Even with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, home sales are going strong. Maybe you've discovered just how small your house is when you are stuck in it every day? Or you want to flee apartment living for something with a little more space inside and out?
The good news is the best mortgage lenders don’t have to only do business in person. Some traditional banks, credit unions, and financial institutions with brick-and-mortar branches offer great online mortgages and many online lenders are available to offer their services. We're focusing on different lenders providing loan products online.
The best online lenders make it easy for lenders to apply for a mortgage and upload documents and track the loan process on an app or website that’s mobile-friendly. Here are 10 of the best online mortgage companies that we’ve found.
Rocket Mortgage is owned by Quicken Loans, which sets the rates, fees, and other conditions of the loan options it offers and approves as underwriters. Quicken Loans is the lender, and it makes home loans under its name too.
Somehow, the interest rates that Rocket Mortgage shows on its websites differ from the ones Quicken Loans shows on its homepage. The Rocket Mortgage rates are a little lower.
Quicken has done a good job turning Rocket Mortgage into one of the best mobile application processes around. The mortgage loan application process is seamless and quickly moves customers from one step to the next.
Paperwork can be signed electronically, the loan process can be monitored on the app, and the loan closing can be set up there too. It’s a one-stop shop for mortgages.
Quicken Loans has 30-year fixed and 15-year fixed home loans, but also many others such as government-backed loans, renovation loans, and terms between eight and 30 years. It doesn’t offer home equity loans or HELOCs.
One unique service it offers is called YOURgage. Borrowers choose a fixed-rate loan term from eight to 29 years. They pay the same interest rate over the life of the loan but can control the monthly payments by setting the mortgage payback timeline.
At least a 3% down payment is required, but loan payments can be lowered by increasing the down payment. Mortgage insurance is needed if the down payment is less than 20%.
Having money to cover closing costs, which Quicken says are about 2-6% of the purchase price.
SoFi isn’t too transparent in its interest rates for any type of home mortgage and only shows them to users who create an account with their personal information, and then they’re shown customized mortgage rates.
It offers fixed-rate mortgages for terms of 10, 15, 20, and 30 years. A 10% down payment is required, which is the highest among the lenders we’ve reviewed.
All that said, if you’re already a SoFi customer for one or more of its other financial products, it offers some deals on a mortgage. If you have at least $50,000 in a personal loan, student loan, or an investment account at SoFi, it will give you a $500 discount on the loan processing fee for your first mortgage with the company.
SoFi is well known for having an easy-to-use online application process, whether you’re an existing customer or not. Mortgage preapproval can be done online if you qualify for a loan, allowing you to show sellers that you’re vetted as a buyer and can afford their home.
SunTrust posts its interest rates online, through personalized mortgage rates are available by starting an online application. SunTrust merged in December 2019 with BB&T Corp. to become Truist Financial Corp., though the company has said there will be no changes to SunTrust mortgages.
SunTrust does an excellent job helping first-time homebuyers learn about the mortgage process, from videos and articles on what HELOCs are to how to start the pre-approval process. It helps potential borrowers know how much they can afford to spend on a home by letting them talk with a loan officer.
It offers a variety of loans for first-time homebuyers, and repeat buyers too, including FHA loans, VA, and USDA loans. It even has a custom physician loan program called the Doctor Loan Program to help medical professionals who have high earning potential but don’t have a large cash reserve for a down payment.
Whatever your income, SunTrust likely has a loan for you with down payments as low as 3%. It also works with borrowers seeking a home price higher than Fannie Mae’s conventional loan limits, known as jumbo loans.
Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the largest banks in the world, and appropriately, it offers many types of home loans at different interest rates.
It has bank branches where you can meet in person with a loan officer. Based on their balances, existing Bank of America customers can have their mortgage origination fee drop by $200 to $600.
It also has programs to help low- and moderate-income families. The Affordable Loan Solution mortgage requires a 3% down payment and offers up to $10,000 in down payment assistance in some cities. Mortgage insurance isn’t required. Up to $7,500 for nonrecurring closing expenses like title insurance and recording fees is also available in some areas.
Bank of America also has what it calls the Freddie Mac Home Possible mortgage to help first-time homebuyers. It also requires only 3% down. Mortgage insurance is required, but at a lower cost than most conventional loans.
Mortgage lender Better.com shows sample interest rates based on paying points, though the rates may change depending on where you live. Fill out a short online application and you can get custom quotes.
A big selling point on a Better mortgage is that the company says it has eliminated fees. These include no lender fees such as application, underwriting, and origination fees.
Loan officers typically charge a 1% commission on the loan, Better says, which translates to thousands of dollars. For a $500,000 home, that’s $5,000 in commission.
Better also says it has made the mortgage process easier by requiring less paperwork. Making a mortgage easier to apply for is a good thing, but some of that paperwork that has disappeared may come from Better not offering government-backed mortgages. It doesn’t offer VA, USDA, or FHA loans, nor does it offer home equity loans or home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs.
It still offers conventional loans at 3% down, which is good for most buyers. Better online process is easy, but thankfully it isn’t online only. Human help is available if you need it.
A personalized rate from Guaranteed Rate will get you the most accurate look at what you’ll pay for a mortgage loan, but its sample rates for 30-year fixed and 15-year fixed mortgages with no points paid are a little misleading because they show a 25% down payment.
That’s a big down payment and one that few borrowers can pay. However, you can get a custom rate by entering more details. This requires clicking through several screens and answering questions about how long you plan to live there, what type of property you want to buy, your credit score, and other information.
It’s not as easy as entering your details on an online calculator, but the upside is you don’t have to provide your contact information.
One of the best things about Guaranteed Rate is that it hasn’t backed away from offering government-backed loans such as FHA and VA loans that can have high delinquencies and defaults. Tight guidelines at the mortgage lender help ensure that borrowers qualify for these loans meant to help first-time buyers and veterans buy homes they can afford.
Guaranteed Rate also offers conventional mortgages, along with jumbo and interest-only mortgages, and refinances. The entire loan application process can be done online.
Interest rates at Wells Fargo are difficult to find since the bank prefers that borrowers get a customized quote online that includes inputting a down payment amount.
Its listing of a sample rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage makes a lot of expensive assumptions, including a 25% down payment and 5,796 in closing costs. We couldn’t find a 15-year fixed mortgage rate.
As you’d expect from such a big bank, Wells Fargo offers practically every home loan under the sun. Conventional, government, jumbo, renovation, new construction, and other types of loans are available.
Wells Fargo has a program called yourLoanTracker that can be used on a computer or mobile device to work with your loan advisor and track your application status, exchange information, and e-sign documents. You won’t be waiting for the postman to deliver documents to your door.
Fairway Independent Mortgage
Fairway Independent Mortgage doesn’t publish mortgage rates. Borrowers who are shopping for rates must begin an online application or contact a Fairway loan officer. It has offices all over the country, so finding one shouldn’t be difficult.
The company offers several loan terms, going up in 5-year increments from 10 to 30 years. With a shorter loan, you can save money on interest and have a higher monthly payment to pay off your home faster.
One nice feature that Fairway offers to help first-time homebuyers is it works with some state housing finance agencies to offer mortgages with down payment and closing cost assistance. For people buying their first home, this type of help can be enormous.
It also considers nontraditional credit to qualify borrowers for certain loans. Fairway is one of the few lenders we’ve found that offers home equity lines of credit.
NBKC Bank has a range of mortgage types, but a large share of its mortgages are Veterans Affairs loans.
Like some other lenders, NBKC only shows mortgage rates after you fill out a short online form. The sample rates we got were after inputting a 4% down payment, having excellent credit, paying 0.250 points, or $1,850 in lender fees, and not being a veteran. Providing contact information isn’t required to get a rate quote.
VA loans don’t require down payments or mortgage insurance. For veterans, NBKC’s home loan rates dropped to 2.269% for a 30-year fixed with 0.250 points paid, and to 2.269% APR for a 15-year fixed loan with the same points paid.
The bank allows veterans with short credit reports to use rent and utility payments to qualify for a VA loan.
Summary of the best online lenders for mortgages
30-year fixed APR
15-year fixed APR
Minimum down payment
Minimum credit score
Bank of America
Note: Interest rates are accurate as of Dec. 3, 2020. Information is for a home purchase as a primary residence in a conventional mortgage. Some sample rates from lenders include paying points, which lower interest rates.
Types of home loans
Some online lenders we’ve reviewed offer more than just conventional loans. A conventional loan isn’t backed by the government, and it offers the lowest interest rate if you have high credit scores and can put at least a 20% down payment. Other types of loans can make buying a home a lot easier. Or you may need a refinancing loan because current rates are lower than what you got years ago.
An adjustable-rate mortgage is another option. The rate can change after a few years, but it’s often cheaper than a fixed-rate loan.
Some offer unique programs, such as the YOURgage program at Quicken Loans where you can set a loan term from eight to 29 years, and a program at Bank of America that offers down payment assistance to low-income applicants.
Government-backed mortgages are also provided by some lenders, partly as a way to make money.
Quicken Loans is the largest lender of mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, which are meant to help first-time homebuyers with low down payments. As a “nonbank” lender without deposits to fund mortgages, Quicken Loans can make money by selling loans backed by the government enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to investors.
At the other end are jumbo loans. These are non-conforming loans that may be needed if you’re buying a very expensive house. In 2021, up to $548,250 can be borrowed in a conforming loan for a single-family home in most parts of the U.S., though it goes up to $822,375 in Alaska and Hawaii.
Jumbo loans allow a higher amount to be borrowed at a slightly higher interest rate than conforming loans.
If you’re wondering if you qualify for a different type of home loan that may make it easier to buy, ask your loan officer what might work best for you. Do your homework and research what types of loans you may qualify for based on your income and job, for example.
Why do the interest rate and APR differ?
When comparing mortgage interest rates, you may see a lender’s interest rate and a separate column for the annual percentage rate, or APR. They’re not the same thing. The interest rate is the rate on the loan, but it doesn’t take into account closing costs. The APR is the interest rate with closing costs or closing credits accounted for it. The APR will usually be higher than the interest rate by itself. The APR gives a more direct comparison of loans if the same types of costs are included in each home loan.
Will I need mortgage insurance?
Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is usually required if you have a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price. It costs about 0.5% to 1% of your loan amount per year, spread over 12 payments. The insurance is used to pay the lender if you default on mortgage payments. PMI can be canceled after you reach 20% equity in your home, though you’ll usually have to request it. It’s often canceled automatically when you reach 22% equity. Another type of mortgage insurance, called lender-paid mortgage insurance, or LPMI, is also available. The lender pays the full premium upfront in exchange for the borrower paying a slightly higher interest rate.
What credit score do I need?
Yes, your credit history is important when qualifying for any type of loan, but especially a home loan. It’s a predictor of how likely you are to repay the loan. Requirements differ by lender, but all but one of the online lenders we reviewed require a minimum credit score of at least 620. FICO scores range from a low of 300 to a high of 850. A 650 score is considered fair, and naturally, a higher score will likely get you a lower interest rate. According to Experian, the average mortgage APR is 3.57% for a 650 FICO score, but it drops to 2.52% for a 760 score. Using those interest rates, a $250,000 loan over 30 years at 3.57% interest would cost $1,132 per month or $407,665 for the total cost of the mortgage. Increase the credit score to 760 and the same loan would cost 2.52% in interest for a monthly payment of $990, or 356,545 for the total cost of the mortgage. That’s $51,120 less over 30 years.
Why you should use online lenders
If nothing else, the best online lenders for mortgages should be able to offer you competitive mortgage rates because they do much, if not all, of their business online and save money by doing so.
Some online lenders do everything they can to offer customers a unique mortgage that fits their needs. They may offer financial assistance, not charge fees, or let you pick a loan term that can give you a low monthly payment.
Many online mortgage applications are easy to fill out, and shouldn’t require visiting a bank in person or filling out pages of documents. Some lenders’ apps and websites are easier to use than others, so find one that you like. You may never have to leave your home or apartment to buy a home with an online lender.
Why you shouldn’t use online lenders
Online mortgages aren’t for everyone. You might be more comfortable in a physical office with a loan officer you can talk to directly and get answers to your questions immediately. If so, you could start the loan process by filling out an online application, then make an appointment to visit a loan officer at the bank to complete it.
Some online lenders only offer conventional mortgages. These are best for buyers will good credit and a 20% down payment. However, many of the lenders we reviewed allow only 3% down and still have a range of mortgages. Still, some online lenders may not offer all of the mortgage options you need.
When comparing online lenders, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Some sample interest rates factor in paying points to lower a mortgage rate, and some may take into account an average credit score. If your credit history is better than average, then you may get a better rate.
The bottom line
You could spend hours poring over online mortgage options. While you should shop around, most lenders make it easy to apply online for free without doing more than a soft check on your credit history.
Apply with a few lenders in your search for the best deal, and you should have offers to you within a few days, if not a few hours, so you can start looking for a home.
It’s to the lender’s advantage, and yours, to make the mortgage process as easy as possible. With apps and websites that are easy to use, finding a mortgage that fits your financial needs is easier than ever.
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