Getting a mortgage is easier than ever: Now, you can apply for a mortgage online. That means no awkward meetings at the bank — you won’t even need to change out of your pjs. (Unless you really want to.)
It’s also easier to compare mortgage lenders with today’s technology. Thanks to online lending, you can compare multiple mortgage lenders and pick whoever is best for you.
With that in mind, we’ve researched the top mortgage companies to bring you our picks for the best online mortgage lenders. Check out our shortlist below as well as a rundown of some of the most important things to know about the online mortgage industry.
The best online mortgage lenders
- Streamlined online application: Rocket Mortgage
- No lender fees and online application: Better
- Digital experience & down-payment assistance: Guaranteed Rate Mortgage
- Refinance specialist: loanDepot
- Fast pre-approval: Ally Mortgage
- Diverse loan offerings and relationship discounts: Bank of America Mortgage
What is an online mortgage lender?
For the past 20 years, if you applied for a mortgage, you’d have to physically drive to a lender’s office. They would give you an application packet, which you’d have to fill out and return before your loan could enter processing. You’d then be given a list of necessary documents (tax returns, for example), and have to physically get them to your lender’s office. Along the way, if anything needed to be modified, you’d probably have to make another trip to sign paperwork.
An online mortgage lender aims to simplify the mortgage process by allowing people to complete the application online. Homebuyers can check rates, submit an application, sign documents, and upload documents without leaving their home.
How does an online mortgage work?
The online mortgage process depends on the lender. For example, some lenders allow you to complete the entire home loan process online from start to finish (Note: Due to notary requirements, closings generally still take place in person.) Other lenders might allow you to check your mortgage rates online and upload documentation, but might require you to speak with a loan officer by phone before your application can be processed.
Whatever the level of online services available, an online mortgage loan follows the same basic steps in most cases. In general, here are the steps you may encounter.
1. Fill out a simple form and check your interest rates
This is typically referred to as a pre-qualification, and it involves your lender performing a soft credit check to verify your credit score. This does not include verifying income, employment, or assets. Provided you have the lender’s minimum credit score or higher, you’ll then be able to see the loan products you qualify for.
2. Decide what type of mortgage loan you want
Are you looking for 15 years, 30 years, or another length? Conventional, FHA loan, VA? Select the type of mortgage loan that fits your needs and formally apply.
3. Submit any documentation your lender requires
You’ll likely be able to do this entirely online. Many lenders will allow you to directly link to your bank accounts and other sources to make it as easy as possible.
After you submit your documentation to your mortgage company, the lender’s underwriting department will verify it. Once your documentation is verified, you’ll be cleared to close.
5. Sign and schedule
Schedule your closing and sign your loan documents. This will likely need to take place in person, but many online lenders will send a notary to you, so you won’t have to go anywhere.
It’s also worth noting that if your mortgage is a refinance loan, you’ll have the added step of scheduling an appraisal of your home to confirm its value.
This happens with a purchase mortgage as well, but it’s more of a behind-the-scenes step (as opposed to an appraiser coming to the home you’re living in when refinancing).
How to choose the best online mortgage
The best course of action involves two basic steps.
First, make a short list of online mortgage lenders (let’s say three to five) that meet your needs. We’ll talk about what to look for in the next section, but our picks for the best online lenders listed above is a good starting point.
Once you have your short list, apply for a preapproval with all of them, even if they do a credit check to determine your interest rates. The FICO® credit scoring formula is specifically designed to allow rate shopping without harming your credit score.
You might be surprised by the different loan terms that lenders will offer the same borrower. The difference can be huge. For example, if you’re applying for a $400,000 mortgage, the difference between 3.125% and 3.25% interest rates translates to over $10,000 in interest savings over a 30-year term. You can use a mortgage calculator to compare what your monthly payments would be from each lender.
Tips for comparing online lenders
Start by comparing the interest rates you’re offered. Here are a few other things to consider before applying.
- Origination fees: Some online lenders have little or no origination fee. Others may charge hundreds or thousands of dollars.
- Loan types: Unless you’re looking for a basic conventional mortgage, it’s important to make sure the lender offers the type of home loan you need. For example, if you need to use FHA financing, make sure the lender offers that before you apply.
- Other features: Some mortgage lenders may offer discounts for opening additional accounts (like a checking account.) Others offer an online process but still have physical branches you can visit if needed. These are just a couple of factors to consider, but the point is that you should pick the lender that fits your situation.
Pros and cons of online mortgage lenders
Like most things in life, using online mortgage lenders has pros and cons. Here are a few things to consider:
- Loans may close faster
- The ability to close long-distance
- Difficult to receive in-person help from a mortgage broker
- May be a learning curve for people who are not tech-savvy
- Might not be accessible to those without a steady internet connection