Getting Approved: How Lenders Judge You

As a consumer, you’re used to being the one with the power to judge the products and services you purchase and the companies that offer them. But when it comes to financing your new home or refinancing the one you already own, you hand that power over to the mortgage lenders and, more specifically, the underwriting department.

A mortgage loan underwriter is tasked with carefully analyzing every bit of information the loan officer asks you to provide as part of the loan application process as well as the collection of “trailing documents” that you send in later to substantiate the information you’ve already provided. In general, the underwriter will attempt to verify two primary things in order to meet the bank’s criteria for offering you a loan: general creditworthiness and debt-to-income ratio.

Evaluating creditworthiness

The first thing the underwriter is concerned with is your general creditworthiness. This will give the lender an idea of your general willingness to repay your debts. There are many ways to determine this, but the most common way is to use a mortgage credit score. This score is based on an analysis of your various credit files. The most popular score is the FICO score offered by Fair Isaac Corporation, but there are others in use as well. The mortgage credit score uses consumer data stored by the three major credit repositories, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Income is generally not part of this calculation, but it is important, as we shall discuss shortly.

Early in the loan origination process, the lender will request your permission to pull your credit scores and then purchase a credit score as part of the underwriting process. This number is used to determine how much risk you pose and, in some cases, to match you with the right mortgage loan product. The cost of these reports is generally passed back to you at closing.

Debt-to-income ratio

The second thing the underwriter will want to know is how the new mortgage payment will impact your ability to repay. The traditional calculation for this is the debt-to-income ratio, or DTI. The DTI is a comparison of your monthly gross income (before taxes) and your monthly debts.

The debts in question include any consumer debt that would appear on your credit report, such as car loans, credit card debt and installment loans, as well as additional debt such as alimony or child support payments.  DTI requirements vary by loan program, but typically underwriters are looking to see if the ratio of debt to income — after the cost of your mortgage principal, interest, real estate taxes, insurance and private mortgage insurance (if required) are all added in — is lower than about 40 percent. Some lenders require it to be even lower.

Many other considerations go into the underwriting of a new mortgage loan, but these areas are generally where underwriters focus.

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Rick Grant has been covering financial services for the trade press for more than 15 years. He specializes in home finance and technology.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.