Mortgage qualification, or mortgage underwriting, is a pseudo-science. The mortgage lender is trying to determine whether or not you can and will meet the payments on the mortgage. Because no one can predict exactly who will meet the payments and who will default, mistakes will be made, some “good” borrowers will be turned down, and some “bad” borrowers will receive loans.
What this means to you as a borrower is that your application for mortgage credit will be evaluated according to some rules of thumb that appear to be precise, such as “the ratio of your monthly payment to your income should not exceed 35 percent”, or “the ratio of your monthly payment plus non-housing debt to your income should not exceed 42 percent”. However, everyone knows that these rules of thumb are not completely accurate.
Because the rules of thumb are simplistic, lenders are not rigid in using them. On the one hand, you can “pass the test” of having enough income to satisfy the 32/40 percent ratios and still get turned down for a mortgage loan. On the other hand, you may “fail” to meet the test and still have your application accepted. These exceptions are discussed below.
Factors that could disqualify a borrower who passes the simple ratio test include:
Poor Credit – If you have a previous bankruptcy or loan default on your record, a lender will be reluctant to grant a new mortgage. However, an occasional late payment on a monthly credit card bill will not usually disqualify you for a mortgage.
Unstable Income Source – If your income is subject to fluctuations (for example, if you are paid on commission), the lender will qualify you on the basis of a conservative estimate of likely earnings. Self-employed borrowers receive particularly close scrutiny.
Inadequate Cash Reserves – If after the down payment you will have less cash in reserve that you would need to meet mortgage payments, the lender may conclude that your loan could go bad if you were laid of briefly or had some other minor financial problems.
Qualifying In Spite of a High Ratio
On the other hand, do not be discouraged if the pre-qualification process does not show that you can obtain as large a loan as you would like. Lenders will try as hard as they can to meet your needs. Among the options that they have are:
Accepting a Higher Ratio – The lender can choose to allow you to pay more than 32 percent of your income to meet mortgage payments. However, usually the lender must find some other factor in your favor. For example, if the new payment will represent little or no increase from what you previously were paying in rent or a mortgage payment, this may help. Lenders also take into account compensating factors such as a large down payment or sizable cash reserves.
Alternative Loan Products – If you do not qualify for a long-term fixed rate loan, you may qualify for the same loan amount if a lower-rate mortgage can be found. However, few prudent lenders will use the initial rate on a short-term mortgage as the qualifying rate. One rule of thumb is to use the maximum possible three year rate. This is often below the 5 year fixed rate.