Half of refinance applications are abandoned or rejected, as are 30 percent of purchase mortgage applications, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. All told, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) says that well over 2 million mortgage applications were rejected last year.
Want to avoid falling into that number? It's tough — especially in light of the fact that mortgage lenders have become increasingly restrictive in terms of their lending guidelines since the housing market crash.
Here, as a cautionary tale and primer on what to expect, are the top six reasons mortgage lenders reject applications.
1. Income issues. Most failed applications falling into this category have income too low for the mortgage amount they are seeking; often, a spouse's credit issues can create this problem, too, as the income the spouse plans to actually chip in toward the mortgage cannot be considered by a lender.
But increasingly, the recent vagaries of the job market are also causing this issue, as people who have changed their line of work or have changed from salaried employee to freelancer over the last couple of years can also have their home loan applications rejected based on income.
2. Muddled money matters. If the mortgage for which you're applying plus your monthly payments on credit card, car and student loan debts will comprise more than 45 percent of your total income, you could have problems qualifying for a home loan. You might also run into problems if you rely too heavily on bonuses, overtime, cash wages or rental income — all of these can be difficult or impossible to get a mortgage bank to consider, and if they do, they might not take all of it into account.
3. Credit issues. Today, the mortgage-qualifying FICO score cutoff falls somewhere between 620 and 660, depending on which lender and which loan type you seek. More than one-third of Americans, by some numbers, have credit scores too low to qualify for a home loan. Even if your credit score is high enough to qualify, if you have any late mortgage payments, a short sale, a foreclosure or a bankruptcy in the last two years, loan qualifying could be difficult to impossible.
4. Property didn't appraise. Since the whole industry had its hand (among other things) smacked for allowing home values to skyrocket in a very short time, appraisal guidelines have tightened up — some would say, even more than overall mortgage guidelines. So, it is increasingly common to have the property appraise for a price lower than the sale price negotiated between the buyer and seller.
This is especially common in the refinance realm, as well over a quarter of U.S. homes are now upside-down, meaning the mortgage balance owed is greater than the value of the home. (If you're trying to refinance an upside-down mortgage, consider the FHA Short Refi program — contact your lender or get referrals to any mortgage broker who makes FHA details to apply.)
5. Condition problems. With all the distressed properties on the market, and with most non-distressed sellers barely breaking even, more home-sale transactions than ever are falling apart due to condition problems with the property. Many lenders will not extend financing on homes where the appraiser points out problems like cracked or broken windows, missing kitchen appliances, electrical problems, or wood rot.
And in the world of condos and other units that belong to a homeowners association, if more than 25 percent of units are rented (rather than owner-occupied) or more than 15 percent are delinquent on their HOA dues, new applications for refinance or purchase mortgages on units in the development are likely to be rejected.
6. Technical difficulties with application. The days when lenders just took your word for it are long, long gone. Applications with incomplete or unverifiable information are doomed.
If any of these mortgage loan application glitches arise in your home-buying or refinancing process, it's critical that you connect with your mortgage professional, be it your banker or mortgage broker, to determine what course of action to take.
In some cases, it might be as simple as buying a stove you find at Craigslist and installing it before escrow closes; but with income issues your mortgage pro will need to help you determine whether it makes sense to pay some bills down, get a co-signer, or even wait six months so your income documentation will qualify.