What Does It Mean to Prequalify for a Loan?

Definition and Examples of Prequalifying for a Loan

A man and a woman review the prequalification terms of a loan in a modern office
•••

mediaphotos / Getty Images

When you prequalify for a loan, a lender gives you a general idea of how much you might be able to borrow and with what terms. With prequalification, you provide your personal financial information, and the lender uses that to produce a quote for a loan amount and interest rate. 

It’s important to note that prequalification isn’t the same as a preapproval, which is generally a more formal process. Let’s take a look at what to expect when you prequalify and what it means for your ability to get a loan.

What Does It Mean to Prequalify for a Loan?

When you get prequalified for a loan, you’re actually receiving a basic quote from the lender. Using personal financial information you provide, the lender can give you a ballpark idea of how much money you might be able to borrow. Additionally, as part of prequalification, you might receive a quote for a potential interest rate and other loan terms.

With a prequalification, the lender is clearing you to move forward with a more involved loan application and establishing that you meet the basic requirements that would allow you to get a loan. It’s important to note, however, that the amounts and terms quoted when you prequalify aren’t final. They are a starting point, and the lender will review your documentation before moving forward with the loan and providing you with final terms.

Different lenders use the terms “prequalification” and “preapproval” in different ways, according to their own processes. The important difference is the amount of detailed financial information a lender requires before you actually apply.

How Does Prequalifying for a Loan Work?

In many cases, prequalification requires a relatively small amount of documentation, and you provide much of the personal financial information, including your income and what you have in your bank accounts. Some lenders might do a cursory check of your credit score to ensure that you meet the minimum requirements before prequalifying you, but for the most part, you provide the information. 

Depending on the situation and the type of loan, it’s often possible to get prequalified online. You answer a series of questions related to your financial situation, and then you receive information about different loan choices, including different term lengths, interest rates, and loan amounts. Once that’s done, you can choose a quote and go through the more formal process of applying for the loan. Often a prequalification can take as little as a few minutes and gives you an idea of what might be available to you.

When getting prequalified for a loan, be sure to read the fine print to find out if the lender will perform a “soft” or “hard” credit report inquiry. A soft inquiry will not harm your credit score, but a hard inquiry can. Many lenders will prequalify you without affecting your credit score, but it’s a good idea to verify this before moving forward with the process.

Prequalification vs. Preapproval

It’s important to understand that prequalification isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get the loan terms and amount offered to you later. Your final interest rate, loan term, and amount will be presented after you’ve finished the application or preapproval process.

Prequalification
  • You provide basic personal financial information.

  • You don’t need to share tax information.

  • Lender performs a soft credit inquiry that doesn’t affect your credit score.

  • You provide an estimate of how much you want to borrow.

Preapproval
  • You provide details documentation supporting income and account information.

  • You share tax information, including copies of W-2s and recent returns.

  • Lender performs a hard credit inquiry that does affect your credit score.

  • Lender determines loan amount after verifying your assets and ability to repay.

Usually preapproval is a more rigorous process. With prequalification, you provide the information, the lender does a quick credit check to verify you meet the minimum requirements, and you’re offered potential loan terms. Once you agree, then you start the application or preapproval process.

With a preapproval, everything is taken a step further. Preapproval is about confirming that you verifiably meet the qualification criteria, and the lender is committed to providing you the loan, assuming nothing changes between the time of the preapproval and loan application. Often, preapproval requires that you provide documentation, such as bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns to back up your claims about your ability to pay. Your preapproval will also include your interest rate quote, and you may be given a chance to lock in your interest rate.

Key Takeaways

  • Prequalification offers a way to compare loan possibilities.
  • You don’t usually need a lot of documentation to get prequalified.
  • Prequalification is usually different from preapproval, which requires more documentation.
  • When you prequalify, it’s not a guarantee that you will actually receive the loan or the terms quoted.