How We Evaluate Mortgage Lenders

Insider’s experts select the best products and services to help you make wise decisions with your money (here’s how). In some cases we receive a commission from our partners, but our opinion is our own. The conditions apply to the offers listed on this page.

Finding the right mortgage lender can make or break your home buying or refinancing experience. With so many different lenders competing for your business, it can be difficult to know which ones are worth your time and money.

To help you make the best financial decision, Personal Finance Insider conducts in-depth research on each of the mortgage lenders we review.

What we look for when evaluating mortgage lenders

Each lender we review receives a rating of between one and five stars. The ratings are divided into four different categories, which are weighted equally.

In each category, a lender can rank from one to five. We then take the average of these numbers to determine the overall star rating.

The categories we look at are:

  • Loan Types (25%)
  • Affordability (25%)
  • Customer satisfaction (25%)
  • Trustworthiness (25%)

Together, these categories give us a broad view of what customers experience when working with a mortgage lender, including the mortgage options they can choose from, how easy it is to qualify, how much they will end up spending, and how easy and reliable the lender is to work with.

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loan types

The more types of mortgages a lender offers, the higher their rating.

We first check if a lender offers the most common types of mortgages—conventional, jumbo, and government-backed mortgages like FHA loans. Then we look at all the other types it offers, including home equity options, construction loans, medical loans, non-QM loans, or specialty products unique to that lender.

The best lenders offer all of the basic mortgage types (including each of the three federally-backed mortgages: FHA, VA, and USDA) and several less common mortgage options.

examples

  • A lender that offers conventional and jumbo mortgages and at least one government-backed mortgage would deserve one 3 out of 5.
  • A lender offering conventional, jumbo, FHA, VA, renovation mortgages and HELOCs would deserve one 4 out of 5

affordability

We consider a lender to be affordable when it has options available to lower-income or poorer credit borrowers and when it has more affordable mortgage features.

Affordable lenders offer several government-backed mortgage options because these loans often have more flexible qualifying requirements and lower interest rates. They also allow for low down payments and don’t have super-high credit requirements.

We also find out if a lender has flexible credit policies. This could include allowing borrowers to submit applications with poor credit or non-traditional credit (such as

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Lenders also receive a more favorable rating if they offer products specifically targeted at first-time or low-income borrowers. This could include specialty mortgage products with affordable features like low down payments without private mortgage insurance or down payment assistance.

Finally, we will consider all the other features that make a lender more affordable, e.g. For example, they do not charge lender fees or offer free relocation assistance.

examples

  • A lender that does not offer government-backed mortgages, has a minimum credit rating of 620+, and requires a 5%+ down payment would deserve one 1 out of 5
  • A lender that allows credit ratings as low as 580 for its FHA, VA, and USDA loans, accepts nontraditional loans, allows 3% down payments on its conventional loans, and offers down payment assistance to low-income borrowers would deserve one 5 out of 5

customer satisfaction

To determine how satisfied customers are with a particular lender, we look at two primary sources: JD Power’s annual Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study and online customer reviews.

For customer reviews, we use a lender’s Zillow profile score and their TrustPilot score, both of which are based on reviews left by customers on each of these websites. However, we only consider these ratings if they are based on 200 or more reviews.

examples

  • If a lender ranks at or near the industry average in the JD Power study, it would deserve one 3 out of 5
  • If a lender ranked top in JD Power’s study and had a five-star rating on their Zillow lender profile, they would deserve one 5 out of 5
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trustworthiness

To measure a lender’s trustworthiness, we look at their Better Business Bureau rating and the reasons they received that rating. We will also investigate any recent controversy or scandal the lender has been involved in, or any action the government has taken against the company.

examples

  • A lender that has a C rating from the BBB and has a recent scandal directly related to its mortgage business (for example, it was found to have engaged in deceptive advertising practices with its mortgage offerings) would deserve a 2 out of 5
  • A lender that has an A rating from the BBB based on a low number of customer complaints and has no recent public scandals would deserve an A 4 out of 5

Our reviews can help you understand which lenders are worth pre-approving, but the perfect lender for you will depend on your needs and financial situation. When looking for a mortgage lender, consider what features are important to you to narrow down your options. Then get pre-approved by multiple lenders to see which one can give you the best deal.

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