Applying for a mortgage preapproval is an exciting step in the homebuying process. It means you're ready to start moving away from Zillow browsing sessions and actually start getting serious about your homeownership goals.
Before you apply for a mortgage preapproval, though, it's important to know what you're getting into. It can take some work, and it doesn't last forever. Preapprovals can last anywhere between 30 and 90 days, on average, though the exact duration will vary by lender.
Here's what you need to know about how to fit your homebuying goals within short windows like this.
- To get a mortgage preapproval letter, you must demonstrate your creditworthiness to a lender through financial documentation and a credit check.
- A mortgage preapproval letter can be used to show a seller that you're serious about buying a house and are likely to be approved for a mortgage loan.
- Mortgage preapproval letters last, on average, between 30 and 90 days.
- If your preapproval expires, you may be able to renew it by showing your lender that your financial situation hasn't changed since you last applied.
What Is a Mortgage Preapproval?
A mortgage preapproval is a letter you get from your potential lender stating it's likely you'll be approved for a loan with them. It means you've already undergone some of the underwriting process, such as verifying your income and credit score, and the lender just needs to verify other details about the loan once you're ready to put in an offer on a house.
A mortgage preapproval letter does not mean you're automatically approved for a loan. It's still possible you'll be declined, but perhaps less likely.
Why Do I Need a Mortgage Preapproval?
For the most part, you don't need a mortgage preapproval letter to shop for houses, but having one can help give you a leg up once you're ready to buy a house. It shows the seller that you're serious about buying their house. For this reason, some sellers may require a preapproval letter for you to book a showing.
In a competitive seller's market, a mortgage preapproval letter might be thought of as a prerequisite for a seller to consider your offer among a bunch of others.
The Mortgage Preapproval Process
As with any loan or line of credit, the lender will need to verify that you are likely to pay back the loan in full and have good enough credit. Here's some of the documentation lenders may require when you apply for a mortgage preapproval:
- W-2s for the past two years
- Most recent bank statements
- Two years' worth of tax returns
- Pay stubs for the past 30 days
- Proof of any other income you receive
- Information on any long-term debt or assets you have
This is a much shorter list of the information you'll need when you apply for the mortgage loan, but the exact documentation required may vary from one lender to the next.
How Long Does a Mortgage Preapproval Last?
After you apply for a mortgage preapproval, your lender will issue you a letter if they decide you're approved. This letter has an expiration date; usually, it will last anywhere from 30 to 90 days.
It's a good idea to know how long your mortgage preapproval will last before you apply because that will tell you how quickly you have to write an offer on a home. Don't stress about it too much, though. It's not uncommon for house hunters to continue looking well after the preapproval is set to expire. Bankers have a way of dealing with this, too.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the average home buyer will visit nine homes over eight weeks before finding the right one.
What Happens When a Mortgage Preapproval Expires?
If your mortgage preapproval expires before you're able to put in an offer on a home and have it accepted, don't worry. You should be able to renew your mortgage preapproval by submitting recent documents to your potential lender showing your financial situation hasn't changed since you last applied. Then, you simply get a new mortgage preapproval letter and repeat the process until you're able to nab the home you want.
Again, it's a good idea to check with your potential mortgage lender before you apply to find out what their policies are about renewing a mortgage preapproval letter. Make sure to ask them:
- What documents will you need to see?
- Will you need to run a hard credit check again?
- Who should I contact if I need to renew my mortgage preapproval letter?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to get a mortgage preapproval letter?
It depends on the lender. Some lenders are able to process your mortgage preapproval application as soon as the next business day. More commonly, it'll take a bit longer, such as a week. If you're self-employed, it may take longer—up to two weeks.
Is a prequalification the same as a preapproval?
No. Many people (and even some lenders) use the terms interchangeably, but a prequalification carries less weight than a preapproval. A prequalification is mostly used to help you figure out how much home you can afford; a mortgage lender will look at your finances and give you an idea of your home budget. This does not usually involve a credit check or any of the more rigorous documentation required to assure that you're creditworthy.
When should you apply for mortgage preapproval?
Since mortgage preapprovals typically only last 30 to 90 days, it's a good idea to wait to apply until you're ready to start making offers on homes.