A prequalification or preapproval letter is a document from a lender stating that the lender is tentatively willing to lend to you, up to a certain loan amount. This document is based on certain assumptions and it is not a guaranteed loan offer.
But, it lets the seller know that you are likely to be able to get financing. Sellers frequently require a prequalification or preapproval letter before accepting your offer on a house.
What to do now
Decide when to get a preapproval letter
Lenders typically check your credit before issuing a preapproval letter, and the letter may have an expiration date on it (typically 30 to 60 days). For these reasons, many people wait to get a preapproval letter until they are ready to begin shopping seriously for a home. However, getting preapproved early in the process can be a good way to spot potential issues in time to correct them.
Find out what the lender’s preapproval process is
Every lender is different. Find out what you need to do and what documentation is requested.
Request a preapproval
Follow up with the lender and provide the necessary information.
Ask the lender what assumptions they made to issue the preapproval. Is there anything about your situation that could lead to your loan being denied later on, or that could increase your interest rate or loan costs?
What to know
Different lenders use the terms “prequalification” and “preapproval” differently
Some lenders may only offer a “prequalification.” Other lenders may only offer a “preapproval.” For simplicity, we use the word “preapproval.” Learn more.
Different lenders may request different levels of information and documentation
Some lenders base preapproval letters solely on the information you provide. Other lenders dig into the details with you now to make certain you have all the documentation you need and prevent delays and surprises later. Ask questions. All lenders will require documentation at some point if you decide to apply for a loan. It’s better to know now that you need an additional document (which could take some time to get) than when you’re about to close.
Getting a preapproval letter isn't the same thing as applying for a loan
A preapproval letter just says that a lender is willing to lend to you – pending further confirmation of details. A preapproval helps you shop for a home, because it lets the seller know you are a serious buyer.
There's no need to choose a lender just yet
Getting preapproved is important because it helps you shop for a home. But at this stage, lenders aren’t in a position to give you enough information for you to make a decision about which lender offers the best deal. Getting a preapproval doesn’t commit you to using that lender for your loan. Wait to decide on a lender until you've made an offer on a house and received official Loan Estimates from each of your potential lenders.
How to avoid pitfalls
You’re the only one who can decide how much you can afford to spend on a home
Lenders preapprove you by looking at your income, assets, debts, and credit record. But your financial life is much more complicated than that. Only you can decide how much you’re comfortable paying upfront and each month — which means only you can decide how much to spend on a home.
- If you were preapproved for more than the home price budget you set for yourself, you can use the preapproval letter to shop for homes without changing your target home price. If you’re happy with the amount you planned to spend, stick with your original budget.
- If you were preapproved for less than you were planning to spend on a home, talk with the lender. Ask if there was a particular factor (for example, your income) that limited the preapproval amount. You may need to adjust your home price expectations.
- Be upfront with your real estate agent. If you don’t want to see homes above a certain price, say so. Limiting your search is a good way to avoid falling in love with a home that costs more than you want to spend.
If you get declined for your preapproval, don’t despair
- Find out why you were declined, so you can figure out what to do to improve your chances of getting a loan in the future.
- Ask the lender to explain why you were declined. Was your credit score too low? Was there specific negative information on your credit report?
- Ask to see a copy of the credit score the lender used. If the lender used your credit score to deny your preapproval request, the lender must send you a notice with the credit score they used to make the decision and instructions on how to get a free copy of your credit report.
- If there are errors on your credit report, get them corrected.
- If you need help improving your credit, contact a HUD-approved housing counselor. You can find a counselor online or by calling 1-800-569-4287.