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 left us with only the most accessible, reputable, and accommodating lenders: companies that will make the transition into your new home smooth and painless.

The 3 Best Mortgage Lenders

Best Overall
Quicken Loans
Quicken Loans
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.
Pros
All-around excellence
Online tools
Customer experience
Cons
No local connections

Why we chose it

All-around excellence

Our top pick, Quicken Loans, has everything we looked for in mortgage lending: low interest rates, great customer support, and rapid approval. Plus, it boasts mortgage options to fit anyone’s needs. When it comes time to pull the trigger on a loan, Quicken gets you pre-approved and on the house market fast. End-to-end, we were pre-approved in under 30 minutes. And 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.

Online tools

Quicken has some of the best learning resources in the industry. The website walks you through the intricacies of mortgage lending in simple language and offers everything you need to manage your mortgage from beginning to end, even without the help of a broker. Educate yourself on complicated concepts like underwriting and refinancing, and use the mortgage options chart to compare adjustable rate, fixed rate, and other loan types side-by side. Quicken is a stand-out for empowering consumers and helping them understand all the details before signing on the dotted line.

Customer experience

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.

Points to consider

No local connections

Quicken Loans aces all the mortgage lender tests we posed, from price to education to phone communication. Where it falls short is where all online mortgage companies fall short: As national corporations, they can’t offer the local touch you’d get from working with your hometown bank. If getting realtor references and hometown insight are more important to you than a streamlined shopping experience (and, potentially, cheaper rates), then use the guide below to surface your regional best bets.

Best for First-Time Buyers
Alliant Credit Union
Alliant Credit Union
Alliant offers fair and transparent pricing. First-time home buyers will also benefit from its exceptionally patient and helpful customer service.
Pros
Personalized help
Credit union rates
Cons
Longer wait times

Why we chose it

Personalized help

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. 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 navigate the ins-and-outs of mortgages.

Credit union rates

Credit unions typically offer more appealing rates than their bank counterparts, and Alliant fits squarely into this tradition. This not-for-profit financial institution is member-owned, which means it has all the incentive to build attractive rates and low or no fees into its pricing structure. It also sidesteps the pithole of most credit unions: low-quality tech. The company has invested greatly in creating accessible and functional online tools for mortgages and all its other banking activities.

Points to consider

Longer wait times

As a credit union, Alliant has fewer employees than a mega-lender like Quicken, which means there’s a higher chance of longer hold times. 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.

Best for Refinancing
First Internet Bank
First Internet Bank
First Internet Bank makes refinancing efficient and painless with clear interest rates, speedy response times, and the fastest pre-approval process we could find.
Pros
Streamlined application
Informational homepage
Cons
Light on educational resources

Why we chose it

Streamlined application

For seasoned homeowners looking for straightforward, simple refinancing, we suggest starting your search with First Internet Bank. It had us in and out of the pre-approval process faster than any other lender and is a great choice for people who have already been around the mortgage block once or twice. 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.

Informational homepage

First Internet Bank displays rates, loans, and refinance options right on its homepage. You can compare fixed and adjustable rates, different term lengths, FHA- or VA-backed, and other mortgage options at a glance.

Points to consider

Light on educational resources

Unlike Quicken loans, First Internet Bank doesn’t offer many educational resources to read up on the technical complexities of mortgages. Its most notable resource is a mortgage calculator to help you estimate monthly payments as well as refinancing costs, price differences based on term length, renting vs. buying costs, and more.

Guide to Mortgage Lenders

How to shop for a U.S. home mortgage

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.

Glenn PhillipsCEO of Lake Homes Realty

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 per year 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

“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 Andrew Schrage, co-founder of MoneyCrashers, “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 payments

Our experts agree: You’ll get the best deal if you financially prepare before you fill out your first pre-approval form. 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.

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% 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%? 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.

Search for competitive rates

Mortgage prices are personal. The size of your loan, interest rates, 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," according to Casey Fleming, Mortgage Advisor and Author of The Loan Guide. "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."

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. Once you’ve gathered quotes, take note of interest projections. While a few tenths of a percent may not seem like a huge difference, it adds up. An example from our sample quotes: 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. That’s an extra $20,000 paid over the course of a 30-year term.

Get pre-approved

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.

Vet your loan officer

Choosing a solid mortgage lender is the first step, but finding the right loan officer is just as critical. Your loan officer acts as your point person within the company, helping you find and structure your loan and guiding you through the 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. A competent, experienced, ethical advisor who is fluent at financial math is crucial to your financial well-being.

Mortgage Lending FAQ

What federal programs can help homeowners?

Military personnel, both active and retired, should look into a home loan from the VA. “These loans are great options for military veterans with program eligibility,” says Mike Tizzano, senior loan officer of the Tizzano Team at Fairway Independent Mortgage. “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, or hope to, check your loan options with the USDA. “USDA loans have many benefits,” notes Phillips. “These include 100% financing, lower-than-market interest rates, low monthly private mortgage insurance premiums, and flexible credit qualification rules.”

What is an FHA loan?

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 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 Tizzano.

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 Schrage. 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.

What does it mean to be pre-approved?

Pre-approval for a mortgage means that the financial lending institution has surveyed your credit history and determined you are a viable candidate for a loan. Since all money-related activity (buying a car, getting in arrears on your credit card debt, co-signing your younger brother’s apartment lease) moves your score in one direction or another, your approval is a moving target.Pre-approval is typically valid for a period of three months — after that you’ll need to go through the process again. But beware, each pre-approval request may affect your credit score. Still, pre-approval for a loan lets you tailor your search for real estate priced at that point or below.

The Best Mortgage Lenders: Summed Up

Quicken Loans
Alliant Credit Union
First Internet Bank
Online pre-approval quote
-
Mortgage Calculator
Transparent rates
Preferred credit score
720
740
760
Strengths
Best online tools
Most supportive customer service
Quickest pre-approval process

Our Other Financial Services Reviews

We have been exploring financial services for many years now, and keep adding to our library of reviews on the best companies and products on the market. Check out our top picks below.