The Best Mortgage Lenders
Best for First-Time Buyers
Best for Refinancing
Excellent online tools, an easy application process, and some of the best interest rates on the market. Plus, we were pre-approved and ready to shop in less than 30 minutes.
Alliant offers fair and transparent pricing. First-time home buyers will also benefit from its exceptionally patient and helpful customer service.
First Internet Bank makes refinancing efficient and painless with clear interest rates, speedy response times, and the fastest pre-approval process we could find.
The Best Mortgage Lenders
- Quicken Loans -
- Alliant Credit Union -
Best for First-Time Buyers
- First Internet Bank -
Best for Refinancing
Our top pick, Quicken Loans, has everything we looked for in a mortgage lender: low interest rates, great customer support, and rapid approval. Quicken also has some of the best learning resources in the industry — its website walks you through the intricacies of mortgage lending in simple, understandable language. We’d recommend this company to anyone, but it’s an especially good choice if you’re a thorough shopper who likes to understand a product inside and out before you buy.
If you’re a first-time homeowner in particular, it may help to work with a company that can give you personalized (human) assistance throughout the mortgage process. In that case, we recommend Alliant Credit Union. Alliant has outstanding customer service reps that not only respond quickly, but will walk through each step of the application process with you and lend a hand when need be.
For seasoned homeowners looking for a straightforward, simple refinance then we suggest starting your search with First Internet Bank. This company puts rates and refinance options right on its homepage, and had us in and out of the preapproval process faster than any other lender. It’s a great choice for people who have already been around the mortgage block once or twice.+
How We Found the Best Mortgage Lenders
We started with a master list of 181 lenders, banks, and credit unions — every mortgage company we could hunt down. Then we focused in on what makes a mortgage lender the best. We looked for competitive rates, of course. But rates aren’t all that matters. Our vetting process surfaced only the most accessible, reputable, and accommodating lenders: companies that will make the transition into your new home totally smooth and painless.
For this review, we only considered nationwide mortgage companies.
We looked for outstanding companies that we could recommend to anyone. That meant they have to be widely available — a company isn’t the best if you can’t get a mortgage there. Keeping this in mind, we only considered lenders that operate in 40 states or more.
This cut a lot of companies from the running (135 to be exact) including some popular names like Bank of America. There are certain cases where one of these regional or smaller lenders will be better suited to your needs: for instance, if you have a difficult credit history or need extra help navigating the mortgage process. If that sounds like it applies to you, check out our alternative mortgage options below. For most people, though, any of our nationwide top picks are a great choice: They’re readily available and offer a full suite of services.
And we homed in on direct mortgage lenders.
To offer a full suite of services, a mortgage lender has to be the one actually lending to you. That means working with a direct lender: A company that underwrites and finances all its own loans. The other option is to use a broker, who doesn’t originate their own mortgages, but shops around for a good loan on your behalf.
Choosing a direct lender keeps all your mortgage activity under one roof: The institution paying for your house is also the one that creates your contract and helps you along the way. This has its perks. First, you have more agency in choosing a company — whereas a broker limits your options to the institutions they work with. Second, using a direct lender often expedites the mortgage process, because everything is taken care of in-house.
So why do some people choose to work with a broker? The biggest advantage is that they comparison shop for you. That way you don’t have to go through the steps of getting and evaluating multiple quotes yourself.
But we’re here to assure you that mortgage shopping can be painless, even without a broker. We spent two weeks getting pre-approved with our top contenders, and we guarantee that the finalists keep it hassle-free. Our top pick, Quicken, had us pre-approved and ready to shop in less than 30 minutes (with Alliant and First Internet Bank not far behind). We cut out broker companies — essentially middlemen that put another step between you and your mortgage.
We did a background check, and cut any companies with questionable records.
Mortgage companies are regulated by both state and federal agencies. When a company missteps, those agencies can file a regulatory action against it. Information about mortgage lenders’ infractions is then gathered and reported by the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System.
It sounds grim, but in reality a lot of regulatory infractions are simple administrative errors. In one case, an inspector visited an Amerisave Mortgage Corporation office in Ohio and found that the office was empty — no one actually worked there. Ohio law requires lenders to have at least one physical office (staffed with real people), so a complaint was filed.
In instances like these, the fix can be simple: Amerisave proved the office had just relocated and settled the case. But when infractions start to pile up, it’s not just an administrative oversight; it’s a pattern. Lots of infractions can indicate unlawful activity — like unlicensed loan agents who might sign you up for the wrong policy, or companies paying loan officers illegal quota incentives to sign up as many mortgages as possible. These types of companies have only their bottom line, and not your best interest in mind.
Besides low rates, the most important thing to consider when choosing a mortgage lender is the reputation of the lender or broker.
We cut any companies from the running that had more than one regulatory infraction filed against them. Zero-to-one may seem like a high bar, but once those infractions start rolling in they can add up fast. Take Citibank, for example: When we first reviewed mortgage companies in 2016, it had zero infractions. In 2018, it has eight. The best lenders should be able to keep their ducks in a row, giving you complete peace of mind. As of 2018, all three of our top picks have maintained pristine records.
Then it was time to get up close and personal with our front-runners. We scoured their sites for the most helpful mortgage shopping tools.
The best mortgage companies understand that getting a mortgage is complicated, and they do their best to make things simple for you. Three ways lenders can simplify the process: a streamlined website, helpful learning tools, and excellent customer support.
A streamlined website is simple to navigate. It answers all of your questions clearly, and without much digging. Take Quicken’s site, for example:
Quicken’s website points you in the right direction to find answers to any question. It’s also transparent about pricing, loan options, and the company’s lending system. On the other end of the spectrum, we had companies like Movement Mortgage. Movement proved to us that a poor online experience can muddy the whole mortgage process: Its trendy website is loud about the company’s mission — Easy App! Movement of Change! — but totally silent about interest rates and APRs (which are probably the first things you’ll want to look for). We were left in the dark about how much we’d actually be paying for a mortgage with this company.
The other thing we loved about Quicken’s site was its useful selection of learning tools. Its Homebuyers and Refinancing Guides walk you through the ins and outs of mortgages in language that you’ll actually understand, and its mortgage calculators gives you an idea of what you’ll be paying — before you even get pre-approved. Tools like these help you make an informed decision: they let you build a solid foundation of mortgage knowledge, so you have something to stand on when comparing companies and prices.
The other way your mortgage company can ease the lending process is with great customer support. Online tools are an awesome place to start, but like we said: Mortgages are complicated. It’s likely you’ll have questions down the road that need a little more personalized attention than an FAQ or buying guide. We had questions along the way too, and kept track of the companies that were most responsive and helpful in answering them.
Alliant Credit Union really stood out in this department. Its phone support was prompt and polite, with truly helpful representatives on the other end. Our other top picks had our questions answered in under five minutes as well. Some lenders weren’t so supportive: for example, eLend and Stonegate didn’t even pick up the phone during business hours.
Your loan officer will help you through the mortgage process, of course, but with such a huge purchase it’s important to be personally informed about your options. The best companies make is easy to get the information you need. After scouring every website on our list (and spending a lot of time on hold), we cut the lenders with less-than-helpful resources.
And we got pre-approved with each lender, keeping track of who offered the easiest application process.
At the pre-approval stage, a lender reviews your credit and finances and then tells you what loan size and rates you qualify for. You’ll generally want to seek pre-approval before you actually start house hunting; it lets you know what you’ll be able to afford. You may even want to get pre-approved with multiple lenders, to see who offers the best rates for your unique situation.
We got pre-approved for home loans with our remaining companies. Our goal was to find the ones that make this step a breeze, so you can find your future home without wasting any time.
The 8 Mortgage Lenders We Tested
- Alliant Credit Union
- Chase Bank USA
- First Internet Bank
- MB Financial Bank
- New Penn Financial
- Wells Fargo Bank
Getting pre-approved doesn’t require the extensive paperwork or underwriting of actually getting a mortgage. It should be a quick, painless process that gets you moving as fast as possible. However, some lenders didn’t deliver on that expectation. Chase Bank, for example, made us hunt down extremely specific information — like hazard and flood insurance premiums, and annual real estate taxes for the specific property we were looking at. Your mortgage company shouldn’t make you jump through hoops just to see how much you can spend.
After we finished applying, we set our stopwatches and waited for the responses to roll in. Most lenders replied either immediately or within a few hours, so we weren’t left hanging. First Internet Bank was the best — our pre-approval response popped up as soon as we hit submit. Companies like MB Financial were on the other end of the spectrum: We got a message the next day saying our application was received, and then nothing. We’re still waiting to hear if we were pre-approved or not.
Of course, we looked for the most competitive mortgage rates as well.
Mortgage prices are personal. The size of your loan and your interest rates, APR, and closing costs all depend on factors individual to you — like your credit score, job, location, property type, and so on.
The combination of loan-to-value ratio and credit score will have the greatest impact on your interest rate. Someone with average credit putting less than 20% down will pay a great deal more for their mortgage than someone with excellent credit and 20% or more down.
So what does that mean for you? The honest answer is that we can’t predict which company will offer you the most affordable mortgage rates. You’ll have to compare quotes from a few different lenders to find the best price for your individual situation — our top picks are a great place to start looking.
What we can do is steer you away from the lenders that are likely to charge above-average rates and fees. We did that by creating a standard profile and getting mortgage quotes from all of our contenders. Our interest projections ranged from 4.25% with Quicken, to 4.63% with Wells Fargo. Then we found the average rate between these, and cut the companies that rang in above that point: LoanDepot and Wells Fargo.
A difference of 0.38% between the highest and lowest rates may not seem huge upfront, but those decimal points add up over time. A 30-year, $240,000 loan from Wells Fargo at 4.63% will set you back $445,000 after interest is factored in. The same loan from Quicken, at 4.25%, will end up costing $425,000. So, a 0.38% difference actually amounts to $20,000 extra over the course of a 30-year term. That’s like a new car (or a really nice living room set).
The Best Mortgage Lenders at a Glance
Our Top Picks for the Best Mortgage Lenders
Quicken Loans has everything we were looking for in a mortgage lender: Great online resources, speedy customer service, fair rates, and mortgage options to fit anyone’s needs.
Those online resources really hit it out of the park. Quicken offers everything you need to manage your mortgage from beginning to end, even without the help of a broker. If you value thoroughness, and want to learn all you can about mortgages before committing to one, we highly recommend Quicken for its best-in-class learning tools.
We especially loved the homebuyers guide and refinance guide: These tutorials patiently walked us through every step of the mortgage lending process, and explained complicated concepts like underwriting and refinancing in plain language that was easy to understand. We also appreciated the mortgage options chart, which compared adjustable rate, fixed rate, and other loan types side-by side. These tools made it easy to figure out what we needed.
If you run into any questions that Quicken’s online resources can’t answer, its customer support is readily available to lend a hand. The online chat feature offers immediate live support — and when we wanted a more in-depth conversation, we reached a rep over the phone in under five minutes. The quality of help they gave was top-tier, second only to Alliant Credit Union’s exceptionally helpful phone service.
When it comes time to pull the trigger on a loan, Quicken gets you pre-approved and on the house market fast. The online pre-approval form took less than 15 minutes and asked questions we could actually answer (unlike Chase Bank’s). After we hit “apply,” it only took the company 15 minutes to get back in touch with us. End-to-end, we were pre-approved in under 30 minutes. The only company to get us through faster was First Internet Bank.
One thing really set Quicken’s pre-approval process apart: After applying, we weren’t inundated with emails and phone calls. This company knows to give you a little space during the shopping around phase. Considering that most companies badger you after your approval, we appreciated the extra breathing room at a time when most people’s minds would be weighed down with plenty of other considerations.
It’s also worth noting that Quicken quoted the lowest interest rates for our sample profile. But, like we said, interest rates vary depending on your personal information. We recommend requesting rates from or other top picks as well, to see which is the best fit for you.
Alliant Credit Union impressed us with its singularly helpful customer service. While we put a lot of stock in online learning tools like Quicken’s, there are some situations where a website just won’t cut it. If you’re a first-time homeowner, for instance, you may want more human contact as you navigate the ins and outs of getting a mortgage. Bruce Ailion, a realtor and attorney at Re/Max Town and Country advised us that first-time buyers often need “a patient, in-person, hand-holding lender” to help them through the process.
That level of care and attention is exactly what we got with Alliant. When we called to ask about its pre-approval process, we got through to a loan officer on the third ring. The officer was pleasant, and even offered to help us complete the pre-approval application if we weren’t sure how to do it ourselves.
As a Credit Union, Alliant has fewer employees than a mega-lender like Quicken (read: there’s a chance you could wait a little longer on hold). But ultimately you’ll be treated with a level of patience and personalization that most big name institutions just don’t offer. First-timers may be grateful for this when the about-to-close-on-my-first-house panic sets in.
Maybe you’re well past your first mortgage, and just looking for an easy and affordable refinance. In that case, we suggest starting your search with First Internet Bank. This company quoted us the second lowest interest rates, and really shined for its seamless application process.
The key to a smooth refinancing is to get through the process without hassle. After all, you’re refinancing, not applying for your first mortgage all over again — most people want to know rates and and get approved as quickly as possible so they can lock in the new terms without delay. In this regard, First Internet Bank nailed it.
A long list of rates for every loan option is clearly displayed on First Internet Bank’s homepage. You can compare fixed and adjustable rates, different term lengths, FHA- or VA-backed, and other mortgage options at a glance. After we filled out the pre-approval application, a response popped up directly on the webpage. To top it off, a loan officer called us within 30 minutes to follow up on our mortgage request. In our experience, personalized responses don’t come any faster than that. First Internet Bank will have you refinanced in almost no time (and with very little effort).
Five tips for understanding your mortgage and choosing the right lender.
To get the best rates and options, aim for a 20% down payment.
To receive the most affordable rates offered by our top picks, you’ll need to pay at least 20% of your home’s total value up front. Having at least 20 percent will also help you avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), an additional monthly fee that protects the lender in the event you default on the loan.
Can’t get to 20 percent? Don’t worry, you can still qualify for a mortgage. One route is to pay that PMI insurance on a conventional loan. It’s also possible to take on a second smaller loan to cover the difference in your down payment (often called a piggyback loan). You may also qualify for a government-backed Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, especially if you’re a first-time buyer.
If you have limited credit, a difficult credit history, or can’t put 20% down, an FHA loan can help.
FHA loans are backed by the government, but issued by private mortgage companies. FHA loan programs were developed to help buyers who may not otherwise qualify for a mortgage, like first-time buyers with a smaller down payment, or people with or poor credit (think mid-600s and below). They can also help you get into a home sooner if you have a difficult credit history: “For people coming back from major credit events such as foreclosure and bankruptcy, FHA has shorter required waiting periods,” explains Mike Tizzano, senior loan officer of the Tizzano Team at Fairway Independent Mortgage.
Before applying for an FHA loan, it’s important to weigh the cost versus benefit. “You may have to pay mortgage insurance (which is a cost worthy of consideration) and there are typically more requirements to meet compared to a conventional loan,” says Andrew Schrage, co-founder of MoneyCrashers. On the other hand, getting an FHA-backed loan and paying mortgage insurance may be more affordable than paying rent on a different property while you save up for a 20% down payment on your new home. If you’re wondering about the costs of renting versus buying, check out this mortgage calculator from First Internet Bank.
After carefully choosing the right mortgage lender, don’t be afraid to vet your loan officer too.
Choosing an awesome mortgage lender is a big first step, but finding the right loan officer is just as critical. You loan officer acts as your point person within the company: They help you find and structure your home loan, and guide you through the mortgage process. It’s important to work with someone you like and trust. Our experts recommend vetting individual loan officers on Zillow and Yelp before committing to one.
Your loan officer is advising you on the biggest debt you'll ever have in your life. Small nuggets can help you choose the right loan product for your needs, the right price level, and can save you tens of thousands of dollars over time. A competent, experienced, ethical advisor who is fluent at financial math is crucial to your financial well-being.
Other federal programs can help homeowners with unique circumstances.
Military personnel should look into a home loan from the VA.
Both active duty and retired military personnel are typically eligible for VA home loans. “These loans are great options for military veterans with program eligibility,” says Tizzano, “they allow qualified veterans to finance 100% of the purchase price of the home without a monthly mortgage insurance premium.”
If you live in a rural area, check your loan options with the USDA.
Rural homeowners (or those with dreams of moving to a big farm in the country) may qualify for a USDA loan. “USDA loans have many benefits,” notes Glenn Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. “These include 100 percent financing, lower-than-market interest rates, low monthly private mortgage insurance premiums, and flexible credit qualification rules.” These are great perks when applicable, but be aware: Finding USDA loans may be more difficult; the paperwork requirements may increase; and only homes in actual rural areas (not suburbs or edge-of-town scenarios) typically qualify.
How to Prepare for Your First Mortgage
Our experts agree: You’ll get the best deal if you financially prepare before you fill out your first pre-approval form. Here’s how:
Bump up your credit scores.
Lenders vary on what credit score approval numbers they require, but the higher you can get yours, the better. Dispute errors on your credit report, pay down large debts, and pay your bills on time in the months leading up to applying. “When preparing to buy a first home, it can save you a lot of time and money if you have your credit history in order. Don’t wait to find your dream home only to find you can’t qualify for the mortgage,” says Phillips.
To check in on your credit history, pull your credit report and score. Thanks to a federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — from AnnualCreditReport.com. Your scores aren’t included, though. You’ll have to pay a small fee to each bureau to get them.
Don’t take on new debts leading up to applying.
“If you're trying to qualify for a home loan, the last thing you want to do is to take out a major credit purchase, such as a car loan,” says Schrage, “though FHA loans allow for a higher percentage of debt-to-income ratio than conventional loans.” In general, adding new debt can lower your scores and hurt your chances of getting a mortgage.
Practice making your payments.
Use a monthly payment estimate calculator to figure out what your monthly mortgage payment will be, then “pretend” to pay it for several months by sending the difference between your current rent or mortgage right into savings. It may seem silly, but this small step can help you make sure the payments are doable.
All of our top picks have mortgage calculators on their sites — we highly recommend this mortgage calculator from First Internet Bank. It has a variety of options that can be used to predict monthly payments as well as refinancing costs, price differences based on term length, renting vs. buying costs, and more.