Mortgage Prequalification vs. Preapproval: Which Is Best for You?
If you’re kicking the tires of homeownership, a mortgage prequalification letter gives you a lender’s best guess about how much you can borrow based on a quick review of your finances. However, if you’re serious about making an offer, a mortgage preapproval tells a seller you’re financially ready to buy because your lender has to vet your finances to provide a preapproval letter.
Understanding the difference between prequalifying for a mortgage and getting a preapproval will help you decide which one to choose.
What is a mortgage prequalification?
A mortgage prequalification is a lender’s estimate of the home loan amount you may qualify for based on an initial check of your monthly income and debts, your down payment funds and your best guess of what your credit score is. You’ll typically provide the information through an online loan application, a smartphone app, over the phone or in person.
What is a mortgage preapproval?
A mortgage preapproval is a lender’s assessment of the mortgage amount you qualify for based on a review of proof of your financial situation. Instead of taking your word, lenders usually request and review documents like paystubs, W-2s, and bank statements and pull a credit report to back up what you told them on your loan application. A mortgage preapproval usually carries more weight if you’re buying a home, because sellers (and their real estate agents) know you’ve shown your lender evidence you can repay the mortgage.
How a mortgage prequalification letter differs from a mortgage preapproval
At first glance, it might look like a mortgage preapproval and mortgage prequalification letter say the same thing. In most cases, the letter explains:
- The loan program. This could be a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage, and whether it’s a program backed by a government agency (like FHA or VA) or a conventional loan.
- The loan amount. Lenders guess this based on your earnings, total debt and how much you’re putting down.
- The loan-to-value ratio. Called your LTV ratio for short, this figure is based on your down payment and represents how much of your home’s value you’re borrowing. The less you put down, the higher your LTV ratio is.
- The loan term. This is the repayment period expressed in months or years. The most common terms are 30 years (360 months) or 15 years (180 months).
- The rate you qualify for. The lender chooses this based primarily on your credit score, although a number of factors affect the rate you’re quoted.
You’ll see the differences when you read the fine print in each type of letter:
|A mortgage prequalification||A mortgage preapproval|
How do I prequalify for a home loan vs. get a preapproval?
To get the most accurate mortgage prequalification or preapproval, you’ll need to gather some information and documents before you contact a lender. Below is a checklist of what you’ll need to provide for each:
|Mortgage prequalification information||Mortgage preapproval information|
How long does it take to get prequalified vs. preapproved?
A mortgage prequalification typically takes a matter of minutes after you’ve provided information to a loan officer. Because a mortgage preapproval requires the lender to review your financial documents, it can take a bit longer. However, many lender websites feature online application portals where you can upload your documents, have your credit run and get your mortgage preapproval in a matter of minutes.
Prequalified vs. preapproved: Which is better?
Deciding whether to get prequalified or preapproved depends on how committed you are to buying a home and how solid your finances are right now. The table below provides some guidance on which is better for your financial situation and homebuying goals.
|A mortgage prequalification makes sense if:||A mortgage preapproval makes sense if:|
|You’re not ready to buy a home yet||You’re ready to start house hunting and making offers|
|You want a ballpark idea of how much a mortgage you can get||You want a more precise idea of how much you qualify for|
|Your credit scores are in repair or you don’t know what they are||You’ve been managing your credit well and are ready to have your credit pulled|
|Your income fluctuates and you don’t know if you make enough to get preapproved||Your income is stable and has been consistent for the past two years|
|You’re still saving for a down payment||You’ve saved up for a down payment|