Questions to expect from mortgage lenders

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Mortgage applications can be time-consuming and tedious — after all, there’s a lot of money on the line.

Lenders devised the mortgage application process to collect proof that shows the borrower can and will repay the loan in a timely manner. This proof includes everything from how much money you earn to your repayment history.

You might have to answer tough, personal and seemingly trivial financial questions. The best thing you can do is to be prepared.

“You should be ready to explain any discrepancies in your credit history such as late bill payments, being turned over to a collection agency, or a bankruptcy,” says Don Boop, mortgage loan originator at Linear Home Loans. “It’s a good idea to have dates, amounts, and causes ready if you think these situations will come up.”

Before you apply, familiarize yourself with the required documents and questions asked on mortgage applications. Better still, get your documents ready and consider obtaining preapproval from a lender to speed the process once you identify a potential home.

Here’s a list of common mortgage application questions:

Employment and income

  1. Where do you work?
  2. How much do you make? (You’ll be expected to document income with copies of IRS tax statements, as well as giving the lender permission to request your tax return transcript. If you collect a paycheck, you’ll provide copies of pay stubs and W-2s.)
  3. How long have you been at your job?
  4. How is your income derived — steady salary or irregular income? (If your income varies, you may need to provide details.)

What works in your favor:

  • You can prove steady employment (two or more years) with the same employer or in the same line of work.

What complicates an application:


  1. What recurring debts do you have? This includes auto loans, alimony, student loans and credit cards. (You might be asked to document your recurring debts by providing copies of your bills.)

What works in your favor:

  • Your monthly debt payments account for 36 percent or less of pretax income, and you haven’t made a major purchase (like a car) recently.

What complicates an application:

  • Your credit cards are maxed out or your monthly debt payments account for more than 36 percent of your pretax income.

Savings and assets

  1. How much money do you have in the bank?
  2. How much do you have saved in 401(k), stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investment accounts? (You will be asked to provide copies of brokerage statements.)

What works in your favor:

  • You can show that, after closing, you will have at least two months’ worth of mortgage payments in the bank.

What complicates an application:

  • You will have little cash in the bank after the down payment and closing costs.

Down payment

  1. What is the size of the down payment?
  2. Where does the down payment money come from — is it all from your savings, or did some of it come as a gift from family or a grant from a nonprofit? (You will have to document the source of your down payment by providing copies of several months of bank and brokerage statements, and letters from any gift-givers and grant makers.)

What works in your favor:

  • The down payment comes from savings or from equity from a home that you’re selling. Even better: The down payment is 20 percent or more.

What complicates an application:

  • You have trouble documenting where your down payment money comes from.

Loan purpose

  1. Are you borrowing to buy a home or to refinance the current mortgage?
  2. If it’s a refinance, do you want to take cash out at closing? If so, how much?

What works in your favor:

  • The loan is for a home purchase or a simple rate-and-term refinance, without taking cash out.

What complicates an application:

Property use and type

  1. What’s the address?
  2. Do you plan to live in the house year-round, or is it investment or vacation property?
  3. Is it a house, duplex, condominium or co-op?

What works in your favor:

  • The house is a detached single-family home to be used as a primary residence.

What complicates an application:

  • The property is a duplex or condominium, or will be used as a vacation home or an income rental property.

Note: “Complicates” doesn’t mean “impossible.” It means you might have to provide more documentation, that the loan decision might take more time, or you might have to pay a higher interest and or fees. In other words, you might face more hurdles and questions than a borrower with a simpler loan application.

Questions a mortgage lender should never ask:

While the list above may make it seem like mortgage lenders can ask you anything they want, there are some red lines, according to Darrin Q. English, senior community development loan officer for Quontic, an online bank. These questions, he says, are on his “do not ask” list:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Disabilities
  • Family expansion plans (A lender can ask how many children you currently have and their ages, but they can’t ask if you plan to have more or discriminate based on familial status.)
  • Political or religious beliefs
  • Medical history

In addition, although a lender may ask about some of these categories, it can’t discriminate based on race, religion, color, age, marital status, sex or national origin.

What documents are needed to buy a home

Anticipate backing up every claim you make on your mortgage application with documentation. Then you won’t feel so overwhelmed when you must chase down W-2s and 401(k) statements.

Document requirements vary by applicants and lenders, but if, for example, you have an IRA or income from rental property, chances are you’ll need to prove it.

Proof of income

A lender wants to know that you’ll be able to repay the loan. At minimum, you’ll need to provide:

  • The previous year’s W-2 form
  • Your most recent pay stub
  • Your tax returns from the past year

Depending on your income history and the size of the loan, you may have to show additional paperwork. For example, getting a mortgage when you’re self-employed often requires even more documentation, like profit and loss statements from your business or 1099 forms if you work on a contract basis.

Earnings outside of a regular job

If you make money from other sources, you’ll need to provide detailed information about that, too. Someone who receives child support or alimony will likely have to show the lender a copy of the divorce decree. Someone who earns income from a rental property may be asked for a copy of the lease agreement.


You’ll have to put together a complete list of all your debts, including credit cards, student loans, car loans, alimony and child support payments, along with statements that show balances and the minimum monthly payments.


Be prepared to present an inventory of assets including bank statements, investment records, retirement accounts, real estate and auto titles, and any other major items of value.

The bank wants to be sure you have enough savings to weather any unexpected expenses after you close on the house. They may also want proof that you paid the down payment from your own account and not as a loan from someone else.

Other paperwork

You may have to sign an IRS Form 4506-T, which allows the lender to get a transcript of your tax return from the IRS. In some cases, the lender wants to see that what you declared to them matches what you declared to the IRS. The form verifies that all the information on your W-2, 1099 or 1040 matches what’s on your loan application.

If you had a bankruptcy within the past several years, you may be asked for your bankruptcy discharge papers. In some cases, a bankruptcy can appear on your credit report for up to 10 years. Even if you’ve been on sound financial footing since then, a lender will want to see that you’ve settled with your creditors.

Learn more:

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Written by
Zach Wichter
Mortgage reporter
Zach Wichter is a mortgage reporter at Bankrate. He previously worked on the Business desk at The New York Times where he won a Loeb Award for breaking news, and covered aviation for The Points Guy.
Edited by
Mortgage editor
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