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The time has come to apply for a mortgage and shop for a new house. If this is your first time going through the process — or even if it’s been a while — the top question on your mind is probably, “How long will it take to get preapproved for a mortgage?” followed closely by “What do I need to do to apply for a mortgage?”
Once you’ve submitted all the documentation that your lender needs, it can take as little as one business day to be preapproved for a mortgage. However, gathering the documents and information that the lender requires can take a few days, depending on your employment status, credit history, and how organized you are.
Ultimately, preapproval depends on your lender’s timetable and the documents you need to gather. “Go with the turn time that the lender states and then add an extra day to it, just to be safe,” says Richie Helali, a mortgage expert with HomeLight who gave us the inside scoop on how long a mortgage preapproval really takes.
The preapproval timeline also depends on the type of preapproval you get. Let’s take a closer look at the different kinds of preapproval as well as exactly what it takes to get preapproved.
Short answer: How long does it take to get preapproved for a mortgage?
The preapproval timeline depends on whether you want to get prequalified or preapproved, or whether you’d prefer underwritten preapproval (more on that later). Generally speaking, when it comes to mortgage preapproval, you can expect:
- Prequalification to take as little as five minutes
- Preapproval to take as little as one business day
- Underwritten preapproval to take between one and two business days, at minimum
But why does preapproval matter?
When you get preapproved for a mortgage, the lender is telling you how much you can borrow from them to buy a house based on your income, assets, debt, and credit history. From the lender’s perspective, those are the factors that determine your ability to pay the money back.
Preapproval matters because it tells you how much a lender is willing to lend you, which dictates a budget for your home search. It can also affect your offer when you do find a house you want to buy. In 2024, most real estate agents won’t work with buyers who have not already been preapproved or prequalified.
Types of preapproval
As we mentioned above, there are three different types of preapproval, and each one plays a different role in the buying process.
Prequalification is a quick way to get an idea of how much you can borrow for a home purchase. Helali recommends using prequalification as a “gut check” to see how much you could qualify for.
This process typically takes about five minutes, and many lenders offer a place on their website to get prequalified by entering income details, credit score, and debt amounts (aka liabilities). They will then do what is called a “soft pull” or “soft credit pull,” which gives them an idea of your credit score but doesn’t affect it the way that a hard inquiry would.
While prequalification can give you a good idea of what you could actually be approved for, it’s not a guarantee or a commitment on the part of the lender to actually lend you any money. This is because the information is self-reported and has not been backed up by your documentation just yet.
Preapproval is sometimes used interchangeably with prequalification, which can be confusing because they are very different in terms of what they mean when you start looking for a home.
A preapproval comes after you have completed your mortgage application and submitted the required documents to your lender for review. While also not a guarantee that the loan will close, a preapproval is one step closer than a prequalification.
In some cases, preapproval can also be called underwritten preapproval if the documentation you’ve submitted to your lender has been reviewed through the underwriting process (psst…this is what you want to do).
When you apply for underwritten preapproval, you’ll also need to submit documentation for the information that you entered in the prequalification stage, and this documentation differs depending on your employment status and the loan type you are applying for. If you are applying for a mortgage with another person (co-borrower), you’ll have to submit all income, credit, and asset documentation for each person applying for the mortgage.
Even if you’ve completed an underwritten preapproval, it still isn’t a guarantee that the lender will actually approve the mortgage. Regardless of the preapproval you get, the mortgage approval is still dependent on full mortgage underwriting during the closing period.
What information do I need to get preapproved for a mortgage?
As we went over before, the information and documents that you need to submit depend on your employment status, the type of loan you’re applying for, and your credit history. Here is a list to get you started:
- Government-issued ID or citizenship documents (noncitizens will have to show alternative documentation determined by the lender, such as a permanent residency card)
- Social security number
If your employer issues you a W-2 each year, the preapproval process is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to submit:
- Two years of W-2s
- Two months of bank statements as proof of funds to show you have the down payment that you say you do
- Two recent pay stubs
- Proof of other forms of income like child support or rental income if you own other investment properties
- Retirement or brokerage account statements
If you’re self-employed and don’t receive a W-2 or have self-employed income in addition to regular wages, the documentation looks a little different. To prove your income, you’ll need to submit:
- 1099s (for independent contractors)
- Two years of tax returns and possibly two years of business returns
- Year-to-date profit and loss statement and balance sheet
Helali says it’s important to know that approval for self-employed applicants is really based on their tax returns, and “the income that [the lender] is going to use is going to be based on the last year that was filed.”
This can get tricky for borrowers who are making more in the current year than the last year they filed because the lender is going to base their income calculations on the last return. They’ll ask for the balance sheet and profit and loss statement for the current year, but that’s used to show that the business is still on track and relatively healthy.
Basically, Helali says, “If you’re self-employed, for the purpose of a home loan you’re really only as good as your last year.”
If you want to apply for a “jumbo” mortgage loan (a loan that exceeds limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA), or if you have credit history issues, then you may be asked to submit additional documentation, depending on the lender, the type of loan, and the loan amount.
More insights: How long will it take to get preapproved for a mortgage?
Prequalification can take as little as five minutes when you fill out your information on a lender’s website. But this is an estimate of what your mortgage could be, and not how much the lender will actually commit to lending you.
On the other side of the spectrum, underwritten preapproval can take as little as one business day. According to Helali, “an actual underwriting approval takes a business day. Some banks may take a couple of days. But that doesn’t always mean that if you apply today, you’ll be approved tomorrow. It means the underwriter is going to review everything by tomorrow.”
After the underwriter reviews your information, the lender may have questions about your documentation or need additional information, which can delay preapproval depending on how long it takes you to respond with what they need.
Keep in mind that applying for a mortgage requires you to submit a lot of documentation. From finding tax returns to downloading bank statements, gathering the documents can take some time on your part. The more organized you are, the faster you can submit your application for preapproval.
Helali says, “About half the time, what the client provides on the application is enough for underwriting to make a decision.” The other half of the time, the lender may need more information, and “it really depends on how quickly the borrower is going to provide the updated document or answer a question that the underwriter might have.”
Underwritten preapproval still isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be approved for a mortgage after you make an offer, but it is the strongest preapproval you can get and lets the seller know that you will likely be able to secure the funds to buy the home.
What’s included in a preapproval letter?
Once you’ve submitted all of your documentation and have been preapproved by your lender, you’ll receive a preapproval letter. Here’s what that letter could include:
- Your name and the name of any other borrowers
- The total purchase price you’re approved for
- Mortgage type and term
- The expiration date of the preapproval letter (typically 90 days from preapproval, but this can vary based on the lender)
- The address of the property or the city where you’re looking
- Down payment amount
- Interest rate (which is subject to change unless you can lock in the rate with the lender at this stage)
Preapproval letters also note that final loan approval is subject to other factors that include, but aren’t limited to:
- Your financial status remaining essentially the same (income, debt, assets, credit report, etc.)
- A fully executed (signed by all parties) purchase contract on a property that fits the guidelines of the preapproval
- Closing conditions (inspections, appraisal, title search, etc.) are met
Should I check my credit report before applying for preapproval?
Yes! You should be checking your credit report regularly whether you’re looking to buy a home or not — this can help you catch any errors and resolve any problems before they become real issues. All three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, are required to offer a free credit report to consumers every 12 months. Some financial institutions also offer ways to check your credit score right on their website or app, and this can be checked regularly without penalty.
Because most lenders rely on your credit score to evaluate your ability and willingness to pay back what you’ve borrowed, it’s important to maintain a good credit score if you have debt.
Some aspiring borrowers might have no credit at all, which can be a challenge when trying to purchase a home. If you have a lower credit score or no credit, and you’re hoping to buy a house, then you will be more limited in your loan options and may want to consider waiting until you have established or improved your credit score.
How does an application for a mortgage affect my credit score?
A prequalification calls for a soft credit pull, which tells the lender your ballpark score but doesn’t affect the credit score. A soft pull presents a range that shows where your score falls on a spectrum from poor to excellent. This is used in the prequalification process to give you an idea of what you could qualify for and acts as a reality check in some cases.
When you apply for preapproval or underwritten preapproval, the lender will do a hard credit inquiry, which does affect your credit score and will likely temporarily lower your score by a few points.
Checking your credit score multiple times in a short amount of time — such as when applying for multiple credit cards, shopping around for a vehicle loan, or applying for mortgages with different lenders — can negatively impact your credit score. Some credit-scoring models count multiple inquiries within a two-week period as one inquiry, but the actual guidelines depend on which credit-scoring model the lender uses. This is especially true for credit pulls for mortgage applications taken around the same time.
Bottom line: if you’re shopping for a mortgage, make sure you’re not applying for other forms of credit at the same time, as this can affect your credit score and, therefore, your ability to qualify for your mortgage.
How can I get preapproved faster?
The best way to get preapproved faster is to gather your documents and keep them together in a physical folder or a folder on your computer (or both!). This will help when it is time to submit your documents to your lender, and you are not left scrambling to find your tax returns. It’s equally important to keep your documentation updated. For example, make sure you are saving your latest two months of pay stubs and bank statements as they become available to you. If you have to submit tax returns, make sure you have them uploaded and ready to go.
While it may seem like a hassle, especially if you’re looking at homes but aren’t necessarily in a hurry to buy, getting underwritten preapproval can help the actual approval move a little faster once you make an offer and the seller accepts.
Can I get preapproved with multiple lenders?
Different lenders offer different interest rates and fees, so it may pay to shop around for the lender that can offer you the best terms — a small decrease in the interest rate can lead to big savings over the life of the loan.
You can get preapproved with multiple lenders, but each lender may have slightly different requirements for documentation, so prepare yourself to take on a little more work in order to submit multiple applications. Also, depending on the credit-scoring model that the lender uses, you can submit multiple applications within a short amount of time without worrying about it negatively affecting your credit.
Can I be denied a mortgage even after I’m preapproved?
Yes, you can be denied even after you’ve been preapproved. While a preapproval tells you how much a lender might be willing to lend you, it’s not guaranteed, and things can come up during the closing process that might result in a denial. Some of these include:
- Credit score goes down
- Change in employment (getting laid off, fired, or quitting)
- Loss of earnings (loss of rental income, reduced working hours, and so on)
- Increased debt
- Appraisal comes in low
Get preapproved and start house shopping!
If you’ve been gearing up to start your home search, preapproval is a necessary step. It not only gives you the best idea of how much you can afford, but it also could improve your chances of acceptance when you do find the right place and make an offer.
We’ll leave you with a few final tips to make the preapproval process move faster:
- Know what documents you’ll need depending on your unique situation (W-2 wage earner, self-employed, credit history issues, etc.)
- Gather all of the documents you need and keep them together in a file folder or saved on your computer
- Check with multiple lenders to compare rates and terms
- When applying with multiple lenders, do so in a short time frame to avoid negative impacts to your credit score
When you’re ready to start looking for your new home, partnering with a top agent can make the process go more smoothly.
Header Image Source: (Behnam Norouzi / Unsplash)
- "What is a credit score?," Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (August 2023)
- "What Is a Jumbo Loan?," US News, Coryanne Hicks (November 2023)
- "How Long Does a Mortgage Preapproval Letter Last?," Experian, Tim Maxwell (July 2023)
- "Hard credit inquiry vs. soft credit inquiry: What they are and why they matter," Intuit, Tim Devaney (April 2023)
- "When Rates Are Higher, Borrowers Who Shop Around Save More," FreddieMac (Fabruary 2023)