Should you apply for a mortgage online?

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In the past, applying for a mortgage required you to meet with a broker or loan officer in person to review your options and submit an application. Now, the mortgage process is easier than ever with online applications. In fact, some mortgage lenders offer a fully digital mortgage experience, from prequalification or preapproval through to closing.

Is applying for mortgages online right for you? Are there any potential disadvantages? Here’s everything you need to know.

Should you apply for mortgages online? 

The process of getting a mortgage involves a lot of paperwork and time. Whether applying for a loan online, over the phone or in person, your mortgage lender will ask for documentation about your employment history and income, any assets you own and any debt you owe. As of June 2021, the average time to close a mortgage for a home purchase was 51 days, according to ICE Mortgage Technology.

Applying for mortgages online could potentially speed up this process, but there are also potential drawbacks to consider.

Pros of applying for a mortgage online

  • Faster processing – Fintech mortgage lenders can process loan applications 20 percent faster than traditional lenders, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. While your experience can vary depending on the lender, an online mortgage application might be the better route if speed is a top priority.
  • Less work for you – With an online mortgage application, you can upload copies of documents, such as bank statements, pay stubs and tax returns, to a secure website instead of needing to provide a hard copy to the broker or loan officer. You can also e-sign your disclosures, which can save a lot of time. In other words, you never have to leave your couch.
  • Possibly lower costsOnline mortgage lenders typically have lower overhead costs than traditional lenders like a bank, which can translate into lower interest rates and closing costs for you.

Cons of applying for a mortgage online

  • Less hands-on help – If you have a question during the loan application or underwriting process, you might not have a dedicated person to help you if you’re applying online. Also, if you prefer in-person interactions, that likely won’t be an option with many online lenders.
  • Might hit snags – A digital mortgage is designed to speed up the closing process through automation, but if your situation is outside the norm — maybe you’re self-employed, your credit history has some dings or your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is high — it could take more time to process your loan application.

Is it safe to apply for mortgages online?

Applying for mortgages online is generally just as safe as submitting a paper application, if not more so. Whether online or not, all mortgage lenders are required to comply with federal regulations for data protection and privacy. For example, they must notify you about how much of your financial information they share with third parties.

Online lenders also typically use secure websites for you to submit your application and upload your documents. These portals usually have a login with a password, and sometimes two-step authentication for an additional layer of security.

That said, there’s always some level of risk if you’re submitting personal information online. It’s best to avoid sending documents with personal information via email unless it’s encrypted, or over a public Wi-Fi network unless you’re using a virtual private network (VPN).

Depending on the lender, your loan officer might email you a secure link where you can upload documents safely. Sometimes, these links are phishing scams, so don’t hesitate to call your loan officer directly to confirm it’s legitimate. If it is, be sure to submit personal information using this link, not by replying to the email itself.

How to get a mortgage online 

The process for applying for a mortgage online is similar to the process of applying the traditional way. The only difference is that you’re doing it online and not in person or over the phone. Here is an outline of the steps:

1. Shop around

To get started, gather your financial information (including bank statements, pay stubs and tax returns) and research at least three online mortgage lenders. Many will allow you to get a mortgage rate quote online before you submit an application, though some might require you to speak with a loan officer first to get that quote. If you can’t get quotes, submit an application with more than one lender so you can compare rates and fees. Because rates change frequently and your credit score can take a hit if there are several inquiries, aim to do this within a relatively short time frame — ideally in the same day, at most over a few weeks.

2. Review the loan estimates

Once you submit your applications and you’ve been preapproved for a loan, you’ll receive loan estimates from each lender. This estimate is based on the information you provided on your application, but it’s not a final offer — you’ll need to submit documents and lock in your rate for that to happen. Still, the loan estimate provides you information you need to understand the costs of each offer so you can choose the right one for you.

3. Pick a lender

Take the time to compare your options. Consider whether the lender charges an origination fee and whether discount points have been factored into the offer, and how much these expenses could add to your closing costs. (Depending on how long you plan to stay in your home, paying points could end up saving you money.) In addition, keep an eye out for excessive fees that might not be necessary, such as an “email fee” or “miscellaneous fee,” and ask for clarification about any costs you don’t understand. Consider, too, how your experience has been with the lender and how comfortable you feel working with your loan officer.

4. Provide documents

After comparing options and settling on a lender, you’ll proceed to the underwriting process. At this stage, you’ll be asked to upload your documents via a secure portal. The loan officer or broker will let you know which documents you need. Try to complete these requests as quickly as possible to avoid delays. The same goes for documents you’ll be asked to e-sign — read them carefully and sign them as soon as you receive them.

5. Close the loan

After you’ve completed all of the loan officer’s or broker’s requests and you still qualify, you’ll receive your final disclosures, which you’ll review and sign. Once you complete the closing process, you’ll get the keys to your new home.

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Written by
Ben Luthi
Contributing writer
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people learn how to live life more fully. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.
Edited by
Mortgage editor