What to do when your mortgage is rejected

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Don’t be surprised if your friendly lender, the one who invites you to sit down and apply for a mortgage, then ushers you politely out the door empty-handed after you’ve chatted a bit.

The sudden chill isn’t personal. The Mortgage Bankers Association, or MBA, in Washington, D.C., estimates that about half of all mortgage applicants are now being turned down.

“Our latest survey covered the first half of 2008,” says MBA spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp. Then, the acceptance rate for purchase applications was 55 percent, and 65 percent for refinance requests. Since then, further tightening of credit standards means at least half of mortgage-seeking consumers can’t squeeze through to acceptance, Kemp says.

Instead of yielding to shame, anger or any of the usual emotions associated with rejection, today’s consumers who are intent on buying or refinancing should adopt a pragmatic stance since clear-eyed determination may eventually land them a loan.

Here’s how:

Landing the loan
  • Get a read on reason.
  • Find a fix.
  • Seek out other opinions.
  • Give it another try.

Get a read on the reason

If you’ve submitted a formal application, federal law dictates that you’re entitled to a formal rejection.

Expect an “adverse action” notice, spelling out the reasons for turning you down, which these days is likely to state that the loan amount you’re seeking is too large compared to the current appraised value of your home, says Joe Thiesen, president of the Wisconsin Mortgage Professionals Association and branch manager of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. in Madison, Wis.

If it’s not your home’s value that’s the issue, it may be your personal credentials, such as your credit worthiness, work history, or debt load.

When credit is the issue, an adverse-action notice is required, naming the credit reporting agency that provided the data on which the lender based its decision, according to Federal Trade Commission rules. You’re also entitled to a free credit report; see the FTC Web site for more information.

Given the odds of acceptance, a lender may not require you to pay a few hundred dollars to submit a formal application, which includes the cost of a professional appraisal on the property. Instead, he may pull a credit score, and tell you what you’re likely eligible for, says Marc Savitt, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

Find a fix

Qualifying for a mortgage isn’t a black-and-white issue. Rather, different loans at varying rates may be available, depending on how risky a lender thinks a particular mortgage will be. If you don’t qualify at 5.5 percent, for instance, you may be able to get the nod for a loan at 6 percent or 6.5 percent.

However, many borrowers, especially those who are refinancing, need a certain rate to reach the monthly payment they want. Not only are rates higher for risky loans, but there are now upfront “point” charges dictated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two big mortgage guarantors currently under government control, Savitt says.

To get a good rate, some borrowers may be able to make changes — like lowering the amount of the loan they seek.

When a borrower isn’t far from the qualifying mark, he may be able to reapply and be approved relatively quickly. For instance, if you’re within reach of a 740 credit score, which is usually required for the best rate, you might pay down a balance on a credit card and hit the target, Thiesen says.

Seek out other opinions

Not every lending firm adheres strictly to the same playbook, and one lender may approve what another rejects, says Savitt, who recently had a borrower with good credit turned down for a low-down-payment, government-insured loan, but found another firm giving the green light.

A local “community bank,” meaning a smaller, hometown institution, may be more flexible, contends Diane Scriveri, chief lending officer at Bogota Savings Bank in Teaneck, N.J., and vice-chair of the affordable housing committee of the New Jersey League of Community Banks.

“Because we’re local, we may know home values better. We still use independent appraisals of course, but we may look at comparable (home values) differently because we know what’s really happening in different neighborhoods,” she says.

Credit unions, which only offer loans to consumers who qualify for credit union membership, may also be more forgiving, says Tony Emerson, president of the Credit Union League of Connecticut.

“It would be foolhardy to suggest that in every case, you can go to a credit union and get a loan,” Emerson says.

Still, he says, some credit unions may judge loan eligibility based upon the unique relationship they have with their members. For instance, many credit unions offer membership to employees of specific companies and would know more about a member’s job stability, he says

Give it another try

The Mortgage Bankers Association is predicting that 30-year fixed rates will hover near the 5 percent range through 2009. So if predictions hold and interest rates stay relatively low, you should have time to try again if the factors behind your rejection improve.

Fortunately, a rejection shouldn’t bring down your credit score, says Craig Watts, a spokesman for credit scoring firm Fair Isaacs.

Making a formal application and then reapplying more than a monthly later could lower your score, but only by about five points. Most scoring systems allow consumers to make multiple mortgage applications within a 30-day period without any negative impact on their credit score.