What Do Underwriters Do?

August 26, 2009 No Comments »
What Do Underwriters Do?

Here’s some Q&A with regard to the home loan approval process: “What do underwriters do?”

Once you actually apply for a home loan, your mortgage application will be submitted and sent along to a loan underwriter, who will determine if you qualify for a mortgage.

The underwriter can be your best friend or your worst enemy, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.  The expression, “you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression” comes to mind.

An Underwriter Will Approve, Suspend, or Decline Your Mortgage Application

Put simply, the underwriter’s job is to approve, suspend, or decline your mortgage application.

If the loan is approved, you’ll receive a list of “conditions” which must be met before you receive your loan documents.  So in essence, it’s really a conditional loan approval.

If the loan is suspended, you’ll need to supply additional information or documentation to move it to approved status.

If the loan is declined, you’ll more than likely need to apply elsewhere, with another bank or mortgage lender.

The Three C’s of Underwriting

That said, you may be wondering how underwriters determine the outcome of your mortgage application?

Well, there are the “three C’s of underwriting,” otherwise known as credit reputation, capacity, and collateral.

Credit reputation has to do with your credit history, including past foreclosures, bankruptcies, judgments, and basically measures your willingness to pay your debts.

(What credit score do I need to get a mortgage?)

If you’ve had previous mortgage delinquencies or even non-housing related delinquencies, these will need to be taken into account.

Typically these items will be reflected in your three-digit credit score, which can actually eliminate you without any further underwriting necessary if you fall below a certain threshold.

Your history supporting significant amounts of debt is also important; if the most you’ve ever financed has been a plasma TV, the underwriter may think twice about approving your six-figure loan application.

Capacity deals with a borrower’s actual ability to repay a loan, using things like debt-to-income ratio, salary, cash reserves, loan program and more.

This covers whether the loan is interest-only, an adjustable-rate mortgage or a fixed-rate mortgage, cash-out refinance or simply rate and term.

The underwriter wants to know that you can repay the mortgage you’re applying for before granting approval.

(How much house can I afford?)

Finally, collateral deals with the borrower’s down payment, loan-to-value ratio, property type, and property use, as the lender will be stuck with the home if the borrower fails to make timely mortgage payments.

Underwriters Consider Layered Risk

Now it’s important to understand that the three C’s are not independent of one another.

All three must be considered simultaneously to understand the level of layered risk that could be present in said application.

For example, if the borrower has a less-than-stellar credit score, limited asset reserves, and a minimal down payment, the risk layering could be deemed excessive, leading to denial.

This is the underwriter’s discretion, and can certainly be subjective based on other factors such as job type, how long the borrower has been in the job, why the credit score is less than perfect, and so on.

The underwriter must decide, based on all the criteria, if the borrower is an acceptable risk for the mortgage lender, and if the end product can be resold without difficulty to investors.

Layered risk is a major reason why the mortgage crisis got so out of hand. Scores of borrowers applied for mortgages with stated income and zero down financing, which is certainly very high risk, and were easily approved.

Rising home prices covered up the mess for a while, but it didn’t take long for everything to unravel. This is why sound mortgage underwriting is so critical to a healthy housing market.

(photo: Joelk75)

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