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Getting Approved For a Loan: 4 Key Criteria

Jun 7, 2008
A common question most borrowers have is, "how is my loan application evaluated", or "what is an underwriter looking for?" There are 4 main criteria by which an underwriter evaluates a loan: capital, capacity, character, and collateral. The first three relate to the borrower, and the fourth refers to the evaluation of the property. Most of the documentation that must be provided in the loan application is for the verification and validation of these 4 parameters. The following is a discussion of each parameter:

Capital refers to whether you have enough money for the down payment and closing costs. If it's a purchase, and you're putting down 10%, the underwriter will want to know where this money is coming from.

For example, do you have this 10% in a bank account, a retirement account, or is it a gift from a relative? Gift money from other is certainly permitted, but there are restrictions with gift money.

The underwriter will also want to know if you have enough cash for emergencies. An underwriter will generally require 2 months (sometimes more) of PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) in a bank account or retirement fund, in case you come upon financially hard times and have trouble paying the mortgage.

Capacity refers to your ability to repay the debt. Based upon the income indicated on your loan application, the underwriter will calculate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI ratio).

The DTI ratio is calculated by adding the minimum monthly payments of all your revolving (ie credit card) and installment (ie car loan) debt, plus your new mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance), and dividing by the monthly income indicated on your loan application.

For example, if you have $200 in monthly credit card payments, $400 in monthly card payments, and your new mortgage (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance all included) will be $3000, then the total of your new monthly debts will be $3600. If your monthly income before taxes is $8000, your DTI ratio will be $3600/$8000= 45%. Fifty percent (50%) is generally the maximum DTI a lender will allow.

Whereas capacity refers to your ability to repay the debt, character refers to your past history in paying back your creditors. An underwriter will review your credit report and examine how you're handling current debt obligations, and how you've handled past debt obligations. Particularly, the lender will want to know if you've ever been late on a mortgage payment, ever declared bankruptcy, or ever been foreclosed upon.

Additionally, the lender will evaluate your tri-merged credit score. When you apply for a credit card or car loan, your credit is pulled from only one of the 3 bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian ). However, when you apply for a mortgage loan, your credit is pulled from all 3 bureaus; hence the term, tri-merged credit report.

Your score can vary widely with each of these bureaus, and the underwriter will only use one of these scores to make an approval decision. Specifically, the underwriter will take the median of the 3 scores, ie the middle score. So if a borrower has scores of 650, 690, and 740 reporting, the lender will use 690.

The evaluation of capital, capacity, and character is specific to the borrower. However, since the borrower is pledging his/her property as collateral for the loan, the underwriter wants to know the value of that collateral.

To assess this value, a professional, certified appraiser that is a neutral third party to the transaction (ie not an employee of the lender and not a close friend or relative of the borrower) will be sent to the property. The appraiser will determine the fair market value of the property, ie the price that would be agreed upon in a sale between a willing buyer and seller.

If the property is a purchase, an appraiser will make sure the sales price is justified. In the event the sales price and appraised value are not the same, the lender will use the lesser of the sales price and appraised value.

There are several specific documents the borrower may be required to provide, such as proof of homeowner's insurance, W2s, paystubs, bank statements, etc. However each of these items serves the purpose of evaluating one of the 4 criteria listed above.

Copyright 2008 Jared Martin.
About the Author
Jared Martin is President and CEO of GOTeHomeLoans, Inc., an Upfront Mortgage Broker Firm serving CA, DC, MD, VA, and PA. Questions and comments can be emailed to Jared at jaredm@gotehomeloans.com.
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