapproved for a Home Loan?

By Andrew Te

|10 min read

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Getting a preapproval for a home loan is the first step in deciding if you can buy a home. Preapproval gets you ready for the home search and makes sure you’re able to buy a house when it’s time. 

If you want to know, “How do I get preapproved for a home loan?” or “Do I need to be preapproved before purchasing my home?” Then read on! We’ll show you how to begin working with a loan officer and real estate agent for preapproval. Plus we’ll go over the benefits that come with it.

Documents Needed for a Mortgage Preapproval

Buying a house is a huge, life-changing decision. Congratulations! But now what? 

You need to get preapproved for a home loan so you can know – roughly – how much you can afford. Let’s talk about what that means and what you need to do to get preapproved for a home loan.

When you’re ready to buy, you’ll need to visit the bank for preapproval on a mortgage or home loan. 

The bank will need a lot of information in order to figure out how much they should loan you. And you’ll have to prove you can pay it back. For this, you’ll need your credit report, pay stubs and other financial records. Different banks require different documents needed for mortgage preapproval, but here’s what most loan officers will look for:

  • Identity verification
  • Employment verification
  • Proof of income
  • Proof of assets
  • Credit history
  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

There are different ways you may be able to prove this information, and the bank might ask for specific documents. Be sure you have these documents needed for mortgage preapproval on hand, in case you’re asked for them:

  • W-2 statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • License
  • Social Security card

This mortgage preapproval checklist is handy for helping you collect all the information you’ll need to give to the bank. 

What Steps Should You Take for Preapproval for a Home Loan?

Preapproval for a mortgage is a strong indicator to sellers that you’re a good candidate for purchasing a home. The preapproval process is also an excellent opportunity for you to learn what your price range is.

When you apply for preapproval, lenders will check your credit history and decide on your ability to repay the home loan. They’ll base their decision on factors like income, debt level and credit history.

First, get all your information collected and make sure you are ready to apply for a home loan. Then, you’ll want to make sure that you are getting a competitive offer.

 You’ll need three or four quotes from lenders to compare them effectively. This process used to take hours calling lenders one by one; now it takes minutes using an online marketplace where lenders compete for your business.

When comparing, be sure to look at the total cost of the loan, not just the interest rate. The APR (annual percentage rate) is a more accurate way to compare loans than the interest rate alone. It includes any fees associated with your loan as well as its interest rate.

how to get preapproved for a home loan

How to Make the Most of Being Preapproved for a Mortgage

Achieving preapproval for a home loan can be tiring, but you’ll want to put your best foot forward. Making the most of preapproval will help you get the right loan for you at the best rate. Here’s some steps you can take to make sure your preapproval process goes as smoothly as possible:

Check your credit reports and fix errors. 

The first thing a lender will do is look at your credit reports and scores. They’ll want to make sure you’re responsible with your finances, so they’ll take a close look at your payment history and credit. The lender will also use the data from your credit report to calculate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). This is an important number that tells lenders how much of your income is going toward debt payments.

The first thing to do is check your credit reports. This can be done for free on AnnualCreditReport.com, the only site authorized by federal law. Be sure to check your report on all three of the major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You should do this at least six months before you apply for preapproval so there’s time to fix any errors.

If you find any mistakes in your reports, dispute them with each of the agencies that provided them. Once the agencies have verified the information with the source, they must correct the error or remove it from your report.

Improve your debt-to-income ratio.

Lenders use your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to decide if you can afford a mortgage. The lower your DTI is, the more likely you are to qualify and get a better rate. That’s why it’s important to start working on your DTI early – well before you plan on applying for a mortgage. 

To start with, pay all your bills on time. Late payments can reduce your credit score and make you less likely to qualify for a loan.

Next, work on paying down debts to improve your debt-to-income ratio. The best way to do this is by making extra payments toward your lowest balances first.

You should also avoid taking out any new lines of credit. This will increase your DTI and could hurt your credit score at the same time.

Get copies of tax returns and bank statements.

As we mentioned earlier, the exact types of documents you’ll need will depend on the lender or loan program, but there are some common items. To make the preapproval process easy, you’re going to want the following:

  • Two years’ worth of tax returns, including W-2s and other income statements
  • Two months of pay stubs from your employer
  • A month’s worth of bank statements showing all deposits and withdrawals
  • Two months of asset statements (if applicable)
  • Divorce decree or settlement agreement (if applicable)

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s no secret that applying for preapproval for a home loan can be a confusing process – and kind of scary to dive into. Here are some of our most frequently asked questions to help you feel confident when applying for mortgage preapproval. 

How to get preapproved for a VA home loan

Service members who are transitioning out of the military, or veterans who need help buying a home, may qualify for a VA home loan. VA-guaranteed loans don’t require a down payment, have competitive interest rates, and are available to veterans and active service members.

Many veterans aren’t sure where to begin when they decide to apply for a VA home loan. One of the best first steps you can take is to get preapproved for a VA loan from several lenders.

Getting preapproved for a VA loan doesn’t commit you to one lender or even to using your VA eligibility on a home purchase. It simply means that you’ve found a lender who is willing to work with you on a loan based on your finances and credit history.

How early should you get preapproved for a home loan?

Ideally, you should meet with lenders long before it’s time to start house-hunting. Preapproval is a good way to see what kind of loans you qualify for and how much you can probably borrow.

In fact, you can do this even if you don’t plan to buy for years. Although your preapproval is only good for a small window,  you can learn a lot by getting preapproved early. Once you know how much house you can afford, you have time to come up with the down payment and other costs.

Plus, it’s good to start early if your credit isn’t perfect or your finances are complicated – especially if you’ve had a bankruptcy or foreclosure. Having that conversation early gives you time to take care of anything that could stand in your way of getting approved.

We suggest getting preapproved before house-hunting. It gives you a good sense of your price range and shows that you’re a serious buyer. Having a letter of preapproval can give you a competitive edge when you find your dream home. 

How long does a preapproval for a home loan last?

One of the most common questions from people interested in applying for a home loan is “How long is a preapproval letter good for?” In other words, “If I’m preapproved for a mortgage now, how long will that preapproval last?”

The simple answer is that preapprovals are valid for 90 days.

But there are many things that can make a preapproval last longer, or shorten its lifespan. The length of time can vary depending on the lender and your personal situation. Some lenders may offer a preapproval for 30 to 60 days, while others may extend it up to 90 days or more. If you need more time, ask your lender if you can renew or extend your preapproval. You can often be renew even after a letter of preapproval expires. 

When you’re shopping for a home, most of what you hear about is the fun stuff: how much you’ll love the kitchen, how great the backyard will be for entertaining and whether or not you should put in a pool. But one of the first steps to take when you’re ready to buy a home is getting preapproved for a mortgage.

Getting preapproved for a home loan can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing what’s involved can help you through this process. Plus, a preapproval may give you the edge you need other buyers who didn’t take this step.

Working With a Good Real Estate Agent

The home buying process is always going to be easier when you work with the right people. Finding a good real estate agent who can answer your questions and walk you through the steps is key. Start by browsing agent profiles and identify ones that align with your needs.

Andrew Te

Andrew has 7+ years of experience in Real Estate and working with Real Estate Agents. He is passionate about the housing market and solving problems.  

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