What is a Pre-Qualification?

Posted by Justin Nolette on May 7, 2018

Getting a pre-qualification is one of the first steps you should take when you want to buy a home. When the bank pre-qualifies you for a mortgage, they take a look at your stated income and debts, then tell you how much they’d be willing to loan you. It gives you a great starting point to shop for a home.

However, you shouldn’t mistake this for a guarantee of a loan for that amount. It’s only an informal assessment. Learn more about pre-qualifications before you go home shopping.

Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

Most people get confused by the difference between a pre-qualification and a mortgage pre-approval, and this can cause them to make some major mistakes.

In a pre-qualification, the bank doesn’t verify any of your information. They take the income you say you earn and give you a quick estimate based on that. Since it’s not a formal agreement, a builder or home seller may not accept your offer based on a pre-qualification alone.

What is a Pre-Qualification Meeting Image

The pre-approval process, on the other hand, requires a more thorough vetting. You state how much you earn, but the bank also requires you to show proof of income, including tax forms and pay stubs. Banks also officially pull your credit reports for pre-approval. The pre-approval is also more formal. You’re not yet committing to using that bank for your mortgage, but they’re guaranteeing they’ll loan you a certain amount of money at a certain interest rate. This is assuming there are no significant changes to your financial situation before you formally apply for the mortgage. 

Essentially, the pre-approval gives you a closer look at the reality of your situation.

How a Pre-Qualification Can Help You

Pre-qualification helps you understand how much home the bank thinks you can afford. It may cause you to realize the expansive estates you’ve been looking at are far out of your price range. You may also realize the bank thinks you can afford a lot more than you expected. 

What You’ll Need for Pre-Qualification

Most mortgage lenders have a simple application for pre-qualification. You may want to look at your old tax forms or pay stubs to more accurately calculate your income, but the bank isn’t likely to require them. If you want an even more accurate pre-qualification quote, you can order a copy of your credit score. The bank will then use this to tell you which tier you fall into.

What the Pre-Qualification Doesn’t Include

Most of the time, a pre-qualification doesn’t factor your credit score into the equation. They assume you have reasonably good credit. If your credit score is low, though, you may qualify for less money than they originally stated, or you may not even qualify for a mortgage at all.

The pre-qualification also isn’t taking a close look at your income. Some applicants are later surprised to learn the bank doesn’t include bonuses or overtime pay in their calculations. If you factored these into your income statement for the pre-qualification, you may find yourself getting far less money than you expected.

What is a Pre-Qualification Couple ImageFinally, the pre-qualification only estimates the potential loan amount the lender will give you. In an actual mortgage application, banks set a maximum monthly payment they think you can afford. This payment includes a pro-rated amount for property taxes and homeowners’ insurance. If you purchase in an area with high property taxes, you may qualify for less money. Not being able to factor property taxes into the equation sometimes leads to overestimation.

When You Get Serious About Buying

Pre-qualification works well for those who are just starting to think about buying a home. It gives them a general sense of what home options are affordable, but there’s nothing official involved. 

If you’re closer to being ready to buy a home, though, you’ll probably be better off with a pre-approval. This is more formal and more accurate. You’ll also be locking in current rates without committing yourself to the rates. If rates go down, you’ll be able to get the better deal. Having pre-approval also makes you seem more serious to the seller. Once you’ve found the right home for your family, you’ll be able to move quickly.

A mortgage pre-qualification may be helpful in guiding your homebuying decisions, but be careful not to take it too literally. Use it as a guideline, but get a pre-approval if you are ready to buy.