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A mortgage is a big financial responsibility. Yet, if you’re like half of all home buyers, chances are you won’t shop around for the best mortgage. The result could be the loss of thousands of dollars…both in up front costs and in monthly payments. It pays (a lot) to shop around.

As a home buyer, you have three options for getting a mortgage: a traditional bank, a mortgage broker, and an online mortgage lender. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences. 

  1. The Traditional Bank

A traditional bank offers in-house loans. You may get better rates and closing costs from your own bank if you’ve banked there a long time. On the other hand, you will only get the rates and terms they dictate, which might be limited. You probably won’t have a lot of choices. It pays to check at other institutions to compare the rates and terms of your bank’s offer. 

  1. A Mortgage Broker

A mortgage broker’s job is to act as your guide to helping you find a mortgage that fits your needs. The broker can shop around to find banks and other sources of funds that are the best rates and terms, based on your credit and income. 

Brokers are usually experienced loan specialists. Unlike big-bank loan officers, brokers will work with you to answer your questions and look for options. If you bring your big bank’s offer to a broker, he or she can compare for you. 

Brokers promote loan products that provide them with a finders’ fee. Since those fees are already built into the loan products (whether to benefit a broker or a bank’s own loan officer costs), you likely won’t see much of those fees passed on to you. 

  1. An Online Mortgage Lender

The great advantage to using an online mortgage lender is that you may get great rates and fees. Online lenders don’t have to cover a lot of overhead, so they can offer discounts to their borrowers through lower rates or closing costs. Even a quarter of a percent lower interest rate can potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Another advantage is that you don’t need to talk to anyone. How convenient to have a burger, watch TV, and fill out a loan application all at once! Of course, convenience is also a big drawback. 

If you have a question, no matter how small, you won’t be able to get a quick answer, if at all. With online lenders, they will assign someone to work with you (a loan officer). That person has a huge work load and is often fairly inexperienced with nuanced questions. And in my experience, the questions are always nuanced. 

For example, take the question of assets and liabilities. Do you include your child’s college savings account? Is that going to risk you using that account if needed to pay for tuition next month? Should you include the fact that you’re on your nephew’s car loan, even though he’s paid it on his own for years and it’s almost paid off? Is your secret PayPal account going to show up on your assets, even if you don’t want it to?  

So Which Should You Use?

Use at least two sources. Make sure one of them is a mortgage broker. 

The Online Lender: If your situation is relatively straight forward…you have a regular job, a regular pay check, no weird debts or assets, then an online lender can be a great option. Make sure you read about warnings in the section below.

Big Bank or Credit Union: If you have a great relationship already, see if they have special rates and terms for long-time customers. In my experience, you’ll often end up in a situation similar to working with an online lender, because the bank is going to assign a loan officer, who may or may not be able to answer your questions. 

The Mortgage Broker: I highly recommend that one of your comparison points be a mortgage broker. Brokers are usually very experienced and can answer a lot of your questions. They’ll be able to shop around to find loans that might have comparable rates and terms to the ones offered by your bank or online lender. And they’ll let you know if your bank or online lender is a better deal. 

The biggest problem with applying to multiple sources is the fees. You’ll have to fill out the loan application multiple times, and your credit will be pulled multiple times, and you’ll have to pay multiple application and credit report fees. This is the reason most people don’t apply to multiple sources. However, you may be able to do a preliminary application, especially at the online sources.  Find out before completing the application if there are fees.

Warnings about Online Lenders

Most of them are not lenders at all. They might be brokers, they might “non-bank investment companies,” or they might simply be third-party comparison sites. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but you should know what you’re getting. 

Lendingtree or Bankrate are examples of third-party comparison sites. They won’t give you a loan and can’t tell you which loans are best for you. They’ll simply show you funding sources that they have affiliate agreements with. You may find this useful for comparing different lender rates. Google “Mortgage Comparison Websites”.

Most online lenders are non-bank investment outlets. Quicken Loans or Meridian are examples. They’ll process your application and fund the loan using large institutional investor funds. They’ll likely sell your mortgage as part of a package of loans to other investors. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s very common in the mortgage world. Before filling out any online mortgage application, check on the site’s credentials. You don’t want to start giving financial information online without vetting them first. Google “Non-Bank Mortgage Lenders”.

A few of the online lenders are in fact mortgage brokers, such as Intellimortgage. You’re simply filling out a loan application in advance, and they’ll consult with you to find you the best mortgage. I’d personally rather meet with a mortgage broker in person or talk by phone, rather than using an online mortgage broker. It’s just easier to get answers from a live person. Google “local mortgage brokers in (your location)”. Find a live person to talk to.

And of course, big banks like HBSC and Chase are online, too, so when you get a list of options from LendingTree or you Google “online mortgage,” there’s a very good chance you’ll simply be getting a bank. Double check whether the name of the company you’re shown in any online search or list is a bank, a non-bank, or a broker. 

Will Applying Ruin My Credit? 

It’s true that applying for credit can lower your credit score. However, when applying for mortgage loans for comparison purposes 2-3 times, your credit score will likely not be affected. Even if it is, it’ll usually only drop a little and only after you’ve already applied. If your score drops, a simple explanation that you were comparing lenders will suffice and your original rate at the time of application will stand.

Ask us for some recommendations for mortgage brokers in our area! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com 904-515-2479 Team@HanleyHomeTeam.com