How to Get a Mortgage Preapproval

In the world of home buying, think of a mortgage pre-qualification as a learner's permit, while a preapproval letter is an official license to drive. Like a learner's permit, a pre-qual letter will get you on the road to home ownership, but there are going to be some limitations on how you can get from Point A to Point B. With a preapproval letter, you're in the fast lane. Read more in the guest post from NerdWallet's Hal Bundrick.

QDT Editor
4-minute read

The details about a mortgage preapproval

“A preapproval is based off of credit, income and assets. A good credit score is 700 and above,” Ishakis says. And while she concedes there are programs available to borrowers with lower credit scores, they often come at a cost, including higher mortgage interest rates. “So a good score is optimal,” she adds.

But borrowers with lower credit scores are by no means out of the homebuying game.

“I had a client last year who at first glance would never be able to purchase a home in our market due to bad credit,” Gibbons says. “They sat down with a great lender who set up a game plan of paying off certain debt to increase their credit score. The end result was them closing on a great home that fit all of their family's needs. My best advice is to be proactive months before you want to buy, to fix these issues to allow you to buy when the time is right.”

My best advice is to be proactive months before you want to buy, to fix these issues to allow you to buy when the time is right.

Now, about that debt-to-income ratio. In our example above, we computed a DTI of 36%. With that number, you're in the pocket for a preapproval. Lenders prefer borrowers with a DTI of 36% or below, though you can go higher.

“A general rule is that one should have their monthly debt obligations and their proposed new mortgage payment below a 43% debt ratio,” Ishakis says. Some programs allow for even higher debt loads, but again, real estate pros recommend you aim for the DTI target of 36%, and no greater than 43%.

A mortgage preapproval is no guarantee

With a preapproval in your pocket, a real estate agent knows that any offer you make is legit. No, it's not a done deal, but it's as close as you can get before your mortgage application goes through the underwriting process.

“When I receive an offer on a real estate listing that includes a preapproval letter, I always remind my sellers that this letter does not guarantee or even imply that the prospective buyers can get a loan for the property,” says Linda Tinkler, a real estate broker with Keller Williams in Tryon, North Carolina. “All that a preapproval letter does is tell the seller that the buyer appears to have a good enough credit history, etc., to possibly get a loan.”

Like a license to drive, a preapproval letter will put you in the driver's seat, but there could be a few bumps in the road along the way before you make it home.


Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.