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The Best Mortgage Companies…

The 30-Second Review

The best mortgage company should offer more than just low rates — it should also have helpful, speedy customer service that caters to your needs. We talked with realtors, kicked out any lenders with multiple regulatory actions, then got pre-approved eight times ourselves. The most helpful lenders with competitive rates made the cut.

Best Overall

Quicken Loans was the best through and through — an all-around lender with a wide range of available loan options, fair rates, a lot of learning tools, and great navigation on its website. Plus, we were in and out of its simple pre-approval process in less than half an hour.

When it comes to mortgages, loan rates get all the attention. That isn’t surprising, considering a fraction of a percentage point can translate into tens of thousands of dollars. But the best mortgage companies offer low rates and make the whole process easier for you. That might mean speeding you through a pre-approval process, helping you close by a specific date, or being available to answer your questions on a Saturday morning. Our best overall, Quicken Loans, offered impressive customer service alongside a killer knowledge center, and we were pre-approved and ready to house hunt in less than 30 minutes.

Our Picks for the Best Mortgage Companies

Best Overall

Quicken LoansQuicken Loans is a well-rounded lender that can help with any loan product you might need.

Quicken Loans was best through and through, with a wide range of available loan options, fair rates, a lot of learning tools, and great navigation on its website. The knowledge center broke down the different loan types in a chart so we could quickly scan for “Easier Qualification” or “Lower Money Down.” When we wanted more specific advice, the online chat feature made it easy to get an answer, and we reached a person over the phone in less than five minutes.

Quicken Loans impressed us with its easy-to-use website and wide range of options.

When it came time to pull the trigger, the online pre-approval form took less than 15 minutes and asked questions we could actually answer. It only took the company another 15 minutes to get in touch with us after hitting “apply.” End-to-end, we were pre-approved in under 30 minutes. Best of all, we weren’t inundated with emails and phone calls after our initial conversation — if you’re in the shopping-around phase, this company knows when to give you space. Considering most companies badger you after your approval, we appreciated the extra breathing room at a time when most people’s minds would be weighed down with plenty of other considerations.

Best for First-Time Buyers

Alliant Credit UnionAlliant Credit Union combined low rates with solid customer service — two factors that are especially important for first-time home buyers.

Alliant Credit Union impressed us with its low rates (starting at 3.625 percent) and one of the lowest projected monthly payments of our final contenders, but there’s a lot to like about this lender beyond affordability.

Our experts tell us first-time home buyers often need a little more than just fair pricing.

Some buyers, more so first-time buyers, need a patient, in-person, hand-holding lender. For internet lenders with an 800 number, more experienced buyers with high credit scores, longevity on the job, and no issues are going to be the better fit.

That level of care and attention is exactly what we got with Alliant. When we called to ask about its pre-approval process, we got through to a loan officer on the third ring. The officer was pleasant, and even offered to help us complete the pre-approval application if we weren’t sure how to do it ourselves. The company employee pool may be smaller than at a mega-bank, but you’ll get a tailored level of customer service, something first-time buyers may be grateful for when the about-to-close-on-my-first-house panic sets in.

Best for Repeat Buyers

CitibankFor fair rates, fast approval times, and a mortgage company that has the people and resources to keep the process running smoothly, we recommend Citibank.

If this isn’t your first stack of mortgage paperwork, you’re likely past the hand-holding phase and are well into the let’s-just-get-this-done phase. For those finding themselves in this category, we recommend Citibank.

Citibank offered below-average interest rates (3.625 percent), low closing fees ($3,094), and a low estimated monthly payment for our fictional $150,000 mortgage. The process for pre-approval was also painless. We were able to fill in almost everything online within 15 minutes — saving us the hassle of giving the loan officer more information later — and we were contacted with a response quickly. A loan officer was assigned to us and called within an hour, but we didn’t really need it. The initial “Thank You” page included all the necessary next steps to keep things moving along.

If you do run into a problem, Citibank can handle it. You can reach a representative via live chat, get answers through an impressive knowledge center database, shoot off an email, or call in when it fits your schedule.

Best for Refinancing

First Internet BankResponsive and transparent about its rates. An easy bank to recommend, especially to those looking to refinance.

The key to a smooth refinancing is to get through the process quickly with no hassles. After all, you’re refinancing, not applying for your first mortgage all over again — most people want to know rates and approval as quickly as possible so they can lock in the new terms without delay.

First Internet Bank has transparent rates online so we could compare before we applied. When we did apply, the response was immediate and a loan officer called within 30 minutes to follow up. Based on our experience, responses don’t come any faster than that.

Best One-Stop Shop

New American FundingNew American Funding impressed us with its customer service and completely in-house operation.

Buying a home is stressful, and knowing how to coordinate all of the steps and people involved can add to that stress. New American Funding aims to alleviate some of that pain by acting as a one-stop mortgage shop. The company keeps its major functions in-house — unlike other lenders, it doesn’t outsource its underwriting — which may translate into a faster approval process and earlier closing date. It also provides ancillary services like helping you find a realtor.

We appreciated the customer service from New American Funding. The loan officer we talked to was happy to answer all our questions and provide us with additional information that left us feeling informed. He even walked us through some examples of the company’s loan assistance programs while being upfront about the fact that those particular programs have very strict criteria (which he also laid out for us).

If you’re looking for one company that can consolidate your homebuying needs, New American Funding is worth a look.

Did You Know?

To get the best rates and options, aim for a 20 percent down payment.

Having at least 20 percent will also help you avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), an additional monthly fee that protects the lender in the event you default on the loan.

Can’t get to 20 percent? Don’t worry, you can still qualify for a mortgage. One route is to pay that PMI insurance on a conventional loan. It’s also possible to take on a second smaller loan to cover the difference in your down payment. (This loan is often called a piggyback loan.) You may also qualify for a government-backed Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, especially if you’re a first-time buyer.

“Federal Housing Administration loans offer the advantage of a lower down payment and qualification with lower credit scores,” says Glenn Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. “In addition, FHA loans typically have lower mortgage rates and allow sellers to pay much of the closing costs — a big benefit for first-time buyers.”

A mortgage isn’t a one-size-fits-all loan product.

There are several types of loans, and a number of repayment lengths and terms to consider.

  • Conventional loans: Conventional loans are backed by the bank or lender that issues the loan. The length of your loan can vary from 15 years to as long as 30 years, and while 20 percent down payments are ideal, you may still qualify with less.
  • FHA loans: FHA loans are backed by the government, but issued by private mortgage companies. FHA loan programs were developed to help buyers who may not otherwise qualify for a mortgage, like first-time buyers with a smaller down payment, or single parents with a limited credit history. But these loans do come with a downside: “You may have to pay mortgage insurance (which is a cost worthy of consideration) and there are typically more requirements to meet compared to a conventional loan,” says Andrew Schrage, co-founder of MoneyCrashers.
  • Veterans Affairs loans: Both active duty and retired military personnel are typically eligible for VA home loans. These home loans come with several advantages, such as low down payments and no PMI.
  • United States Department of Agriculture: Those living in rural areas (or those with dreams of moving to a big farm in the country) may qualify for a USDA loan. “USDA loans have many benefits,” notes Phillips. “These include 100 percent financing, lower-than-market interest rates, low monthly private mortgage insurance premiums, and flexible credit qualification rules.” But there is a catch: Finding these loans may be more difficult; the paperwork requirements may increase; and only homes in actual rural areas (not suburbs or edge-of-town scenarios) typically qualify.

Interest rates are low right now, so a fixed-rate loan is probably your best bet.

With a fixed-rate loan, your interest rate is locked in for the life of the loan, meaning you’ll have a set monthly payment each month and know what to expect for the entire life of your mortgage. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. If interest rates go down after you’ve locked in your rate, you’ll have to refinance to get the lower rate.

With an adjustable rate loan, your initial interest rate will lock in for a period of time, but it may increase or decrease later.

Adjustable rate loans were very popular when interest rates were high. It was assumed that with an adjustable rate loan, the borrower would not be locked into a high rate once rates dropped. In today’s market, interest rates are at historic lows, so an adjustable rate is not really advantageous to the borrower, even if the adjustment rate is capped at some maximum.

In December 2015 the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in a decade, but the change was a small one: only a 0.25 percentage point increase.

While the Fed doesn’t set individual interest rates — that is largely determined by your mortgage company and your specific circumstances — most experts agree a rise in interest rates on the federal level could mean your loan rates will go up if you wait too long.

Granted, “too long” could mean a few months or a few years. Even when interest rates increase, they do so in a rise-and-fall pattern. So, if you lock in a rate today, in six months the going rate could be lower even if rates are on the rise overall. But with the Fed seemingly committed to gradually raising rates, you will most likely get a better interest rate if you buy a house now than if you wait two or three years.

You should start preparing financially six months before you plan to buy.

Our experts agree, you’ll get the best deal if you prepare financially (and maybe a little mentally) before you fill out your first pre-approval form. Here’s how:

  • Bump up your credit scores. Lenders vary on what credit score approval numbers they require, but the higher you can get yours, the better. Dispute errors on your credit report, pay down large debts, and pay your bills on time in the months leading up to applying. “When preparing to buy a first home, it can save you a lot of time and money if you have your credit history in order. Don’t wait to find your dream home only to find you can’t qualify for the mortgage,” says Phillips.
  • Don’t take on new debts leading up to applying. “If you’re trying to qualify for a home loan, the last thing you want to do is to take out a major credit purchase, such as a car loan,” says Schrage, “though FHA loans allow for a higher percentage of debt-to-income ratio than conventional loans.” In general, adding new debt can lower your scores and hurt your chances of getting a mortgage.
  • Save more than your down payment. In addition to your down payment, you’ll also be responsible for paying closing costs, and if you’re buying a new home, you may have moving costs.
  • Practice making your payments. Use a monthly payment estimate calculator (available on all of our top picks’ websites) to figure out what your monthly mortgage payment will be, then “pretend” to pay it for several months by sending the difference between your current rent or mortgage right into savings. It may seem silly, but this small step can help you make sure the payments are doable.

Take Action

Pull your credit reports. Thanks to a federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — from Your scores are not included, though. To get your scores, you’ll need to pay a small fee to each bureau. You’ll also want your tax documents, pay stubs, and bank statements handy.

Find a real estate agent. You don’t need to wait until you’re pre-approved and ready to buy to start building a real estate team. A good agent can do more than find homes; they can help you understand the mortgage approval process and guide you through the trickier steps (like putting the right paperwork together).

Study the interest rates. All of the mortgage companies we recommend have fair interest rates, but interest rates fluctuate throughout the month. It may only be a fraction of a percentage point, but if you keep an eye on rates and lock in your mortgage rate on a low day, you could save yourself thousands over the life of your loan. In the 30 days before we published this review, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fluctuated by 0.18 percentage point (between 3.66 and 3.84). Doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of a 30-year mortgage for $150,000 that’s a difference of $5,515 — a nice little chunk you’d save simply by watching the rates.

Get pre-approved. If you’re buying a home, you’ll need a pre-approval letter from a qualified lender before you can submit an offer. Most pre-approvals are good for at least 30 days and all of our top picks will let you apply online or over the phone.

The Best Mortgage Companies: Summed Up

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