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5 Things to Know When Applying for a Mortgage

Posted August 4, 2014 by Kelley Long in Life After Five


It’s no secret that now is a good time to buy a home – it may be considered a “sellers’ market” these days, but mortgage rates remain low and the cost of buying is still cheaper than renting in most areas. Buying a house is more than just a financial decision, but if after considering all factors you’ve decided that now is the time to buy, prepare yourself for the mortgage application process. And I mean, gird yourself, because it is a royal pain. Here’s what to expect:

Preapproval is just the beginning. In a competitive housing market, sellers typically won’t even consider offers from buyers who aren’t preapproved for a mortgage. Obtaining a preapproval is a relatively easy process – you simply provide your mortgage banker with your Social Security Number, annual income and a few other simple facts. However, if you get preapproved, you’ll have to prove the information you provided, so don’t give inflated numbers.

Set aside some time to address next steps. Having your offer accepted by a seller sets off a whirlwind of time-sensitive tasks. Not only do you have to schedule, complete and PAY FOR the house inspection within a week, you’ll also have to hire a lawyer and secure a home owners insurance quote right away. Your contract will also set a “clear to close” date that could be only a couple weeks away, which means you’ll have to get hopping on formally applying for a mortgage. This requires providing a slew of financial documents, so if you’re not super-organized, you’ll need a couple hours to gather and scan everything you need like tax returns, W-2s, your photo ID, etc. And if you’re self-employed, you’ll need to provide a current income statement, which is akin to preparing for tax time. Better get busy.

Save your paystubs. Standard document retention guidelines tell you to save your most recent paystub and shred the rest. However, when I applied for a mortgage I had to show my last two months, which was a hassle since my employer still provides paper stubs and mine were long gone in the shredder. If your lease is almost up and there’s any possibility you’ll be buying, stop shredding for a bit.

Prepare to explain everything in your bank account. You’ll have to provide your last two months’ bank account statements to verify that you have the money required for a down payment and that you aren’t living on the edge financially, which makes you a risk factor for not paying your mortgage. However, I was surprised at the level of explanation required of my checking account activity.

Particularly, I had to explain and provide documentation for any deposit more than $1,000. I had a mobile deposit of an expense reimbursement check that didn’t show who wrote the check. This was a big sticking point that held up the process until I could get an actual copy of the check. Since I obey my bank’s rule of shredding the check 14 days after the deposit clears, I did not have the check anymore and my bank didn’t retain the mobile deposit image. This explanation didn’t matter to my mortgage underwriter and subtracting the amount from my available funds was not an option. Make sure you keep documentation of this stuff if you’re planning to apply.

Make sure you can access your money. This sounds silly, but in today’s digital age, it’s easy to go for months or even years without stepping foot inside your bank’s branch. When you go to the closing for your new home, you’ll need to bring a cashier’s check for your down payment and any closing costs that you’re not rolling into your mortgage – and you won’t know the exact amount until pretty much the day before. If your bank is in Michigan and you now live in Illinois, that could be a problem. Make sure you get this little detail ironed out so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Buying a house is big deal; don’t let the intrusive and extensive mortgage application process ruin an otherwise happy and exciting occasion by being prepared.


About the Author

Kelley Long

Kelley Long is a CPA/PFS and CFP® who believes that the true meaning of financial security means having choices in life. She uses her 15 years of experience in various financial services industry jobs to inform her work as a Resident Financial Planner for Financial Finesse, providing unbiased financial guidance through workplace financial wellness programs. She’s also a volunteer and media ambassador for Feed the Pig and 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. In Kelley’s perfect world, everyone would feel great talking about their money concerns, fears, questions and problems, because then everyone would see that we ALL have those concerns, fears, questions and problems. Kelley lives in Chicago with her husband and their Himalayan cat Miles, where she also teaches BODYPUMP group fitness classes at the Chicago Athletic Clubs.